View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Big Glass of Hateraide

It's now no secret that Jonathan Chait of the New Republic hates President Bush. He hates him the way Bill Murray hated the gopher. The way a power hitter hates a power pitcher's change-up, or the eephus pitch. The way the pimply-faced high school kid hates the homecoming queen, because no matter how nice she is when she says "no," it still means she not only didn't want him, she didn't need him. So much that, while he knows something might be wrong, he can't question his hate, since, having lost the House, the Senate, the Presidency, the state legislatures, and the governorships, it's all he has left. How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways...

I hate him for less substantive reasons, too. I hate the inequitable way he has come to his economic and political achievements and his utter lack of humility (disguised behind transparently false modesty) at having done so. His favorite answer to the question of nepotism--"I inherited half my father's friends and all his enemies"--conveys the laughable implication that his birth bestowed more disadvantage than advantage. He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school--the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks--shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks--blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudopopulist twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him. I hate his lame nickname-bestowing-- a way to establish one's social superiority beneath a veneer of chumminess (does anybody give their boss a nickname without his consent?). And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.

There seem to be quite a few of us Bush haters. I have friends who have a viscerally hostile reaction to the sound of his voice or describe his existence as a constant oppressive force in their daily psyche.

You can't get to this sort of thing by rational deduction. Only by degrees of madness. Envy? Well, maybe. We can't all be Kennedys or Roosevelts. But then, oil was never actually illegal, either. But the sound of his voice? His existence? Taking refuge in the company of people like that is only going to make things worse, Jonathan. And taking refuge in numbers (a temporary ruse, as we shall see) is like Pauline Kael not understanding how Nixon could have won, since she didn't know anyone who voted for him.

Yet, for all its pervasiveness, Bush hatred is described almost exclusively as a sort of incomprehensible mental affliction.

An "incomprehensible mental affliction?" I wonder why. Actually, it's pretty comprehensible. When your only standard is brains, you can't stand losing to someone you think is dumber than you. Chait compares Bush-hatred to Clinton-hatred, forgetting Nixon-hatred. In his mind, Clinton-hatred was much more pervasive among Republicans. Lack of facts aside, note the rhetorical bait-and-switch. Bush-hating is "pervasive," but, well, not all that pervasive.

Chait claims that "A second, more crucial difference is that Bush is a far more radical president than Clinton was." Right. Clinton wanted to socialize 15% of the US economy. His first act was to pay off the social liberals with a new "gays in the military" policy. He unilaterally took half of southern Utah off the table. The only reason Clinton wasn't radical was because the 1994 elections taught him the same lesson that cost him Arkansas's governorship in 1982. There's no question that Bush is radical in his conception of foreign policy. But Chait already supported the Iraq war. And Chait, a tax-and-spend liberal, can hardly object to Bush's excessive domestic spending. It's the part of Bush's presidency most likely to rile conservatives.

And, while there has been no shortage of liberal hysteria over Bush's foreign policy, it's not hard to see why it scares so many people. I was (and remain) a supporter of the war in Iraq. But the way Bush sold it--by playing upon the public's erroneous belief that Saddam had some role in the September 11 attacks--harkened back to the deceit that preceded the Spanish-American War. Bush's doctrine of preemption, which reserved the right to invade just about any nation we desired, was far broader than anything he needed to validate invading a country that had flouted its truce agreements for more than a decade. While liberals may be overreacting to Bush's foreign policy decisions-- remember their fear of an imminent invasion of Syria?--the president's shifting and dishonest rationales and tendency to paint anyone who disagrees with him as unpatriotic offer plenty of grounds for suspicion.

OK. These have been dealt with elsewhere, so let's just tick off the lies. Bush never, never said Saddam was involved directly in September 11. He's part of the network of actors that do such things. Our right to defend ourselves does not derive from UN resolutions. There's no mention of the nightmare that was Baathist Iraq. And I have never heard anyone from the Administration call anyone unpatriotic over this. Saxby Chambliss never called Max Cleland unpatriotic. Georgia would have rallied around a popular Senator being slandered. But disunity encourages the enemy. And partisan gain is a pretty lousy reason for giving people who want to kill us an edge.

As for partisanship, Chait claims that Bush has been "the most partisan President in modern US history," that the Democrats' hatred comes from being stiffed after a 50-50 election, which produced expectations of bipartisanship. And he complains that while Bush's election resulted from a breakdown in the democratic process, questioning his legitimacy is seen as inappropriate by the media.

He wants it every which way. The "compassionate" agenda was abandoned under liberal pressure. It was the Left that opposed the faith-based initiaive, the Left that opposed the tax credits, and the education bill was written by Ted Kennedy. The only other item of substance Chait lists is the Patients'Bill of Rights. He complains that Bush wouldn't support a new guaranteed revenue stream for the trial lawyers, one of the most partisan groups in the country.

If Bush has been partisan, it's because he was confronted by a hyper-partisan Senate leadership, determined to undermine his Presidency as illegitimate from the beginning. The Democratic justification for their judicial appointment obstructionism, as often as "thou, too," has been that Bush didn't really have the right to appoint anyone. The McAuliffe interview that Chait cites came in February of 2001, long before any of the "partisan" initiatives Chait cites. And I didn't see Tom Daschle encouraging Jim Jeffords to stick with the party people elected him as. If there was no Bob Bullock waiting for him in Washington, that's the Democrats' fault, not his.

It's not just that Bush has been more ideologically radical; it's that Bush's success represents a breakdown of the political process. ... He triumphed largely because a number of democratic safeguards failed. The media overwhelmingly bought into Bush's compassionate-conservative facade and downplayed his radical economic conservatism. On top of that, it took the monomania of a third-party spoiler candidate, plus an electoral college that gives disproportionate weight to GOP voters--the voting population of Gore's blue-state voters exceeded that of Bush's red-state voters--even to bring Bush close enough that faulty ballots in Florida could put him in office....Liberals hate Bush not because he has succeeded but because his success is deeply unfair and could even be described as cheating.

Read that again. No. I mean it. I'm not going on until you do. OK. Third-party candidates are always monomaniacal. This was, if you remember, the 3rd election in a row where a third party played a significant role, but also the election where it garnered the fewest votes. Third parties are not a blight on the democtratic process, they're all over the place. 1912, 1924, 1948, 1968, 1980, 1992, 1996, 2000. Chait echoes that famous non-partisan Hillary Clinton in questioning the electoral college. Again, it's part of the system. George Will points out that we've had three elections in a row where the winner polled under 50%. In the late 1800s, we did it five times in a row. But what on earth qualifies any of these factors as a "safeguard?" The fact that we went through roughly a month of uncertainty without riots, chaos, or armed factions roving through the streets testafies not to the weakness of our institutions, but to their strength. Not only did the Democrats strike out on an Eephus pitch, they did it in the World Series with the 7th game on the line. Jonathan, we feel your pain.

Chait devotes a few paragraphs to the notion that not only didn't Bush earn anything he's gotten, he couldn't have earned it if he had had to. While Bush may have gotten into Yale as a legacy, what of the A-average Harvard MBA? No, Bush is smart, and like any smart leader, he knows what he doesn't know, and what he needs help on. Chait quotes Richard Perle in Vanity Fair to the effect that Bush didn't know much early on. Aside from Perle's desire to show up well, the election, and Bush's early Presidency, were about domestic issues, until foreign policy intruded rather rudely.

Chait attacks Bush's Texan-ness as false. But when the Presidency is over, where does he think Bush is going to? Can he really imagine him taking a house in New York, or going to some think-tank? Where does he think he'll spend more time: Maine or Texas?

Clinton's nasty sneering about how Bush "sold the stock to buy the baseball team which got him the governorship which got him the presidency" misses the point. (We won't ask what Hillary's cattle futures bought.) Bush used each step as a means to learning about the next one. And if Gore had won, would the vice-presidency have "gotten" him the White House? In fact, the more one looks at the Junior Senator from New York, the more this comment looks like that old Clinton trick of projecting one's fault onto others.

In fact, the whole liberal focus on meritocracy misses the point of how we pick presidents. We look for leaders, not managers, and business schools stress leadership.

Chait: "Being a liberal, you probably subject yourself to frequent periods of self-doubt." One last, smug, self-satisfied, smirk, a parody of what conservatives think liberals are. I know of few groups less filled with self-doubt that liberals.

The persistence of an absurdly heroic view of Bush is what makes his dullness so maddening. To be a liberal today is to feel as though you've been transported into some alternative universe in which a transparently mediocre man is revered as a moral and strategic giant. You ask yourself why Bush is considered a great, or even a likeable, man. You wonder what it is you have been missing. Being a liberal, you probably subject yourself to frequent periods of self-doubt. But then you conclude that you're actually not missing anything at all. You decide Bush is a dullard lacking any moral constraints in his pursuit of partisan gain, loyal to no principle save the comfort of the very rich, unburdened by any thoughtful consideration of the national interest, and a man who, on those occasions when he actually does make a correct decision, does so almost by accident.

Notice to Peter Beinhart. On November 1, 2004, please put Mr. Chait on a 24-hour watch. We'd hate to deprive him of the next four years.

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