Then I read the text of the speech he gave and was thrown from one kind of certainty—the comfortable kind—into another. He was speaking, as he always does, of the moral underpinnings of our mission in Iraq. He was comparing, as he always does, the challenge that we face, in the evil of global terrorism, to the challenge our fathers and grandfathers faced, in the evil of fascism. He was insisting, as he always does, that the evil of global terrorism is exactly that, an evil—one of almost transcendent dimension that quite simply must be met, lest we be remembered for not meeting it . . . lest we allow it to be our judge. I agreed with most of what he said, as I often do when he's defining matters of principle. No, more than that, I thought that he was defining principles that desperately needed defining, with a clarity that those of my own political stripe demonstrate only when they're decrying either his policies or his character. He was making a moral proposition upon which he was basing his entire presidency—or said he was basing his entire presidency—and I found myself in the strange position of buying into the proposition without buying into the presidency, of buying into the words while rejecting, utterly, the man who spoke them. There is, of course, an easy answer for this seeming moral schizophrenia: the distance between the principles and the policy, between the mission and "Mission Accomplished," between the war on terror and the war in Iraq. Still, I have to admit to feeling a little uncertain of my disdain for this president when forced to contemplate the principle that might animate his determination to stay the course in a war that very well may be the end of him politically. I have to admit that when I listen to him speak, with his unbending certainty, I sometimes hear an echo of the same nagging question I ask myself after I hear a preacher declaim the agonies of hellfire or an insurance agent enumerate the cold odds of the actuarial tables. Namely: What if he's right?
As easy as it is to say that we can't abide the president because of the gulf between what he espouses and what he actually does , what haunts me is the possibility that we can't abide him because of us—because of the gulf between his will and our willingness. What haunts me is the possibility that we have become so accustomed to ambiguity and inaction in the face of evil that we find his call for decisive action an insult to our sense of nuance and proportion.
The people who dislike George W. Bush have convinced themselves that opposition to his presidency is the most compelling moral issue of the day. Well, it's not. The most compelling moral issue of the day is exactly what he says it is, when he's not saying it's gay marriage. The reason he will be difficult to unseat in November—no matter what his approval ratings are in the summer—is that his opponents operate out of the moral certainty that he is the bad guy and needs to be replaced, while he operates out of the moral certainty that terrorists are the bad guys and need to be defeated. The first will always sound merely convenient when compared with the second. Worse, the gulf between the two kinds of certainty lends credence to the conservative notion that liberals have settled for the conviction that Bush is distasteful as a substitute for conviction—because it's easier than conviction.