Michael Kinsley has an interesting column on libral hatred of Bush in Time magazine. It is an interesting view of the liberal mindset, although I think there’s something deeper involved. However, let’s dissect Kinsley’s arguments first.
So why are liberals so angry? Here is a view from inside the beast: it’s Bush as a person and his policies as well. To start, we do think he stole the election. Yes, yes, we’re told to "get over it", and we’ve been pretty damned gracious. But we can’t help it: this still rankles. What rankles especially is Bush’s almost total lack of grace about the extraordinary way he took office. Theft aside, he indisputably got fewer votes than the other guy, our guy. We expected some soothing bipartisan balm. There was none, even after 9/11. (Would it have been that hard to appoint a Democrat as head of Homeland Security, in a "bring us together" spirit?)
Even if Bush had done so, and there are some Democrats who would be well qualified (Gary Hart comes to mind). However, Bush worked with Sen. Ted Kennedy on the education bill, made efforts to reach out to Democrats, and tried to build a bipartisan consensus on issues such as campaign finance reform. For a President that has never once vetoed a bill, even ones that he should have like McCain-Feingold, it’s hard to argue that Bush hasn’t tried to reach out across party lines. However, each time the Democrats have only stepped up their attacks.
We also thought that Bush’s apparent affability, and his lack of knowledge or strong views or even great interest in policy issues, would make him temperate on the ideological thermometer. (Psst! We also thought, and still think, he’s pretty dumb â€” though you’re not supposed to say it and we usually don’t. And we thought that this too would make him easier to swallow.) It turns out, though, that Bush’s, um, unreflectiveness shores up his ideological backbone. An adviser who persuades Bush to adopt Policy X does not have to be worried that our President will keep turning it over in his mind, monitoring its progress, reading and thinking about the complaints of its critics, perhaps even re-examining it on the basis of subsequent developments, and announce one day that he prefers Policy Y. This does not happen. He knows what he thinks, and he has to be told it only once.
Oh really? So Bush doggedly sticks to every policy – except when he doesn’t. The left is currently criticizing Bush for not having a plan for Iraq – as Jonathan Rauch points out in The National Journal Bush’s policy in Iraq is one of pragmatic flexibility. It was clear that Jay Garner wasn’t adept enough at post-war administration so he was replaced by Paul Bremer. Now the White House is creating a new task force to deal directly with the civilian reconstruction. That’s hardly a sign of inflexibility, but a realization that certain policies didn’t work and others did. It’s clear that Bush has significantly rewritten the rules of engagement for terrorism, and embraced the concept of nation building despite his earlier opposition to nation building during the 2000 campaign. Again, Kinsley’s argument boils down to a series of fallacies of exclusion that justifies Kinsley’s partisan hatred.
Kinsley finishes with this observation which cuts closer to the heart of the issue:
Screaming powerlessly at a defenseless television set is a metaphor for the sense of powerlessness that unites these elements in liberal rage. In the 1980s, liberals nursed the fear that we really might be dwelling in an irrelevant cul-de-sac outside of the majority American culture. That kept us sullen and mopey. Today we feel that our side got the most votes, and it didn’t matter. This man then sold a war to the country based on fictions, and it didn’t matter. It didn’t even matter if he hadn’t made the sale, since he mainly asserted the right to invade another country. And Krauthammer is right: we didn’t think he had the heart or the brains for anything like this. It’s maddening.
Bush hatred is based fundamentally on the arrogance of the left. It drives leftists insane that someone whom they consider a tactless, stupid, cowboy Texan is beating them and beating them badly. 2000 could be dismissed as a fluke (even though the jurisprudence of Bush v. Gore is nowhere near as bad as its political consequences are made to be).
But after September 11, the left found their ideology on the wrong side of world events. The events of September 11 awakened America’s Jacksonian impulses which stand in opposition to the transnational progressivism of the left. The left is an ideology born in the 1960’s in which patriotism was at best passe and at worse emblematic of everything the left hates. Bush not only was able to beat them at their own game by advancing a conservative agenda for issues like education and Social Security. With terrorism becoming the foremost issue on the national consciousness it was clear that the left was in danger of becoming ideological marginalized.
The response was to unleash of barrage of criticism at Bush – in essence, the left is suffering from a massive case of cognitive dissonance. They believe that Bush is both an idiot and the worst thing since Hitler because it justifies their worldview. If Bush is an idiot it gives them a feeling of intellectual superiority, and if he’s Hitler it makes them feel like rightous moral crusaders.
The problem with all of this is that it creates a situation in which the Democrats now don’t view the world based on any sense of objective reality. They hate the PATRIOT Act, so everyone else should hate it too. They hate Bush, so everyone hates Bush too. They’re facing the BYOB factor – the kind of detachment from reality that happens when you begin to Believe Your Own Bullshit. Right now they think the economy is going to plunge into a recession and Iraq will fall apart. In fact, they want those things to happen because they will both hurt Bush regardless of the fact that millions of people would also be hurt in the process.
The Democrats have to realize that the rest of the country doesn’t think like a coastal liberal, and that the dirtier they get the worse they look. If the only thing the Democratic Party has to offer the country in a critical time is partisan rancor then they should be prepared for a return of 1972, 1984, and 2002.