That many Democrats hate President Bush with a burning, visceral passion is a fact too obvious to be overlooked. The phenomenon of Bush-hatred is striking because it is not just the province of fringe elements on the Left. Democrats claim that their antipathy toward Bush is the mirror image of the revulsion that many on the right felt toward Clinton during the 1990’s, but this claim is disingenuous. The belief that Clinton murdered Vince Foster, smuggled drugs into Arkansas, and so on, was never widespread even among highly partisan Republicans (like me). In contrast, a blind, malevolent rage toward President Bush is the rule, not the exception, among committed Democrats.
Why this should be the case is a disquieting mystery to those of us who see Bush as a decent, honest and fair-minded man. So it was with considerable interest that I read Jonathan Chait’s unabashed defense of Bush-hatred in the current issue of New Republic.
Chait doesn’t mince words:
“I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his policies rank him among the worst presidents in U.S. history. And, while I’m tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him for less substantive reasons, too….He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school–the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks–shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks–blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him….And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.”
What distinguishes Chait is his argument that hating the President is “a logical response to the events of the last few years.” In Chait’s telling, it is President Bush’s fault that Democrats hate him. He deserves it.
But why? Chait offers two kinds of reasons. The first relate to policy. Citing his support for tax cuts, Chait views Bush as “a truly radical president….with his stated desire to eliminate virtually all taxes on capital income and to privatize Medicare and Social Security, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Bush would like to roll back the federal government to something resembling its pre-New Deal state.”
Would that it were true. While I would love to repeal the Medicare program, Bush has never hinted at any such thing. And if Bush wants to roll the federal government back to its pre-New Deal condition, he’d better get cracking. So far, discretionary federal spending has increased faster during his administration than Clinton’s.
As to foreign policy, Chait actually supports the Iraq war. So what is the basis for hatred here? Chait thinks that Bush “sold” the war by “playing upon the public’s erroneous belief that Saddam had some role in the September 11 attacks.” This claim has become a part of the liberal catechism, but it isn’t true. Bush has never said any such thing. What he has said is that Saddam was a supporter of terrorist groups, which is indisputably true. What else? “[T]he president’s shifting and dishonest rationales and tendency to paint anyone who disagrees with him as unpatriotic offer plenty of grounds for suspicion.” Untrue again. Bush has never wavered an inch in setting forth the grounds for toppling Saddam Hussein. Read his October 2002 speech titled “President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat”; what he said then is virtually identical to what he told the United Nations today. And when has Bush ever characterized a critic as unpatriotic? If there were a single instance, Chait would cite it. But there isn’t.
Chait also cites the 2000 election, in which Bush ran as a compassionate conservative: “Bush’s success represents a breakdown of the political process….Bush…assumed office at a time when most Americans approved of Clinton’s policies. He triumphed largely because a number of democratic safeguards failed. The media overwhelmingly bought into Bush’s compassionate-conservative facade and downplayed his radical economic conservatism. On top of that, it took the monomania of a third-party spoiler candidate, plus an electoral college that gives disproportionate weight to GOP voters–the voting population of Gore’s blue-state voters exceeded that of Bush’s red-state voters–even to bring Bush close enough that faulty ballots in Florida could put him in office.”
Put aside the “faulty ballots.” Bush indisputably ran as a tax-cutting conservative; when was the last time a Democratic Presidential candidate called himself a liberal? Running to the center in Presidential elections is a time-honored tradition in both parties. And while Chait may not like the Electoral College and may wish that Nader hadn’t run, how does that make hating Bush “a logical response”?
Finally we get, I think, to the heart of the matter:
“Liberals hate Bush not because he has succeeded but because his success is deeply unfair and could even be described as cheating.
“It doesn’t help that this also happens to be a pretty compelling explanation of how Bush achieved his station in life. He got into college as a legacy; his parents’ friends and political cronies propped him up through a series of failed business ventures (the founder of Harken Energy summed up his economic appeal thusly: ‘His name was George Bush’); he obtained the primary source of his wealth by selling all his Harken stock before it plunged on bad news, triggering an inconclusive Securities Exchange Commission insider-trading investigation; the GOP establishment cleared a path for him through the primaries by showering him with a political war chest of previously unthinkable size; and conservative justices (one appointed by his father) flouted their own legal principles–adopting an absurdly expansive federal role to enforce voting rights they had never even conceived of before–to halt a recount that threatened to put his more popular opponent in the White House.”
This is a tissue of lies and distortions. Far from being “propped up,” Bush made his own living in the volatile Texas oil industry. The Harken story is a joke. Bush was the CEO of a company called Spectrum 7, which was acquired by Harken in 1986. The quote by a “founder of Harken Energy” has made the rounds ever since it was introduced by…Paul Krugman. How’s that for reliability? The founder in question is Phil Kendrick, who sold his Harken shares in 1983 and had nothing to do with the Spectrum 7 acquisition. Kendrick is an admirer of President Bush who begins all requests for interviews by saying, “I don
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