The Secret of Bush Hatred

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In today's Washington Post, sometime Reason contributor (and Northwestern sociologist) Gary Alan Fine tries to explain why some people hate–hate–George W. Bush. Says the author of Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept, and Controversial:

Emotional juice bubbles from the springs of the past. This loathing derives from Bush's seeming life of ease. If Bill Clinton was a Zelig, present at every influential moment, George W. Bush is Forrest Gump. He has led a charmed life, in which mediocrity, error and failure have had no consequences other than to produce success. An indifferent student, Bush attended both Yale and Harvard, escaped service in Vietnam, escaped disgrace despite drunken driving, failed as an oil magnate only to be promoted to head the Texas Rangers baseball team and, lacking political experience, became governor of Texas. His family and mentors paved the way for this untalented scion of privilege. Bush was the frat boy who never grew up.

As with Nixon and Clinton, Fine argues the intense reaction has little or nothing to do with actual policy but the past of the despised figure (Nixon's anticommunism, Clinton's "radical, hippie" days). I'm not sure I buy the whole thing, but that basic idea squares with most of the Bush and Clinton haters I know firsthand. They reference the guys' pasts as much as anything they've done in office.

Whole thing here.

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  1. Gary, Doug, and Rick:

    Relax

  2. thoreay writes: “That may be a contributing factor, but there’s also the relatively obvious fact that both men have been the biggest targets in US politics due to their status as Presidents.”

    I disagree. It starts well before they’re elected president. It often starts in the primaries.

    I know that in my case, I loathed Bush, largely for his thoroughly unmerited success, and the way he skated through life on legacy admissions and family connections.

    In the 2000 cycle, I liked McCain, and gave him money – the first time I’d ever given money to a candidate. I ended up voting for Gore, because there was just no way in hell I was voting for an empty suit like Bush. If McCain had received the nomination, I’m not sure who I would have voted for, but it would have required a lot more thinking because neither could be dismissed out of hand.

  3. Jon-

    True, it starts in the primaries. I still think that a Presidential candidate makes a bigger target than some Congressman with an even more outrageous past. If Bush had run for Senate instead of President would you have developed this dislike for him? (Unless you live in Texas, of course.)

  4. thoreau writes: “(Aside from M. Simon, who maintains that Kerry’s Vietnam record has some under-appreciated skeletons in it.)”

    The shameful secret of Kerry’s Vietnam service is that he knew all along that he would be in no danger, but signed up for political reasons.

    See, Kerry was fully aware that his birth on Krypton made him impervious to mundane Earthling weaponry. Is it heroism if you know the enemy’s bullets will ricochet off your skin? Is it heroism if you can zap their bullets out of the air with your heat vision? Is it heroism if your super vision reveals the enemy in their hiding spaces?

    I think not.

    Really, I think we can lay all this “hero” talk to rest.

  5. “… it seems to me that there are many more Bush-haters than there were Reagan-haters.”

    I’d say that you either have a selective memory or you weren’t old enough to pick up on that kind of thing back then. Reagan was vastly despised. Whether or not there are more Bush haters I don’t know, and neither do you. It does seem to me the sheer rabid force against Bush might make it seem that there’s more Bush haters around than are actually out there, but who knows.

    Personally, I’m becoming a rabid Kerry-hater, and certainly there’s more of those around than there were this time last year.

  6. just to put in my “half a cent” …I really think shannon is on to something….

  7. in 1992?94, Clinton got my goat like nothing–on election day 1992, as it was clear that Bush was taking a trip back to Maine pretty shortly, I was ready for governance in the United States to go to pot. But then nothing too terrible happened; stalemate in Congress made the Republicans look totally ridiculous, and then the craven ploy of the impeachment to debase the Presidency for all the remaining history of the US made Clinton look pretty good compared to all the miscreants who were willing to subvert any aspect of our governance for short-term political gain.

    Bush fil is a product of the school of thought that gave us those late-90s Repubicans, although now they are working in the opposite direction. Now it is the legislature and the judiciary that are under attack, their powers subverted or ignored for short-term political gain. His only principle is his power, and to that end he applies his two greatest tools: dissembling and sneering. What is there to like about the man?

    He is opposed to gay marriage; advocates the commingling of church and state; claims to think that God has chosen him to lead; presided over a campaign that in South Carolina sought to discredit John McCain for raising a child that wasn’t white; has made a virtue of appearing stupid; bloated the government–I could go on, but I should really do my work.

    He is a man whose greatest triumph was overcoming self-inflicted wounds, and whose greatest asset has always been his birth. If he were a good president, then I could forgive him those things. But he is not–so I can’t.

  8. shannon’s the only one on the ball here

    the need to feel superior to one’s circumstances fuels your anti-americanism and bush is just the most american president in your lifetime

  9. “most american president in your lifetime”

    I didn’t know they were still giving out that award, seeing as how Ronny R. was a president in my lifetime.

    Thanks for the head’s up, though.

  10. “most american president in your lifetime”

    I didn’t know they were still giving out that award, seeing as how Ronny R. was a president in my lifetime.

    Maybe I had just really never lived before Inauguration Day 2001. I hadn’t considered that possibility.

    Thanks for the heads-up.

  11. Since social mobility is a key part of the American dream, I’d have to say that Bush isn’t even the most American president to serve in the 21st century.

  12. Neither Fine nor Shannon Love is close. Contra Fine, Bush’s past was well known in 2000 when he ran, and despite what those above have said, it did NOT start in the primaries. Contra Shannon Love, the cultural elite did NOT think Bush was “relentlessly bourgeois and middle-American.” In fact they saw him as a different KIND of elite – a corporate aristocrat. As evidence for this, I offer the fact that the cultural elite in 2000 VOTED FOR NADER, because they thought there was NO DIFFERENCE between him and Gore – or, at least, not enough of a difference to matter.
    Today, when the Democrats have nominated another corporate aristocrat, the cultural elite have abandoned Nader, because NOW they HATE Bush.
    It is not who he is or where he’s from. Everyone knew that in 2000. It’s what he’s done since 2000.

  13. You may be right about Reagan, Doug. I was young. Certainly, there was nothing close to the level of Bush hatred floating around when old Bush was president.

  14. One word: Iraq.

    All else is politics and tit for tat but when it came to Iraq, Bush lied us into the dumbest waste of money and lives in my lifetime and I hate him for it.

  15. Hate is probably too strong a word for what I feel for Clinton and Bush. But, I have to admit, my negative feelings for them are rather strong. In fact, I?ve been called both a Clinton hater and a Bush hater in this forum; so, speaking as someone who?s been called both a Clinton hater and a Bush hater, I think it’s what they did in office that makes me so disgusted with both of them.

    I despise Clinton because he executed a retarded kid as Governor just to prove that he was tough on crime. I also suspect that Clinton took money from the People’s Army of China in return for pulling our Navy out of the Taiwan Strait shortly after taking money from the Taiwanese in exchange for moving our Navy into the Taiwan Strait. I despise Clinton because he stole money intended to compensate the widows and orphans who lost their life savings in the S&L crisis, and I despise him because he used that money to finance his campaign instead. I despise Clinton because he used FBI files to dig up dirt on his political adversaries. I despise Clinton because he treated pardons like the Popes of old treated indulgences. I despise Clinton because when someone pointed out that these actions were all detestable, he and his minions would change the subject, saying that it was all about sex.

    When Clinton was fighting for his tax hike, I was supporting both myself and my girlfriend. We were very poor. Indeed, I?m still paying back taxes because, forget about taxes, sometimes we had to choose between utilities and food. When he was fighting for his tax hike, I remember Clinton spending a lot of time talking about the working poor and how he was going to use the tax revenue from the hike to help the working poor. When he won, and I saw how his tax hike affected my tiny check, I couldn?t believe it. I remember the pressure going to my temples and dry, iron taste in the back of my throat. Every time I saw his face on television, during that time, it felt like he was smirking at me. Here?s someone who, as far as I can tell, never worked a day in his life. I got paid every other Friday, and his tax hike meant that, for months, I ran out of food on the Tuesday before I got paid rather than the Thursday before I got paid. I will always hate President Clinton for that.

    I voted Republican against Clinton both times, and I wanted Gore to lose because I was so disgusted with the Clinton Administration, so, yeah, I voted for President Bush. I didn’t despise President Bush for a long time, but now that I do, I despise him like only someone who once supported him can. I think it all started with Abu Gharib. I read a speech where he bragged about shutting down the torture chambers and rape rooms; I swear, he either knew or should have known that it was all baloney when he made that speech. Once Abu Gharib happened, suddenly, I could see and smell all the crap piling up around the Bush Administration. The Patriot Act; sending Powell in front of the world to show us pictures of non-existent, Iraqi, mobile WMD labs; leading America to bomb, invade and occupy a country on false pretenses; fighting the right of US citizens to legal council and a trial. It now takes some effort for me to look President Bush too.

    I agree that America hates the idle rich more than just about anything, and, I know that the culture war will never be over, but, for me, it’s what Bush and Clinton have done in office that disgusts me so.

  16. I don’t think that the hate for Reagan was any where as widespread as it was for Clinton, or is for Bush.

    Reagan was hated by part of the left for his personal life long war on communism, his unabashed praise of capitalism and his cutting back of some government programs. Some of his opposition hated him for his successes. I was very disappointed that he only partially delivered on his rhetoric but I liked him for some of what he did do and the sincere person that he seemed to be. (I only met him once and talked to him for all of about 4 or 5 minuets) I thought that there was something real about Reagan that is missing in most politicians.

    I disliked Clinton, but I didn’t hate him (it’s to strong a word anyway) because he was rendered impotent to implement the worst of his (and Hillary’s) ideas by the GOP congress. If Kerry gets in with a Dem congress, I predict that we’re going to miss Clinton badly.

    Like Ken Shultz, I was glad that Bush beat Gore, although I voted for the libertarian candidate. But, I now despise him. My number one reason, to quote Gadfly: “Bush lied us into the dumbest waste of money and lives in my lifetime.” The best that can be said for Bush about the war is that he just repeated and foisted the lies of the neocons on us. Still, he’s “guilty as charged”.

    I also really despise him for the way he has expanded government…the Patriot act…his open ended, misdirected and seemingly never ending “war on terror”. Oh yeah there’s the way he pushes protesters at his events off to “free speech zones”. Which, they seem to have forgotten, is what the whole country is.

    The Dems seem to have adopted a similar regard for dissent. Read what happened to Medea Benjamine when she unfolded a pink banner proclaiming “End the Occupation” at the Dem convention: http://antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=3212

    I despise Kerry because some of his ideas are so BIG GOVERNMENT, that he makes even Bush seem reasonable by comparison.

  17. …that basic idea squares with most of the Bush and Clinton haters I know firsthand.

    You mean the Iraq war, Patriot Act, theocratic, anti-gay, and anti-scientific policies aren’t enough reason to hate Bush? Who needs to worry about baseball teams and oil rigs? Those are just icing on the cake.

  18. I hate him because he killed 3 of my friends.

  19. Ah, but Mike, the Democrats voted for the Patriot Act and the Iraq war, so its hard to see why hard-core Dems would hate Bush for that stuff and not mind when their own party leaders did the exact same thing. Most importantly, though, Bush hatred predates any of that stuff. The Bush is a chimpy idiot tool of big corporations trope goes back to 2000, if not before.

  20. Hatred of the other party’s main man isn’t unusual, and I don’t see why people treat it as such; indeed, without such dislike I don’t see how a party system would last.

  21. But Mike and RC, there are many, many Republicans who are anti-gay, pro-police state, theocratic, anti-scientific, chimpy corporate tools who get people’s friends killed. Just as Dems dislike Republicans in general, but really hate Bush, so do Republicans dislike Dems in general, but really hate Clinton.

    My mother hates Bush worse than she hated Nixon. Nixon! There is definitely something else going on with the public’s perception of him.

  22. When I think of the Democrats and Republicans, I think of “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

    In the 1980s I bought a T-Shirt at a Frankie Goes to Hollywood concert that stated the folowing in large black letters:

    “Frankie Say Arm The Homeless”

  23. Frankie was always talking out of both sides of his ass.

  24. Douglas Fletcher,

    Damn good band nevertheless. 🙂

  25. Any American who can’t find one good reason to hate his president over the course of an administration just hasn’t been paying attention.

  26. I think there must be to that background theory.

    I know nothing makes me want to reach for a weapon any faster than some asshole whose father bought him his degrees and his life standing up with his bare face hanging out and talking about how people need to stand on their own feet and not expect help.

    That’s one reason to hate Bush, but hardly the most important one.

  27. I always thought they hated him because he was a republican. Why does there have to be more to it than that? Is there some other republican that they wouldn’t hate? I’m speaking of the far left of course, not mainstream democrats. Same thing stands for the right, of course.

    People who think this way are frankly tribal in outlook. Reason doesn’t enter into it that I can see.

  28. ” This loathing derives from Bush’s seeming life of ease. “

    This is clearly a post-hoc rationalization on the part of Bush haters. If they hated people who had life handed to them on a silver plate they would hate the Kennedys, Kerry and myrid other major left-wing figures who come from money and “privilege.”

    Bush is hated because he is so relentlessly bourgeois and middle-American. People who really hate Bush do so because they ego identify with the sub-culture of Western intellectuals(for want of a better word). This is a sub-culture which views itself as the true world elite, the ones who deserve to govern due to their superior intellects. Only people culturally like them can honestly earn power and wealth. Everybody else comes by it dishonestly.

    All post-WWII Republican presidents were derided by the Left as being idiots of one kind or the other but the Left’s ire falls on non-intellectual Democrats as well. LBJ was hated by the East Coast establishment long before Vietnam went bad. He did all the heavy lifting to create the Civil Rights laws and the Great Society but it bought him absolutely nothing in the eyes of the Left because he was not one of them. Carter was derided as a “peanut farmer” and the “hick from sticks” when he challenged Edward Kennedy in the primaries. Clinton to was similarly dismissed until he won power (and of course Clinton is culturally an intellectual.)

    The real predictors for who gets disdained lays not a politician’s life history or policies but whether his success will flatter the ego’s of intellectuals.

  29. joe-

    You bring up all the Democrats who dislike Republicans but save the worst of their ire for Bush, and the Republicans who dislike Democrats but saved the worst of their ire for Clinton. You conclude that in both cases it’s because of these men’s pasts.

    That may be a contributing factor, but there’s also the relatively obvious fact that both men have been the biggest targets in US politics due to their status as Presidents. Surely, somewhere among the 535 buffoons on Capitol Hill, there’s a mediocre idiot whose charmed past would make Bush’s look like a tale of hard work and sacrifice. Surely one of those buffoons has a hippie past and promiscuous love life that would make Clinton look like a Catholic priest. Oh, wait a minute… OK, a past that would make Clinton look like a Buddhist monk.

    But those guys don’t get any hard-core hatred, at least not outside their home states or districts.

    I suspect that the propensity of certain people to hate a President from the opposite party is a confluence of factors, including our current political culture, exacerbating factors in the Presidents’ lives, and propensities on the part of the haters.

  30. Partisans hate anybody in the other party who’s successful. Dems didn’t hate Ford or Bush Sr. because he was a one-term failure; same reason Republicans didn’t hate Carter much until the past few years of dictator-hugging.

    Clinton, Reagan, GW Bush — all successful presidents, in politics, policy or both. So if you’re on the other side, you fucking *hate* them. Goes back to FDR and probably before.

  31. “People who really hate Bush do so because they ego identify with the sub-culture of Western intellectuals(for want of a better word). This is a sub-culture which views itself as the true world elite, the ones who deserve to govern due to their superior intellects.”

    In my experience, Bush-hating Democrats are no moer likely to come from the faction you describe than normal, Bush-disliking Democrats.

    Todd, thoreau, it seems to me that there are many more Bush-haters than there were Reagan-haters. Reagan inspired opposition, yes, but there seems to be something more furious in the reaction to Bush.

    I also think Bush hatred (and Clinton hatred) differ from normal opposition to a party’s candidate in that there are lots of people who are not from the radical extreme who buy into it.

  32. Todd, thoreau, it seems to me that there are many more Bush-haters than there were Reagan-haters. Reagan inspired opposition, yes, but there seems to be something more furious in the reaction to Bush.

    I also think Bush hatred (and Clinton hatred) differ from normal opposition to a party’s candidate in that there are lots of people who are not from the radical extreme who buy into it.

    I completely agree. However, Bush’s and Clinton’s pasts are not the only explanation. An alternative explanation is a change in political culture. The causes and nature of that change can be debated, but the point is that it could simply be in vogue right now to hate Presidents.

    If Kerry wins, it will be interesting to see if Kerry-haters emerge. Whatever one might think of Kerry, most would say that his past has less to inspire hatred than anything in Bush or Clinton’s past. (Aside from M. Simon, who maintains that Kerry’s Vietnam record has some under-appreciated skeletons in it.)

  33. And because they were a Damn good band, they are today’s Friday gratuitous New Wave link!

    OK, not really gratuitous in this case but hey, it’s Friday so RELAX. It’s….

    Frankie goes to Hollywood!

    http://tinyurl.com/723bh

  34. Two more reasons to hate Kerry if you love liberty

    His senate voting record:
    http://www.ntu.org/main/components/ratescongress/details_all_years.php3?senate_id=54

    and this study that reveals:

    If Sen. Kerry’s policy agenda were enacted in full, annual federal spending would rise by at least $226.125 billion during the first year of a Kerry Presidency alone.

    From: Kerry’s Fiscal Agenda “Makeover” Won’t Improve Budget Picture for Taxpayers
    http://www.ntu.org/main/press_release.php?PressID=629&org_name=NTUF

  35. grylliade-

    Do you live in a swing state? If not, then a protest vote (be it LP or some other candidate) is a risk-free option.

  36. The barometer I use to measure hatred – on the Left, anyway – is the propensity of otherwise intellegent persons to say stupid things…particularly, to make stupid pseudo-predictions.

    The bogus “prediction” that liberals used to frighten kids before 1984 was that Reagan was going to scorch the Earth with nuclear fire “as soon as he’s re-elected…yup, you’ll see”. Although it subsided a bit after Mondale tanked, Hollywood was still producing Nuclear Winter flics until the Berlin Wall fell – really prescient, huh?

    NOW “we all know” that elections will never take place this November…Ashcroft and Ridge will burn the Reichstag, or something.

    Joe, Thoreau – tell me you haven’t had to cringe through several such boiler-plate scare scenarios? How do you deal with it? Do you confuse the retards by attempting to interfere with their streaming delusions…or do you humor them, hoping it’s a case of the vapors, and due to pass sometime?

  37. “Since social mobility is a key part of the American dream, I’d have to say that Bush isn’t even the most American president to serve in the 21st century.”-joe

    Bush is less “American” because he has not signifcantly improvedhis social standing, or since his family was near the top anyway, he has not lessened it? What a silly criticism.

  38. I don’t know if there are more Bush haters than Clinton or Reagan haters, but my impression is that the left’s hatred for the GOP in general and Bush in particular has taken on an air of paranoid insanity which does seem unique in recent history. My best guess as to why this is, is that this is the first full congressional election cycle in almost living memory which the Democrats have not had at least nominal control of the presidency, the Senate, or the House. The right had more recent experience at being shut out of the halls of power, so it may not have affected them emotionally as much during the first two years of Clinton. The lack of direct power over the national agenda is clearly driving the Dems nuts.

  39. I was a fan of Bush, or at least I preferred him to Gore in 2000. The period post 9/11 has convinced me that this is a corrupt, bad administration — not that any other administration would be much better, but this one is pretty damn bad. The war I can forgive — I’ve heard one good rationale for it, though it’s certainly one that Bush & Co. thought about — but the whole assertion of the power of the president to imprison American citizens without a trial as “enemy combatants” is the most frightening thing I could think of. Every time I consider voting for Bush come November I think of that, and then I think about voting for Kerry, since voting libertarian isn’t going to do much to get Bush out of office. That is possible the most dangerous thing a president could advocate, and it’s one of the few things that I can’t forgive in a president.

  40. Joe, Thoreau – tell me you haven’t had to cringe through several such boiler-plate scare scenarios? How do you deal with it?

    My mother, despite the fact that she can’t stand the Democrats, spent most of election night 2000 ranting about how girls today never saw a friend die after a coat-hanger abortion and that’s why Gore wasn’t winning in a landslide. 4 years later, no coat-hangers.

    Oh, and she hasn’t donated any money to Kerry or volunteered a single hour stuffing envelopes for his campaign in the swing state where she lives, but if Kerry is behind on Nov. 2 I predict another rant about coat-hangers. And no doubt it will all be the fault of the young women who didn’t do more to elect Kerry.

    (That’s why I like election night, incidentally: It’s the one time every 4 years when all of the problems in the world aren’t somehow my fault! 😉

    She also spent election night 2000 ranting about how her social security would teleport into a CEO’s pocket the moment Bush reached 270 electoral votes. 4 years later and Bush has overseen the largest expansion of public retirement benefits since the 1960’s.

    My friend in Ohio who lost his job seems convinced that the whole thing is Bush’s direct fault. (Because, of course, Bush’s #1 priority is personally overseeing layoffs in swing states. And no, he doesn’t elaborate on which policy might have led to his layoff, but simply figures that it must be Bush’s fault. If he was, say, working in an industry hit hard by steel tarriffs or whatever I could see his point.)

    No comment from him on his new job doing IT work for DoD.

    So yeah, I hear some pretty crazy stuff about how Republicans are evil incarnate. I prefer to think that they’re merely the incarnations of lesser demons, and that Gozer the Traveler can only be unleashed through a bipartisan merger of the Democratic Keymaster and GOP Gatekeeper.

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