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The Purell Will Always Be With Us | The Nation

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The Purell Will Always Be With Us

Studies at Cornell have shown that conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals, and if ever there was an emblem of Republican disgust for the poor, the sick, and people of color, this has gotta be it:

Yes, that's George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in Port-au-Prince this week, shaking hands with Haitians, and Bush then wiping his hand on Clinton's shirt. It's hard to catch because it flicks by on screen so fast, but 43 then checks to be sure any cooties that may have migrated to his person have made the complete transfer to 42's right shoulder.

This may be the first time Bush has used a fellow former president as a towel, but it's not the first time he's done something like this in public:

The prodigal son's concern about germ-infested humanity was noted by none other than then-Senator Barack Obama in his book, The Audacity of Hope, where he recalled President Bush, after warmly shaking the junior Illinois senator's hand at their first meeting, turning to an aide for a squirt of hand sanitizer. "Good stuff," Bush helpfully told Obama, offering a dollop of anti-bacterial goo as a well-intended professional tip. Of course, lots of thoroughly modern pols credit sanitizers with fighting off colds and worse, though they usually acknowledge this only behind the scenes (it's bad form to be visibly repelled by your constituents).

The difference with Bush is that he rubs his schmutz on other people, much as he uses other people to clean up the messes that trail in his wake, from Iraq to the near collapse of capitalism. Barely noticing his human Handi-Wipes--much less asking their permission--W seems to be living in a bubble where other people are like inanimate objects placed in his proximity for his personal comfort. I bet he has an aide wipe down the pontius pilates machine every day before he hits the gym.

The analogy to rightwing indifference to the struggles of average people is so direct it's almost not an analogy at all, merely a statement. On Wednesday's Morning Joe, for instance, Mike Barnicle asked Rep. Mike Pence for specific examples of government programs he'd like "to see disappear" to help lower the deficit he's suddenly noticed. "Obamacare," Pence laughed. "How's that?" Then, after a good minute of the Indiana congressman's nonanswers, Barnicle asked again. "We proposed," Pence ponied up, "I think a half trillion dollars in cuts to pay for the cost of repairing the Gulf Coast after Katrina."

That went over well. Even if you're a conservative who abhors "government handouts," you don't talk out loud about shortchanging the victims of Katrina anymore.

And now we have Bush going to Haiti--in part to wipe out memories of his callous flyover of New Orleans after Katrina--only to undercut his simulacrum of care with a small gesture of disgust. It's like learning that the downright Dickensian goon who threw dollar bills at a man with Parkinson's during a health care protest in Columbus, Ohio, actually lives in a neighborhood called "Victorian Village."

Bush is not French, but folks in the French tradition--as the Haitians, of course, are--have long believed that the touch of a king has the power to convey good luck or heal the sick. War leaders in particular were expected to demonstrate their belief in their own divinity by touching the ill, as Napoleon Bonaparte is shown to do in this painting by Baron Gros.

Touching the sick to heal them was a head of state's way to show he's of the people. Obama, Clinton, and pro-reform Dems seem to have that impulse--if not always the policies necessary--down. The Republicans, however, are in a prolonged state of "eeeew!"

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