O'Reilly: Elton John, statesman
Sir Elton John did an extraordinary thing last week. He praised President George W. Bush in an interview with the ABC News/Yahoo! Power Players series, reminding us in the process that there are still statesmen in the world. Cross-ideological kindnesses are so rare these days that John's remarks were downright jolting.
John is a political progressive. Bush is a social conservative. They aren't supposed to like each other. John is an outspoken gay rights activist; Bush is the U.S. president who proposed a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. Yet when asked about the former American president's commitment in the Oval Office to combating AIDS around the world, here's what the legendary British pop star said:
"I didn't like his policies, but I have to say when I met him, I found him charming. I found him well-informed and I found him determined to do something about the AIDS situation, so I changed my opinion of him. . . . I learned a lesson."
The "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" singer, who once called Bush "the worst thing that ever happened to America," could have said "W" wasn't quite as awful as he first thought and still sounded magnanimous. But he went farther, volunteering that he had been wrong about the conservative Texan. He confessed to having forgotten "one of the old adages in life, [which] is never judge someone until you meet them."
John's words in no way make him a political ally of Bush's. They come from radically different viewpoints and presumably will remain there. But the singer took pains in his interview to highlight something flattering about Bush, publicly challenging the well-worn negative narrative about the former American decider.
It took a lot of people a long time to establish and nurture that narrative, and those people can't be happy with John right now, which is what makes his remarks all the more admirable. His observations about the former president threaten to rewrite some of the history they so carefully constructed.
Negative campaigning is a fact of life in political contests. Anyone who has ever sat behind the mirrored glass of a political focus group can tell you why. As much as people swear that they hate negativity in politics, it's the only thing voters consistently respond to. Studies and decades of anecdotal evidence have shown that sharp contrasts in political advertising are what voters most remember. They move the needle.
But we're seeing something far more insidious emerging in politics, made possible by the Internet and the ubiquitous independent political committees running sharp ads. It's no longer enough to win a political race. One's ideological opponents must be vilified now -- forever.
The narrative about George W. Bush -- generated over a 12-year period during and after his presidency -- remain the worst example of it yet. Those afflicted with "Bush Derangement Syndrome" are led to believe that the former Texas governor is a secret spawn of Satan, genetically engineered by Halliburton. Some on my side of the aisle suffer similarly potent bouts of Obama Derangement Syndrome, which threaten to rival BDS in intensity by Election Day.
John's kind words can only be seen as a step in the right direction, even though they were notably delivered well after Bush left office. They represent hope for the future of political dialogue.
Nancy Pelosi? Her outfits are lovely. Truly.