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November 11, 2004

Bush Hatred Is Different

Remember when Jonathan Chait published his screed about why he hated Bush, prompting the first of Hugh's blog-seminars? One of the more cogent defenses of Bush-hysteria was that, well, the Republicans felt the same way about Clinton.

So I decided to go back and look at what the Republicans actually did say about Clinton in 1996, when he was re-elected.

Shocking, the hatred that poured forth from the pens of Republican columnists. For instance, Bill Safire had this to say:

Right-wingers can call Bill Clinton the first president elected by women; we can deride his inability to achieve a majority, despite the inflated poll predictions; we can thank him for depressing voter turnout and thereby becoming the first Democratic candidate since Al Smith to return a GOP Congress to power; and we can mutter that he won only because he adopted our principles of balanced budgets with tax cuts.

But the political fact is - he won. Re-won the presidency big, starting from flat on his back. That deserves a nongrudging respect, and it's why I'm telling myself to get over it.

How can you stand to read it?

Cal Thomas, that centrist, was even more bitter:

The main casualty in the 1996 election was not Bob Dole but ideas. Focus groups and constant polling ensured that no idea -- good or bad -- would go unpunished by demagogues seeking political advantage. So the voters were left to cast their ballots on "feelings." Even though most of them don't trust Bill Clinton, somehow he made a plurality feel good enough to re-elect him....

There are profound differences between the two parties. Democrats have been hiding or stealing their ideas. Republicans must remain steadfast in theirs.

The main message from the 1996 election? Liberalism is dead. Republicans need no longer negotiate with the vanquished.

Oh, the invective! Oh, the unrestrained passion!

Even George Will couldn't contain himself:

Pursing its lips austerely, the electorate saw its duty and did it pitilessly. Feeling inclined to extend the Clinton presidency, it did so in a deflating manner, making him a lame duck on a short leash held by a Congress that probably will be controlled by Republicans for the rest of his tenure. Which is why his postelection smile could be construed as an inverted grimace.

Fred Barnes pointed out in his Weekly Standard column that the press was likely to be less forgiving, something President Bush won't have to worry about. Krauthammer advised Dole not to go softly into that good Medicare Commissions, and reward Clinton for his demagoguing of the issue.

I looked through a variety of mainstream conservative columnists, and that's really about as bad as it got.

But the anti-Bush screeds are coming not merely from the online community, where little brackish backwaters of resentment and hatred haven't even been cleaned out by the stiff rain of electoral defeat. They're coming from Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, Bob Herbert, and the pages of the Times. This is a one-to-one comparison - mainstream conseratives to mainstream liberals.

It's not something for liberalism to be proud of.

Krauthammer was right that many people considered the election of 2000 to have been unresolved. Toqueville wrote that an election resembles a national crisis, but that immediately afterwards, things are settled, and return to normal. If that never happened, if the national crisis persisted for 4+ years, it's no wonder that some people have gotten used to operating in crisis mode. But we need to get back to a point where we're adversaries, not enemies.

Look, it's easier to take being called morons and religious freaks when you win. Certainly it's less threatening. But it's not healthy under any circumstances. It leads to physical attacks, shootings at buildings, swastika-burning, you know, politics by other means. And it leads conservatives to feel marginalized, even while winning elections.

Posted by joshuasharf at November 11, 2004 03:13 PM | TrackBack
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