October 24, 2003


A Dislike Unlike Any Other?: Writer Jonathan Chait Brings Bush-Hating Out of the Closet (Howard Kurtz, October 19, 2003, Washington Post)

The words tumble out, the hands gesture urgently, as Jonathan Chait explains why he hates George W. Bush.

It's Bush's radical policies, says the 31-year-old New Republic writer, and his unfair tax cuts, and his cowboy phoniness, and his favors for corporate cronies, and his heist in Florida, and his dishonesty about his silver-spoon upbringing, and, oh yes, the way he walks and talks.

For some of his friends, Chait says at a corner table in a downtown Starbucks, "just seeing his face or hearing his voice causes a physical reaction -- they have to get away from the TV. My sister-in-law describes Bush's existence as an oppressive force, a constant weight on her shoulder, just knowing that George Bush is president."

Has this unassuming man in a rumpled sports shirt lifted the lid on a boiling caldron of anti-Bush fury in liberal precincts across America? Or is he just an overcaffeinated, irrational liberal, venting to a minority of like-minded readers?

Ramesh Ponnuru, a soft-spoken conservative at National Review, pays Chait a backhanded compliment, writing that "not everyone would be brave enough to recount their harrowing descent into madness so vividly."

Ponnuru calls him "smart, funny and completely misguided." Since the president is so likable, he says, the outbreak of Bush hatred "just makes you scratch your head."

Far from being inexplicable, the Left's hatred of George W. Bush seems quite logical and even justified--that it's only emerged at this late date helps to explain its source. The problem is that they bought into their own rhetoric about Mr. Bush and came to believe him an inconsequential imbecile. But while they were dismissing him, he began what could end up being a radical transformation of the American state and society since FDR's. And, just as FDR was despised by the Right for the damage he was doing by vastly increasing the power of the State, so is it necessary for the Left to despise Mr. Bush as he seeks to transfer that power back to the people.

Today's hate-fest has accelerated and become public because the Left has finally figured out what should have been obvious to them as far back as 2001 or 2002, Mr. Bush is succeeding. Even after you set aside the most obvious successes--tax cuts and the war on terror--consider the series of other monumental victories: No Child Left Behind, which as they've only now realized is a voucher plan; the Faith-Based Initiative, which they've only just realized is being implemented by Executive Order; increasing privatization of the Federal work force; etc. Combine these policy achievements with the ahistorical midterm victories in 2002 and what looks to be a pretty good 2003 election cycle for the GOP (just winning CA would make it so, but MS, KY, and LA all have competitive races for governor), and you have the frightening prospect for the Left that far from turning voters off, this transformation is winning their support or at least their acquiescence.

Now we head into the 2004 election cycle and not only is the President going to be re-elected easily but the House is going to stay Republican, again, and Republicans will be closer to 60 than to 50 seats in the Senate.

Why does the Left hate George W. Bush so much? May as well wonder why the Right hated FDR so much in 1935.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 24, 2003 6:34 PM

I missed by 45 minutes running into Paul Krugman and Molly Ivins at Threadgill's in Austin last Saturday. They were there to promote Krugman's new book (we were there just to eat dinner), but I actually would have liked to have tossed Molly my theory that, because of her New York Times past and her liberal credentials writing for The Nation and In These Times, she was the original go-to person for the East Coast media heavies on "the real George W. Bush" when he became a national political factor That made Molly was the one who, be creating the "Shrub" reference among others, steered the national media portrayal of Bush towards the image of a dimwit.

While this was probably very theraputic at the time for Ivins -- given her simmering anger over Bush's win over her buddy Ann Richards in 1994 -- if Molly had been more analyitic and told the media (and national Democrats) that "Bush may seem like a lightweight but don't underestimate him. He had no business winning the '94 election over Richards but he did anyway because he connects with a lot of voters" the media and the Gore campagin might not have prepared for the 2000 debates as though GWB was going to dissolve into a drooling idiot, and Al would have probably snared those few extra votes that would have made him president today.

Posted by: John at October 24, 2003 7:58 PM

Besides, the Left has a track record of hating not being confined to the loonie fringes-- Long before Clinton, Nixon and Reagan were perfectly acceptable targets for people who otherwise considered themselves compassionate or moderate. And let's not forget that most of the nasty comments about Johnson in 1968 didn't come from Republicans.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 24, 2003 7:59 PM

The left wants everyone else to be oh so tolerant of others. Of course, they can disregard their own words, because, it's GEORGE bleeping BUSH!

Posted by: robert nagle at October 24, 2003 9:39 PM

If being governed by George W. Bush is so darned oppressive, why are the complainers still here (a la Alec Baldwin)? Because their vapors are nothing but that. If a Willie Stark were ever elected, then some of those people might start to leave. And if an Allende were ever elected, then he would be removed somehow. But for now, Chait and his friends can just sit around and moan.

I doubt if the Left feels the same way people did in 1935 - Bush is not a 'traitor to his class', and although many of his positions are conservative, they are not of the earthquake variety. It is more likely that the Chaits are driven by envy and shock, primarily because Bush means what he says and then does it. To the Left, a saccharine and slippery dreamer is always preferable to Alvin York.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 24, 2003 10:03 PM


Your Ivins theory is fascinating. I think you might be on to something there.

Fred Jacobsen
San Francisco

Posted by: F.A. Jacobsen at October 24, 2003 10:52 PM

All of that may be true, but never underestimate the disdain of opinionmakers for anybody who speaks Southron.

The man's policies matter not a bit. Johnson, Carter and Bush all get the same sneer.

Gore, whose connections with the South are exiguous, speaks like a Yankee and gets a pass.

Clinton has only a slight funny accent and got some, but not nearly as much, of the Johnson/Carter/Bush treatment.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 25, 2003 12:01 AM

Fred --

Living the past 20 years in Texas after being in New York and Washington, I found it fascinating that over the first 10-15 years I was here, whenever the key NY-Washginton media people wanted to know "what was really going on in Texas politics" they would inevtibably come down to Austin and turn to Molly Ivins (CBS was the worst about this). Given the political make-up of the state, and of Ms. Ivins herself, this is about as logical as trying to measure the pulse of New York City politics by going to William F. Buckley, Jr., because he ran for mayor in 1965 (though as a friend of Ann Richards, there was a little logic to it when Ann was in office between 1990 and 1994).

The whole "Bush=Moron" thing goes back to liberal Democrats from Texas like Ivins and Jim Hightower (who went from liberal publisher to ag commissioner before being ousted in 1994 by now-Gov. Rick Perry and then getting his own talk radio show). The fed their contempt for the man to the national press, but if they had been more dispassionate in their evaluations of GWB it would have done their own cause far more good in the 2000 election, IMHO.

Now, of course, we've got the same thing going on a national scale, and since "Bush=Moron" hasn't done any good, we've got the "Bush=Hitler" thing, which seems to be working equally as well on your average rational human being. Even this isn't new. Back during the 1980 election, Reagan was portrayed in the media as both a moron (the ketchup as a vegtable, trees cause pollution things) and a lunatic who would no doubt, if elected, immediately turn away from Chief Justice Burger after his swearing-in ceremony to the military aide carrying the nuclear football and order it to be opened up, so he could press the button and start World War III.

Democrats and the NY-DC media always try to portray Republican presidents, dating back to Hoover, as either stupid or evil. But the really successful ones get to be stupid and evil at the same time, so I guess congratuations are in order to Mr. Bush for reaching that lofty Reaganesque plateau.

Posted by: John at October 25, 2003 1:20 AM

It's hard for me to understand why Bush hatred is so intense, when Bush is clearly a Big Government conservative. He's further encroached the federal government into the local issue of education, he's pursuing an expensive prescription drug plan, and I've seen no evidence that he's shrunk the federal government. Hardly the actions of an arch-convervative gutting the New Deal.

Posted by: Peter Caress at October 25, 2003 2:38 AM

"For some of his friends, Chait says at a corner tabble in a downtown Starbucks...". That just about sums it up, doesn't it?

This reminds me of that quote about the Upper West Side woman who was perplexed after McGovern lost because everybody she knew voted for McGovern.

Chait's best cross-section of America is all the double tall decaf soy latte and the chia drinkers who layabout the local coffee shop. Too bad he couldn't throw in the cast of Friends.

Posted by: pchuck at October 25, 2003 9:33 AM

Don't be such an inverted snob, pchuck. Americans of all classes enjoy decent coffee. Hence the near-ubiquity of Starbucks and other coffee shops, at least around the Mid-Atlantic states.

Posted by: Peter Caress at October 25, 2003 9:44 AM

I think it is funny how some Presidents stirred so much hatred. Reagan and Nixon were really hated by the Left and they absolutely destroyed their opponents in their re-election bids. On the other hand, Clinton certainly arosed a similar amount of hatred and bile but he didn't destroy Dole as bad as Reagan and Nixon destroyed their opponents. And let's be frank, Dole and Kemp ran an embarassingly bad campaign. I don't think it was because Clinton was a Dem, because it seems that FDR did the same thing to his re-election foes. I am curious as to how overwhelmingly Bush will defeat Howard Dean next year.

In hindsight, Nixon deserved all that hatred but I can't say that would have prefered McGovern for president in '72. Good gracious, with the exception of the space program, pro football and MLB baseball the 1970's were just plain terrible.

Posted by: pchuck at October 25, 2003 9:47 AM

Peter. "...at least here in the Mid-Atlantic states." Telling.

Actually, I enjoy a good cup of coffee. I used to live in Gore country when I clerked for a judge in Portland, Oregon. However, I bet most Americans think that coffee shops where you can drop $4.00+ on some fancy espresso drink is a rather silly thing to do and not necesairly where you are going to find a cross-section of America. Even though Starbucks makes truck-loads of money, most Americans (approximately 250 million??) don't and never will purchase anything at Starbucks. For goodness sake, Starbucks sells $250 coffee pots. I think it is safe to say that any business in America that sells something called "Ethiopia Yergacheffe" is going to have a lot more W haters than W lovers.

Starbucks has a target demographic and they give them what they want. For the most part, Starbucks fleeces a lot of upper-middle class sheep. I would very much like to own one but I hear that they don't franchise.

BTW, last year we got our first Starbucks in Omaha, Nebraska. You'll be happy to know that indoor plumbing was available for all those baristas.

Posted by: pchuck at October 25, 2003 10:59 AM

I said "Mid-Atlantic states" because that's where I live and that's what I'm familiar with; I didn't presume to estimate the Starbucks concentration in (say) North Dakota, because I've never been there.

Yes, I'm sure a disproportionate number of people in a Starbucks are bourgeois liberals, but it's hardly as one-sided as you think. Looking at the Starbucks store locator, I see that there are at least 10 Starbucks in the Omaha area, 3 of which are located in Super Target stores.

My relatives in Bladen and Wayne will be glad to hear that you still have indoor plumbing in Omaha.

Posted by: Peter Caress at October 25, 2003 11:37 AM

Peter, point taken and I'm glad you were good natured at the swipe I took.

My point is that I just think Chait's use of Starbucks is very interesting and rather typical of the left. Where does he go to find W haters? The place where you can pick up a cup of New Guinea Peabody or Fair Trade Sulawesi. I'd say that the corner diner, Home Depot, Burger King or local supermarket is going to produce a better mix of people than the Starbucks. And these are places you won't find liberals asking people about their politics because at those locations they won't find certain hard-core politics beliefs. Even though these are places where liberals, conservatives, apoliticals and the squishy middle frequent just about everyday.

Posted by: pchuck at October 25, 2003 12:09 PM

You dare blaspheme Starbucks and you expect me not to be offended?!?

(Just kidding. No offense was taken.)

Posted by: Peter Caress at October 25, 2003 12:56 PM

There are a couple of Starbucks (with and without the B&N bookstore attached) in Bush's hometown of Midland, Texas. Perhaps Chait needs to start hanging out there to straighten out his political bearings (and both stores sell The New York Times, so he doesn't have to feel completely lost in the Red state wilderness...).

Posted by: John at October 25, 2003 1:27 PM

Bush simply realizes that time is on his side. The country has been trending Republican for decades, as party identification has caught up with ideological identification. For the past three decades self-identified conservatives have outnumbered self-identified liberals by 2-to-1 margins. Party identification is coming into line with this long-standing trend - especially as the elderly voters who lean Democratic are literally dying off.

Fred Barnes caught a lot of heat for daring to say the obvious: the Repubs are becoming this country's new majority party. No, this doesn't mean the Repubs will win every election from now on. It simply means that a Repub president starts with a built-in advantage, and a Dem president with a built-in disadvantage.

That's why Clinton lost Congress and the Dems still haven't regained control of either house. That's why Clinton only won by eight points even with an enviable record of peace and prosperity in 1996. With the economy on track to produce similar numbers for Bush in 2004, Dubya will almost certainly win bigger - simply because of his party affiliation.

But sorry, Orrin, I still don't think he gets 50 states. But I'm starting to think that 45 might not be unreasonable. Lordy, I way "misunderestimated" how well the Repubs would do in the CA governor's race.

Posted by: Casey Abell at October 25, 2003 1:55 PM

You can franchise Starbucks, although maybe not a single store.

You'd do better with a Krispy Kreme and better yet with a KK next to an Inn-n-Out Burger, but Inn-N-Out will not franchise.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 25, 2003 8:46 PM