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Hating George W. Bush
By W. James Antle III
When Bill Clinton was president, there was much talk of the right being dominated by obsessive "Clinton haters," the irrational foot soldiers of the vast right-wing conspiracy. Reflexive and particularly vitriolic opponents of our current president are less frequently labeled "Bush haters."
According to the Bush haters, every policy position taken by the Bush administration ranging from tax cuts to a possible war against Iraq is simply a covert attempt to enrich Big Oil and corrupt corporate robber barons while engaging in massive discrimination and deliberately despoiling the environment for good measure. Rather than debate any of these positions on their merits, the Bush haters insist that they all spring from these sinister motives and should thus be automatically rejected on that basis. In their view, there are no other serious arguments worth refuting. We are a nation careening out of control under the leadership of a low-IQ, immature, warmongering president.
This sort of rhetoric isn't confined to the discussion threads in the Democratic Underground's forums. It is a staple of some fairly well known liberal commentators and opinion leaders who see it as their duty to save the country from the ignorance of the great unwashed masses living in those desolate red states.
Ronnie Dugger, writing in the Nation, described what he sees as the terrifying truth about the Bush administration: "His selection as President by the Supreme Court in 2000 was a presidential and judicial coup. Progressives may believe this coup stains his Administration as illegitimate, but apparently he and his inner group take it as leave to cast aside the Bill of Rights and international law. Now the President is out of control and threatens American democracy and the peace of the world." After listing still more of this "crypto-fascist" regime's transgressions, he exhorts his fellow Ralph Nader supporters to repent and vote Democratic in the next election because "(t)hese are the realities that tell us Bush must be beaten in 2004. Not only the nation, but the world, depends on it." These words were written after the midterm elections, when the voters decided to put Republican supporters of this horrible administration in charge of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
But the Nation is playing to a hard-left crowd. So it is perhaps more interesting to read some of the anti-Bush sentiments that make their way into the mainstream press, such as America's "newspaper of record." New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has compared President Bush to the French nationalist politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. This is presumably meant to imply that the president is some kind of bigot, although no actual examples of this bigotry are provided (unless being a Republican and a Christian qualifies as prima facie evidence). If there is any indication that the president shares Le Pen's view that immigration should be restricted, I haven't seen it.
Or consider syndicated columnist and cartoonist Ted Rall's "revelation" that the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) may have been assassinated by the Bush administration complete with just enough wiggle room to plausibly deny that he had explicitly endorsed this conspiracy theory. Rall, the charming fellow who drew that notorious cartoon portraying 9/11 widows as essentially a group of women out to make a quick buck, nevertheless wouldn't put it past Bush: "Asking mailmen to spy on ordinary Americans, creating military tribunals for anyone deemed an enemy combatant,' locking prisoners of war in dog cages, spending a decade's worth of savings in six months, allowing journalists to die rather than provide them with help in a war zone, smearing Democratic politicians as anti-American, invading sovereign nations without excuse--these are acts that transgress essential American reasonableness. A man capable of these things seems, by definition, capable of anything."
Rall quoted an email from a reader who also "wouldn't put it past the Republicans these Republicans THESE Republicans to sabotage Wellstone's plane." He also wrote that local pilots "doubt that ice was a problem" that might have caused the plane crash. Later on, he pointed out that "(m)any American politicians mostly Democrats and liberal Republicans have died in aviation disasters." Was Rall alleging a larger right-wing conspiracy? (Of course, former Republican Sen. John Tower of Texas was no liberal and one of those Democrats, Congressman Larry McDonald of Georgia, was sufficiently conservative to be chairman of the John Birch Society.) Even if there is nothing to this conspiracy theory, Rall believes that Bush deserves the accusation anyway: "The fact that we're having this discussion at all is a symptom of the polarizing effect that Bush and his top dogs have had on the United States since assuming office and even more so in the hard-right free-for-all that followed the Sept. 11 attacks."
Bill Moyers, in a recent commentary for taxpayer-funded PBS, also suggested that Bush is pursuing an extreme "right-wing agenda." Republican victories in the midterm elections will enable Bush to use "the power of the state to force pregnant women to give up control over their own lives" while "using the taxing power to transfer wealth from working people to the rich ... giving corporations a free hand to eviscerate the environment ... secrecy on a scale you cannot imagine. Above all, it means judges with a political agenda appointed for life ... And if you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture." Your tax dollars at work.
Moyers isn't the only veteran journalist blowing a gasket over Bush. Helen Thomas has stated that Bush is the first president she has covered who "actually wanted to go to war" and effective equated his Iraq policy with Pearl Harbor. Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote a rambling piece that appeared to suggest that the D.C. sniper shootings would have been solved if the president had taken a walk around the Washington suburbs and Attorney General John "Prayer Book" Ashcrosft ("Prayer Book" being Breslin's childish description, not mine) had intervened with the National Guard. IntellectualConservative.com columnist Brian S. Wise observed, "The thing you should find most uncanny about the zealot (those belonging to either political extreme) is their uncanny ability to blame the opposing side's most notable figurehead for whatever tragedy may befall even one common man, no matter how disconnected the figurehead may be from the happenings."
The Bush haters do not reserve all of their venom for Bush. They also target those associated with his administration, with Ashcroft being the favorite. In a departing interview, New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis asserted that "certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity" and gave Ashcroft and Osama bin Laden as his two examples. Christopher Hitchens cited the growing inability of many on the left to discern that bin Laden is a greater threat to America than Ashcroft among his reasons for leaving the Nation. Singer Harry Belafonte recently called Secretary of State Colin Powell a "house slave." A liberal radio talk show host has used racist remarks in describing National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The list goes on.
I have also criticized President Bush and officials in his administration, particularly Ashcroft. There are a number of issues where I disagree with the administration. I think concerns about civil liberties and the extent of our military interventions abroad are perfectly valid. But the attacks discussed in this article move beyond what is reasonable into the realm of sheer lunacy. It may be true that some right-wingers have said equally absurd things about Clinton and the Democrats. It is also true that Republicans did not always help themselves, either politically or in terms of substantive policy, by fixating on Clinton's shortcomings. Yet the irrationality, viciousness and sheer hatred of the Bush haters hasn't been given adequate attention. Nor has the contrast between their shrill fulminations and the president's graciousness toward his opponents. Time magazine published a "Clintonophobia" article dissecting anti-Clinton forces in 1994; when will they follow up with one about the Bush haters? And while there are some on the hard right who employ such bitter anti-Bush rhetoric, Bush-hating is a predominantly liberal phenomenon.
Fittingly, it appears that the Bush haters' tactics may even be damaging to their own causes. If the 2002 election results are any indication, the American people are not impressed by virulent attacks on the president working to leading them during these troubled times.
James Antle III is a senior editor for Enter Stage Right.
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