The great divide

The excellent blog Captain’s Quarters follows up on my ruminations about whether Dean is Iraq-proof among Democrats. It concludes that Dean’s tone-deaf comments about Saddam will not cause him to suffer much among Democrats, not because Dean is Iraq-proof, but because the passionate left hates Bush more than it hates Saddam. It then provides a characteristically insightful comparison of the left’s demonization of Bush and the right’s demonization of Clinton, noting that, in both instances, the hatred is hard to explain rationally since both presidents have governed essentially from the political center.
I agree with some of what the Captain has to say about the parallels between the Bush haters and the Clinton haters (myself included). However, I don’t think that Bush hatred provides the underlying explantion of the left’s position on Iraq. As I tried to argue in my earlier post (“Other Things That Didn’t Matter To Many Democrats”), liberal Democrats have been taking these sorts of positions since Bush was a Yale student and his father was a young Congressman. The reason why they do so, I believe, is a deep ambivalence about the exercise of American power and, for some, a deep ambivalance about America itself. The hatred for Bush stems, in signnificant part, from the same source. Bush personifies the unabashed exercise of American power. No amount of moderation, or indeed liberalism, on issues such as health care or education can overcome his stance on the more fundamental question of the meaning of America. In that sense, the left’s hatred of Bush may not be all that irrational.
The same can be said, perhaps, for the right’s hatred of Clinton. No amount of welfare reform could overcome the fact that Clinton was so ambivalent about America and its miltary, whether as a student dodging the draft and leading anti-war rallies on foreign soil or as president abjectly apologizing for various American policies. When one adds to the mix Clinton’s flagrant disregard of tradiional moral values, it’s not that difficult to understand why so many hated him.

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