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Taking A Crack at So-Called "Bush Hatred"
December 9, 2003
By Alan M. Haney

"No matter what George Bush does, in some eyes it will always be wrong." - posted on a Lubbock, Texas online message board, 12/3/2003

If there is indeed "Bush Hatred" in this country (and there at least seems to be a cottage industry devoted to writing about it), you can't realistically blame the so-called "Bush-haters" for it. Ever since Bush took office, there has been a concerted effort to reduce the whole of political discourse in America to its most basic components, liking separating a water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. With us or against us. Conservative or liberal. Left or right. No middle ground allowed, or even acknowledged to exist. The problem is that not every "molecule" in America can be broken down into two nice and easy-to-understand parts. Some of these "molecules" are very complex structures, not lending themselves to the simplistic "either-or" reduction.

It is blanket statements like the one quoted above that cause many liberals to form the opinion that conservatives are close-minded, or at least thinking with metaphorical blinders on. While there is a nugget of truth in it from a literal standpoint, its wounded, defensive tone attempts to distract one from the larger point. It's not always a matter of whether what Bush does or says is "right" or "wrong" (as the right so narrowly limits the available ideological options) but whether it's even the right thing or smart thing to do.

Bush seems to so often do the diametric opposite of what he says he'll do anyway (for example, cutting funding for his own NCLB program, or his recent caving to the Euros on steel tariffs). It's frustrating to see this kind of Presidential flip-flop happening all the time, and when someone has the temerity to point it out, the knee-jerk response from the right is "Oh, another Bush-hater," often accompanied by shrill accusations of treason or Communist affiliations. There is no third choice - you must either love him or hate him. They then remind us what a "really nice guy and God-fearing man" the President is alleged to be, as though that excuses him from any criticism of his performance and we should be ashamed for doing so.

George W. Bush may in fact be a genuinely nice Christian guy who means well. (For the sake of discussion I'll concede the possibility, if not the fact.) But what gets so many people riled up is that this supposedly nice, personable Christian guy is also doing what we see as seriously idiotic things, like passing huge tax cuts and creating huge deficits, pre-emptively invading sovereign nations which aren't threatening us, or passing a budget-buster of a prescription drug bill that don't really help any normal people, or the aforementioned lifting of steel tariffs prematurely in an economy which is still struggling to recover. This is a classic example of a Bush bait and switch. Is it worth some votes to put even more Americans out of work? There's also the scarcely-mentioned fact that weakening the American steel industry also weakens the American Steelworkers union, which doesn't seem to be a real bright move in a re-election sense. What the hell is he thinking?

This points toward one thing which I don't believe is really appreciated by those who thoughtlessly consign liberals to the Bush-hater corner. There actually are a lot of us who want to like the guy - after all, he is our President - and some (however grudgingly) want to be able to think of him as a good President; after all, we've been told repeatedly that George Bush is personally a real nice fellow. Some of us really would like to like him. Do you righties really not get this?

I personally believe that most Americans want to like their President, to feel as if somewhere you'll have some common ideological ground, maybe an attitude toward this or that in common. In a lot of important 21st-century media-savvy ways, Bush can appear very Presidential for the cameras; whether or not he stole an election or governs without a mandate, he usually has his lines down cold, projecting a feel-good image of American certitude and confidence.

But even for those willing to stipulate that he's not Evil Incarnate sitting at the hub of a vast right-wing conspiracy to control the planet, he still does some of the flat-out craziest things. The fact is, as a President, some people think he's a walking disaster. He may in fact be a wonderful guy and a God-fearing man, but in many eyes he's The President From Hell, an incompetent, inarticulate bumbler who is blithely unaware of his own very real fallibility. That perception, for good or ill, is a stone-hard fact. When the Dixie Chicks made their widely-publicized statement to a London audience, they not only articulated the feelings of many Texans, but millions of other Americans as well.

A lot (and you might be surprised at just how much) of what the right calls "Bush Hatred" is really not "hatred" at all. That's a convenient us-or-them attitude for the right to hold because it requires very little thought to do so, but it has little basis in reality. What many on both sides of the political fence feel is a sense of frustration, shame, disappointment, and disillusionment, as though we've been conned into buying a shoddily-made product.

If those feelings coalesce over time into anger or even "uncivil dialogue" directed towards the President, why is the right so shocked and dismayed by it? Even the most short-sighted wingnut need only go back to the Clinton years to see real hatred and loathing of a President by his opposition. It has been that way to a degree all through our history, with discontent boiling over into outright murder on numerous occasions. A modern President knows that there is a one in five chance that he will die in office, and chances are high that an attempt will be made on his life. But Bush and his presidency - indeed, the American Way of Life Itself, according to some of the right's most vitriolic spokespersons - are somehow threatened and targets of hatred because of harsh opinions, words or accusations which are nothing more than the expression of every American's birthright to criticize our government and our leaders. Do the rulers of this country actually believe that they are exempt from the scrutiny of the people?

Just how do you righties perform this peculiar alchemy that simultaneously shrinks the ideological playing field and makes dissent dangerous, even toxic, to its soil? The way a lot of us see it, you're the guys telling us that we're "wrong" - or, worse, disloyal and treasonous - to even hold, much less express, dissatisfaction, and that is just plain nuts. There's a liberal lunatic fringe out there, sure; but you've got your own, too, and it's not so "fringe" - it's in our faces and on our radios every single day. The fact that Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, et. al. are popular with a large number of people does not mitigate their collective lunacy, or their blatant attempts to silence dissent.

Ever since we've been "at war," you seem to believe that the mere fact of being at war is supposed to automatically (if unofficially) change the rules and definitions. All of a sudden (according to you) we're no longer normal tax-paying Joes griping about the government, but The Dreaded Leftist Pinkos, treasonous minions of Satan who support horrible, brutal people and harbor destructive designs. What a load of fertilizer! Just because we disagree with or simply don't like the President? This is nothing short of ridiculous, and you seem unable to understand our sense of incredulity about it. We see things... actions and policies that we think are just plain wrong-headed for America, if not suspect in other ways, and we're expected to just shut up about it and go away? No. I don't think so.

The root of it all is this, and many conservatives seem to overlook it, perhaps because it is so basic: check it out - we don't HAVE to shut up OR go away. Why not? Because this is our America, too, pal. Oh, you may not like it - judging from the number of invitations to emigrate issued to liberals by conservative nutcases, a lot of you don't - but it's a cold hard fact. We're not going anywhere except to the polls. You'd better come up with a more inclusive concept of discourse and governance than "my way or the highway," because that will literally only work in your wildest dreams.

Your "highway" can never be built. You can't bulldoze dissent or steamroll it into silence with a lot of flag-waving bluster or claims to piety, and you can't deport it en masse. It's way past time for a reality check, people. You can't shut us up, you can't drive us out, and we will not be ignored. America is not an "either-or" proposition, and unless you realize that, you're not even really living in America - you're living in a fantasy.

Go ahead - continue to dismiss the growing discontent in this country as simple "Bush Hatred" if a nice tidy label is easier to get your minds around. But you do so at your own risk.

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