Bush Hatred Yet Again

Bush-Hatred: Fearful Loathing . . . (washingtonpost.com)
Bush hatred isn’t just a Leftist phenomenon; it happens on the Right, too. The answer to a lot of this is, I think, easier than most people realize: President Bush has happened along at a momentous time in history and has made some very far-reaching decisions. The invasion of Afghanistan was one, Iraq another.

Many of the hyper-political people on the Left were enraged by the Iraqi war — even though he went to the Congress for authorization — because it was a bold, aggressive move with circumstances we can’t foresee entirely. President Bush also alienated our “allies” — in name only, really — by doing so because they (France, Germany, and Russia) had a commercial interest in seeing Saddam Hussein stay in power. We also proved that we have the strength, with the help of one major ally, to perform this task ourself. No UN participation was necessary and the UN is still looking for a way to demonstrate its relevance. [The Wall Street Journal has a series for subscribers devoted to this subject here.]

The hatred has come from the Right as well: paleo-cons and paleo-libertarians were likewise enraged, though it had nothing to do with multilateral institutions, because they are generally isolationists and didn’t think we had the right to attack Iraq.

Among mainstream small-l libertarians, conservatives and other small-government types there is the Medicare drug benefit. There is waffling on Israel. There is McCain-Feingold. The list goes on. Of course, the positives are forgotten, such as leaving the ABM Treaty, un-signing the treaty that created the International Criminal Court and the tax cuts. Three successive years of them. These last would contribute to the Left’s hatred of President Bush.

President Bush has done a lot in his three years in office, more than many Presidents would do in eight years. With that comes enemies. I’m still taken aback by the vitriol aimed at President Bush, yet it really is confined to the hyper-political, as the story below notes. Three-quarters of Americans like the President, his policies, or both. That’s not to say he’ll get 75% of the vote, just that most Americans don’t personalize political differences the way bloggers, and readers of blogs, do.

The political story of 2003 was, in some ways, the fashionableness of “hate.” It became respectable not simply to disagree with George W. Bush or to dislike him and criticize him — but to go further and declare your everlasting hate for the man. People bragged about how much they hated Bush. This loathing of Bush from the left does not, as yet, seem any more vicious (and perhaps less so) than the loathing of Bill Clinton from the right. But what is different is the willingness to call it “hatred” and to have the label blessed by much of the press, which has concluded that Bush is different from other modern presidents.


But just because lots of people feel passionately about Bush doesn’t mean the country is split into Bush lovers and haters. Many Americans are ambivalent, as they often are. Some like Bush and not his policies — or the reverse. Consider a Los Angeles Times survey in November (before Saddam Hussein’s capture improved Bush’s ratings): 40 percent liked the president and his policies; 6 percent liked his policies and disliked him; 28 percent liked him and disliked his policies; and 20 percent disliked him and his policies. Almost three-quarters liked the president or his policies. Interestingly, at the end of their presidencies, both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton enjoyed either personal or policy approval from about three-quarters of voters.

Nor is it unusual for presidents to be vilified. Lyndon Johnson was detested for the Vietnam War. Even before Watergate, Richard Nixon was seen as a dishonest schemer (“Tricky Dick”). Jimmy Carter was ridiculed as an incompetent who mismanaged the economy and foreign policy. Reagan was depicted as a far-right fanatic intent on dismantling the New Deal. To their detractors, all these presidents promoted national ruin. But none inspired the “H- word.”

Indeed, among most Americans, Bush doesn’t either. Because surveys didn’t ask, we don’t know how many Americans hated past presidents. But now the question is being asked, and the answers show that only a small minority — millions, to be sure — claim to hate Bush. One poll in December found that 3 percent did. The hating may have been slightly higher in the Clinton presidency, because the same poll asked respondents whether they now hate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and 5 percent said they did. But the central conclusion is striking: Most Americans don’t see themselves as haters.


In the end, Bush hating says more about the haters than the hated — and here, too, the parallels with Clinton are strong. This hatred embodies much fear and insecurity. The anti-Clinton fanatics hated him not simply because he occasionally lied, committed adultery or exhibited an air of intellectual superiority. What really infuriated them was that he kept succeeding — he won reelection, his approval ratings stayed high — and that diminished their standing. If Clinton was approved, they must be disapproved.

Ditto for Bush. If he succeeded less, he’d be hated less. His fiercest detractors don’t loathe him merely because they think he’s mediocre, hypocritical and simplistic. What they truly resent is that his popularity suggests that the country might be more like him than it is like them. They fear he’s exiling them politically. On one level, their embrace of hatred aims to make others share their outrage; but on another level, it’s a self-indulgent declaration of moral superiority — something that makes them feel better about themselves. Either way, it represents another dreary chapter in the continuing coarsening of public discourse.

As I’ve said before, I was one of those who wondered why there was so much hatred aimed at President Clinton. I was fascinated by the impeachment process, and the historical aspect of it, but I would rather it had not happened. Seeing a President impeached isn’t necessary to keep me entertained.

Likewise, I don’t understand the hatred aimed at President Bush. I see him as a fundamentally good man who has made some major decisions during his Presidency; some I’ve agreed with, others not.

For more on this subject see PoliBlog, Outside The Beltway and Power Line.

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