Time flies all right. Only a handful of years ago, one of the most common political expressions was “Clinton-hating.” The people responsible for perpetrating such an offense — Republicans, naturally — were “Clinton-haters.” We heard as much from seasoned Democratic calumniators of the James Carville and Paul Begala stamp.
There has been evolution in the hating department. Meet the Bush-haters — not formally denominated as such, but the signs can’t be encouraging.
The New York Times speaks of “a powerful disdain for the Bush administration, stoked by the aftermath of the war in Iraq and the continuing lag in the economy.” The Times quotes Iowa’s Democratic chairman as citing “an incredible amount of antipathy toward the Bush administration” among Democrats — “much more than the Democratic hostility to the first President Bush.”
One could note that the Times itself appears to share this antipathy — at least its editorial writers and columnists do — but we can let that pass for the moment.
More significant is the phenomenon of a wartime president of whom various Americans can’t find enough bad to say.
Of Bush? George W. Bush, family man, churchgoer, baseball fan, kidder extraordinary? The same. Numerous Democrats can’t stand him or at any rate the policies he espouses. The Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg ventures that “It’s more about how conservative this administration is, how it’s taken the country in this direction without a mandate, and a frustration with Democratic leaders for not articulating it.”
Ah. That may be getting us closer. If you think Bush stole the election, and you regarded the Clinton presidency as unbecomingly moderate in tone, it follows that no matter how good a husband and father the new president may be, or how vast his knowledge of baseball statistics, he’s not for you or anybody else whose opinion you value. Iraq could be the clinching factor here: a fight we picked, as critics see it. And where are those weapons of mass destruction anyway?
A related factor, I would judge, is the president’s moral confidence. Where with Bill Clinton, all or much was shading and nuance, with George W. Bush, there is brightness and darkness, and rarely, save at sunup or sundown, do the twain ever meet. The Bush worldview is based in no small measure on religion: GWB is a staunch believer. The ever-growing number of secularists who populate the United States don’t like lectures delivered ostensibly in the name of a deity who hasn’t put in any personal appearances lately.
All such factors make George W. Bush an attractive target for presidential contenders — Howard Dean in their forefront — who cheerfully stir the pot with denunciations of Bush-this and Bush-that.
Only the other day, one of Bush’s more delicate assailants, Sen. Joe Lieberman, cautioned his party against indulging in “outdated extremes of our own” — better certainly than Bush’s extremes but dangerous all the same. What worries Lieberman — who sees Dean forging ahead on the strength of his anti-Bushery — is that the Democrats are painting themselves into a left-hand corner from which escape will be hard.
The senator’s concern is well enough taken, politically speaking. But it has broader application. Hating your president is ugly. The implications during wartime — this is wartime, right? — are uglier still.
Division on the home front in time of war is permissible but dicey. It almost brought Abe Lincoln down. Since then, the practice has been to paper over disagreement, whenever possible, for the sake of ultimate victory.
There is still more to it: Hatred rends, divides, tears, sunders. Hatred is the opposite of civil disagreement, a commodity that seemingly grows rarer amid feuds about judicial filibusters, congressional committee brawls marked by name calling and the summoning of police, and paralysis of the legislative process by Texas lawmakers who flee the state in order not to make law.
No one ever called democracy a pretty sight. Well, maybe in a Fourth of July speech, but that’s all. Democracy, at that, need not be half as ugly as it has become in the United States these past dreary months.