There’s a pleasingly dispassionate treatment on the WSJ op-ed page today of that modern phenomenon of passions gone wild, Bush hatred.
Specifically, he deals with the oddity of intellectuals who actually defend hatred — by that word — as a rational response. More broadly, he brushes over the fact of president hatred in general. A sample:
Hating the president is almost
as old as the republic itself. The people, or various factions among
them, have indulged in Clinton hatred, Reagan hatred, Nixon hatred, LBJ
hatred, FDR hatred, Lincoln hatred, and John Adams hatred, to mention
only the more extravagant hatreds that we Americans have conceived for
But Bush hatred is different. It’s
not that this time members of the intellectual class have been swept
away by passion and become votaries of anger and loathing. Alas,
intellectuals have always been prone to employ their learning and fine
words to whip up resentment and demonize the competition. Bush hatred,
however, is distinguished by the pride intellectuals have taken in
their hatred, openly endorsing it as a virtue and enthusiastically
proclaiming that their hatred is not only a rational response to the
president and his administration but a mark of good moral hygiene…
As I’ve written in the past, this business of the political opposition hating the current president really went over the line into irrational and destructive to our political life shortly after the 1992 election (as I recall, the "Don’t Blame Me — I Voted For Bush" bumper stickers showed up on late-model cars before Clinton was even sworn in), and then made a leap into greater intensity after the 2000. I pondered the first wave of this in late 1994:
There was a time when voters whose candidate lost would say let’s give the
President, as President, a chance. Now, the day after the election, they stick "Don’t blame me; I voted for Bush" on their bumpers. For his part, the
President, who ran as a centrist, immediately slaps the opposition with gays
in the military, and lifts abortion restrictions by executive fiat.
The cult of confrontation goes beyond partisan politics, worsening race
relations and escalating the war between the sexes (Will the argument over
Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas ever end?).
But there’s no question that, rather than getting better, this phenomenon stepped up to a new level of intensity with the election of George W. Bush. I find myself wondering whether this is because of the progression of the disease — that those who lose elections (particularly painfully close ones) are just getting angrier and less rational from one administration to the next — or whether the increase in intensity actually had something to do with Bush himself. I incline toward the latter interpretation, possibly because I can’t bear to think of this phenomenon getting worse — or even continuing — under our next president. (That, in fact, is the one thing that I worry about the most if Mrs. Clinton is elected — the hatred of her opponents is likely to know no bounds. Other candidates seem less likely to arouse such passions — but then, I could not have predicted the response to Bush that we’ve seen since the beginning of his first term.)
But that doesn’t mean I understand it. And don’t tell me it’s about the war. I remember distinctly wondering aloud about this in 2001, shortly before 9/11. I asked one of my colleagues to help me understand the intensity of the visceral reaction that Bush’s opponents had toward him. And I’m sorry, but I don’t find any of that nonsense about "stealing the election" persuasive, either. That’s a symptom, a manifestation of the disease, not a rational cause. As bitter a disappointment as it might have been for Gore supporters, you have to hate Bush to believe that his election was illegitimate.
My own theory is that it’s cultural or demographic. I think the key is in the way he talks, in his bearing — the sort of smug, smirking faux-cowboy thing, like a political version of a John Wayne wannabe. Some people just can’t stand that, whereas I just sort of shrug it off.
Anyway, I appreciated the thoughtful, careful and respectful way (the tone is not properly reflected in the headline) that this writer approached the problem of intellectuals, of all people, embracing passionate hatred as a positive thing. His conclusion:
The conflict between more
conservative and more liberal or progressive interpretations of the
Constitution is as old as the document itself, and a venerable source
of the nation’s strength. It is wonderful for citizens to bring passion
to it. Recognizing the common heritage that provides the ground for so
many of the disagreements between right and left today will encourage
both sides, if not to cherish their opponents, at least to discipline
their passions and make them an ally of their reason.