The year of hating President Bush

Robert Samuelson, in the Washington Post, provides his take on the “fashionableness” of hating President Bush. He makes two main points. First, he argues that what the Bush haters really resent “is that his popularity suggests that the country might be more like him than it is like them. They fear he is exiling them politically.” Thus, “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.”
Samuelson’s second point is that, in terms of percentages, not very many Americans actually hate Bush. One poll, taken in December, found that only 3 percent did. This is a point that some of our readers have made in response to our many blogs about Bush-hating. It’s an important point, but it tends to overlook the fact that small percentages of haters can cause lots of trouble. For example, there’s no reason to believe that the percentage of those who hated Clinton was ever very high either. Indeed, prior to the Monica scandal, it probably did not exceed the level of current Bush-hating. Yet the Clinton haters helped bring that scandal to light, thus seriously affecting Clinton’s presidency.
But hating is a double-edged sword. In the immortal words of that great hater, Richard Nixon, “others may hate you, but they don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.” Unlike Nixon, Bush doesn’t seem to hate his critics, preferring to see if they will destroy themselves. This they may do if the hatred of hard core Democrats causes the party to nominate a candidate whose stridency turns off swing voters, very few of whom seem to hate Bush. This is a mistake the Repubicans did not make during the Clinton era, as much as core members of the base may have hated Slick Willie. In 1996, the candidate of choice among Clinton haters was Phil Gramm. His campaign never got off the ground. Instead, the Republicans nominated the (by then) affable Bob Dole. Clinton won convincingly, but the Republicans kept control of both houses of Congress. The Democrats, by nominating a hater, may suffer a significantly more serious defeat next year.

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