Bush-hatred and Clinton-hatred

The always interesting neo-neocon has a good post on “Bush Derangement Syndrome.” She explains:

I’m not talking about mere disagreement with Bush. I’m referring to the sort of visceral demonization of the man that clearly seems out of touch with any reality, and which has gripped so many people I personally know and turned them into something unrecognizable and ferocious when they even mention his name–which they do with some regularity.

I know what neo-neocon means. I have seen BDS in action; a friend of mine, a once-rational person and a New Republic-type Cold War liberal, quite seriously assured me in 2004 that if it looked like Bush was going to lose the election, he and his minions would find some pretext to declare a state of emergency — perhaps by staging another major terrorist attack — and call off the election. And I think neo-neocon is right that part of the reason for this loathing is a purely stylistic distaste for Bush:

The way he talks, the way he smirks, the frat-boy persona–he represents the kind of person they simply detested in high school and college (particularly if they were the intellectual or literary sort). They distrust and dislike him in a very visceral way.

I wish, however, that neo-neocon had paid more attention to Clinton Derangement Syndrome, a.k.a. Clintonophobia. Not just for the sake of being “fair and balanced,” but because there are some genuinely interesting parallels there.

And please, don’t tell me that Clinton hatred wasn’t as extreme. Have we forgotten so soon that some conservatives including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Rush Limbaugh were trying to connect Bill and Hillary Clinton to a string of murders? There is simply no question that for large numbers of conservatives, the Clintons were not just wrong but Evil.

I explored some of the parallels in a 2003 column:

Why the hatred? Partly, it’s the change in the political climate, which has become nastier and more polarized over the past decade. Partly, it’s that the Internet and talk radio have made it easier for marginal and extreme voices to be heard (and to affect mainstream discourse). But the phenomenon also has to do with the personalities of Clinton and Bush, and with the circumstances of their rise to power.

Both presidents are widely perceived by their political opponents as illegitimate. Clinton got only 43 percent of the popular vote in the 1992 election but nonetheless won the presidency in a three-way race between himself, the first President Bush, and H. Ross Perot. Bush, of course, not only lost the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000 but won the electoral vote after a protracted, bitter election dispute in Florida. Many Democrats, including some who cannot in any way be classified as right-wing extremists, sincerely believe that the election was “stolen” by Bush and his cronies.

Another element is the kinship between the two presidents’ political strategies. Both have borrowed liberally from the other side’s issues and agendas. Clinton ran as a centrist, pro-business, law-and-order Democrat; Bush, as a “compassionate conservative.” To the haters, that makes them wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The hatred is personal as well as political. Clinton was (and still is) seen as “Slick Willie,” the artful dodger who gets away with everything, from draft evasion to sexual shenanigans, thanks to his cleverness and lack of scruples. Bush is perceived as the ultimate rich kid who has everything handed to him on a silver platter and gets away with everything because of his privileged status.

Finally, on both a personal and political level, the conservatives’ revulsion against Clinton and the liberals’ revulsion against Bush has to do with the “culture wars.” To the conservatives, Bill and Hilary Clinton embodied the ethos of the ’60s with its emphasis on personal liberation and its rejection of traditional gender norms, which the right regards as permissive and destructive. To the liberals, Bush embodies the cultural conservatism of “middle America” with its traditional religious and social norms, which the left regards as oppressive and hidebound.

Thinking about it now, there is another parallel as well. Bush and Clinton have both been perceived by their opponents as uniquely power-hungry, and imbued with a virtually unprecedented arrogance of power.

To some extent, Clinton-hatred paved the way for Bush-hatred. In the 1990s, wild and vitriolic accusations against the President became a regular feature of public discourse. The Republicans now have to live with that.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Bush-hatred and Clinton-hatred

  1. Dean

    Excellent post. Too bad that those who most need to read and heed it won’t do so. (Hint: if you’ve ever compared Bush to Hitler, or suggested that the press (you probably called them the ‘MSM’) are a fifth column, you need to listen carefully to what Cathy says here.)

    Partly, it’s that the Internet and talk radio have made it easier for marginal and extreme voices to be heard (and to affect mainstream discourse).

    I’ve wondered for some time where the rancor came from, the gut-level hatred, the belief that your political opponent is not just wrong but evil, and I think this may be a large part of it.

    I participated in the BBS scene starting in about 1988 or so, and I remember the rise of right-wing talk radio and the militia movement. For some reason, the segment of society that became involved in the BBS community had a large right-wing component, and that community fueled millenial right-wing paranoia that in turn fueled the militia movement that in turn fueled whackos like McVeigh. As we see in the right- and left-wing blogospheres today, the different communities fed off each other and reinforced each other, functioning in the same echo-chamber way that the different spheres in the blogworld do. I remember reading the most absurd and outrageous claims of political conspiracy on UFO mailing lists and newsgroups, subtly directed against Jews and blacks and Democrats and feminists and… well, you know the list.

    It was a sort of pre-millenial fever. The right-wing movements had big end-times components. People thought that it would all just die away after 2000, but of course it didn’t. The millenialism has gone away, but all the other stuff remains.

    I think we’re (I say we, even though I’m Canadian, because what happens in the US affects me deeply) living with the legacy of that. It’s hard to say whether it is getting worse or not, but a good deal of left-wing Bush-bashing is indirectly acknowledged as being revenge for Whitewater and Lewinsky-gate. I can only hope that over time this counter-counter-counter(etc) extremism will fade out. If it doesn’t… ugh. If Hilary Clinton runs in ’08, I have my doubts that it will.

  2. LetMeSpellItOutForYou

    Let’s not forget that Reagan was vilified to an unprecedented degree as well. I recall when he was elected many people thought the world was coming to an end, that civil liberties would be suspended, poor people hunted down like dogs, martial law, you name it. Among the leftie crowd I hung with coming out of high school, there was even attention drawn to the fact that the name “Ronald Wilson Reagan” had 6, 6, and 6 letters in it. Perhaps that kind of anti-Reagan derangement wasn’t as noticable, not having the kind of outlet as is available today, but it was definitely present.

    I have to say that after reading your post, I’m as mystified as I was going in. The sense of illegitimacy, in particular, is just a pretext. Woodrow Wilson won the presidency by a plurality in a 3-way race the same way Clinton did, yet his legitimacy was unquestioned. John Kennedy won by a slim margin still disputed by some, but it never affected his popular standing. And what is it about today’s Blue/Red divide that marks it from America’s much longer-standing urban/rural divide? I get the impression that if anything, we enjoy a more shared culture now than ever.

  3. dadvocate

    letmespellit… has a good point. It seems the hatred and vilification increases as we go on as a process of escalating retribution for past vilification. Since I tend towards conservatism and libertarianism I take a lower view of some of the liberal antics but refrain from participating in such myself other than pointing it out to those involved. They always see it as justified, however.

  4. William R. Barker

    Dean’s right on target – especially with the rise of the militia movement! I mean… here in Harriman, NY, the local militia has taken over village government on at least three occasions and attempted to take over county government God knows how many times…

    (Oh, sorry! Went off my meds there for a moment!)

    Dean… repeat after me… “I will fear no militia…I will fear no militia…I will fear no militia.”

    There. Feel better? (*SMIRK*)

    I listen to “right wing talk radio” and obviously utilize the internet. I wouldn’t say I “hate” Bill Clinton, but I do have a great deal of contempt for him. Does that make me an “extremist?”

    Would I enjoy going to a Hooters for a few beers with President Clinton? I’m sure I would! (*GRIN*)

    Do I think Clinton murdered anyone or was involved in any murders? Nope. Do I suspect that the rape charge made by Juanita Broaddrick has substance? Sure do. Do I believe Clinton basically “sold” pardons to people like Marc Rich in his final days in office? Yep.

    So… do I sound like a fanatical Clinton hater or a rational Clinton opponent?

    Listen… as a true conservative (who like dadvocate leans libertarian) who absolutely despised George H.W. Bush, loved Ronald Reagan, and depending on the issue either loves or hates George W. Bush, allow me to point out one difference between Bush and Clinton:

    I truly believe George W. Bush is true to himself. The man – perhaps because of his faith – believes in himself and believes he has a mission. Like him… hate him… trust him… distrust him… bottom line, George W. Bush is a man of character. I truly believe that.

    As for Bill Clinton… I don’t believe he’s a man of character. It has nothing to do with ideology! George McGovern was (is!) a man of character. Ralph Nader is a man of character! Ross Perot is (slightly nuts… but that’s another subject!) a man of character!

    Anyway… that’s my two cents!

  5. Kyle

    A whole lot of false equivalence in this post.

    A far-left acquaintance believes that Bush’s team was in on 911. He is very frustrated because none of his far-left friends will believe him. They all hate Bush, but there are certain things that these fringies still find implausible.

    Compare that with the murder-conspiracy talk lobbed around during the 1990s by Rush Limbaugh and other pillars of the right.

    My left acquaintance did manage to score once and he did it on a grand scale. Back in December 2002 he sent me an e-mail saying of Iraq and WMDS: “There’s no there there. Saddam has got nothing. This is all a put-up job by the administration.”

    I thought for sure he was exaggerating. And I was for sure wrong.

    “Bush lied, people died.” That’s a simple-minded catchphrase — or it would be if Bush hadn’t gone to some lengths to make it true.

    Why is Bush hated? Look at the history of the past 4 years. “Compassionate conservatism” has nothing to do with it.

  6. LetMeSpellItOutForYou

    Kyle, with no working intelligtence on WMD’s in hand, your friend was exaggerating.

  7. Rainsborough

    Clinton’s presidency was one of unfulfilled promise. He screwed up royally picking an attorney-general and trying to deliver on gays in the miltary, and then blew health care. That cost him the Congress, and from then on we was severely constrained. Nevertheless, he left trade increased, welfare reformed, the EITC raised, the economy growing, the budget balanced, and taxes a little more equitable.
    Bush will be remembered for three things: his taxcuts, his war, and his conception of the power of the Commander-in-Chief to torture as he finds it necessary.
    The tax cut, as conservatives say, has proved to be fraudulent because expenditures weren’t reduced and the debt that piled up as a result will have to be financed by future generations.
    The war, as Brent Scowcroft says, was embarked upon recklessly and mindlessly, and has left the country more endangered, not more secure.
    The policy of torture, as John McCain says, dishonors the nation. Its techniques were drawn from a repertory intended to break the will, not to elicit information. It’s appalling that the leader of the free world must now proclaim that we don’t torture but everyone knows we do.
    Whatever Mr. Bush’s personal failures and shortcomings, the public record ensures that this presidency will compete with James Buchanan’s, Andrew Johnson’s, and Richard Nixon’s as the most despicable and shameful of them all.

  8. Cathy Young

    Thanks for the comments, all!

    Re Reagan: I remember the ’80s, and while a lot of liberals certainly hated Reagan I just don’t think it was the same kind of visceral, violent loathing. Though maybe it was just that at the time there were no ready outlets for such sentiment?

    (Good BDS anecdote from my mom — overheard in a doctor’s waiting room. A patient tells the nurse at the desk she’s been having severe pains, and adds, “It’s been so bad, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even my worst enemy… well, except maybe Bush!”)

    kyle — as I recall, even most of the rabid Clinton-haters on the right didn’t believe in the “Murder Inc.” theory and found the Falwell video rather embarrassing.

    You won’t find many people on the left arguing that Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks, but a number of fairly mainstream leftists have suggested that he might have known about the attacks (and, presumably, deliberately failed to stop them because he knew they would serve his interests).

  9. Revenant

    A far-left acquaintance believes that Bush’s team was in on 911. He is very frustrated because none of his far-left friends will believe him.

    Anecdotal evidence doesn’t mean much. For example, I know former Clinton haters who never believed the Foster story and Bush haters who believe he let 9/11 happen on purpose.

    Compare that with the murder-conspiracy talk lobbed around during the 1990s by Rush Limbaugh and other pillars of the right.

    Two words: “Fahrenheit 9/11″.

    The only reason Bush hasn’t been widely accused of murdering one of his minions is that none of his minions have died under unusual circumstances. If Scooter Libby died tomorrow you can bet your ass that Bush would be widely accused of murdering him as part of a coverup. Heck, look at “Plamegate” — the “Bush deliberately endagered a covert agent to punish her husband” meme is still alive and well after something like two years, despite the fact that not a shred of evidence supporting it has yet been found. Look at the “Bush lied because he wanted a war with Iraq” meme, which conveniently ignores that Clinton said and did the same things for the same reasons. Etc, etc.

    Why is Bush hated? Look at the history of the past 4 years.

    That explanation doesn’t hold water; vehement hatred of Bush dates back to before any of the last four years had happened.

  10. gengwall

    Thanks for the post Cathy. I have found this level of hatred and vilification filtering down even to the Alito nomination. And the conspiracy theories drive me absolutely nuts.

    For the record, I am a very right wing christian evangelical republican. I never for a moment hated Clinton. I was extremely disappointed in his behavior outside of the confines of his job, but that didn’t ever translate into the vilification of him that I witnessed amongst many of my friends. And I never understood it and still don’t today.

  11. Cathy Young

    By the way, the suggestion that Sen. Paul Wellstone’s death in a plane crash was engineered by the Bushies in order to help the Republicans capture the Senate was definitely bandied about a couple of years ago.

  12. Anonymous

    I don’t know. At least in my experience, the Bush hatred is slightly different. It didn’t start out that way. It started out as just a extreme left thing. But now some of the worst Bush haters I know are Reagan supporters who used to consistently vote Republican. They think he has betrayed true conservative values, like small government. They think he is incompetent. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t remember too many on the left hating Clinton.

    Z

  13. Cathy Young

    Z — I think you remember wrong. The Nation crowd certainly disliked Clinton and the whole DNC set. Clinton was pro-death penalty and pro-welfare reform, and he signed the Defense of Marriage Act (to name just a few instances). There was definitely no love lost between Clinton and the left.

  14. Anonymous

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Z

  15. Revenant

    Both CDS and BDS remind me of that line: why are fights in academia so vicious? Because the stakes are so low.

    Let’s face it, the 1990s and 2000s wouldn’t have been significantly different if the opposite parties had won the respective elections. We’d still have had recession, boom, recession, recovery. We’d still have been attacked by Al Qaeda. We’d still have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. We’d still be arguing over abortion (which would still be legal) and gay marriage (which still wouldn’t be).

  16. LetMeSpellItOutForYou

    I’m unconvinced we’re witnessing anything new. Of which president was it said his election would lead to the “teaching of murder robbery, rape, adultery and incest”? Jefferson, 1800. (The charge came from a newspaper run by his Federalist rivals.) And of course this country has also been through a bloody civil war.

    I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where liberalism is pretty much part of your genetic code, and which share’s New Yorkers’ legendary tin ear for the rest of the country. So keeping that sample bias in mind, I can only relate that most everybody I knew who had an opinion on the matter thought Reagan was some combination of dangerously reckless or incredibly stupid, long before he even took office. It was a widespread, heated sentiment. And I believe the relatively centralized media filtered out most of it, as did the more centrist liberal establishment of the time. So my recollection differs.

  17. colagirl

    I haven’t heard anyone accusing Bush of *murder,* exactly, but I do recall back in 2003, sitting in the computer lab at my institution and listening to a fellow student loudly and insistently proclaim (with of course, the support of several friends) that “Bush is every bit as bad as Saddam.”

    I didn’t bother to point out to her that if that were *really* the case, she would never have dared to say that. *shrug*

  18. Wild Pegasus

    I wonder if the Bush hatred will continue on after he leaves office? Republicans still invoke the name of Clinton in irrational anger (which will quintuple when Hillary scores the nomination). In 2013, will Democrats still be talking about Bush with visceral anger?

  19. peter hoh

    Many Democrats, including some who cannot in any way be classified as right-wing extremists, sincerely believe that the election was “stolen” by Bush and his cronies.

    Shouldn’t it be “left-wing extremists” in this sentance?

    As for the past, I had a teacher who told us that she and other children in her neighborhood held an impromptu parade to celebrate the death of FDR. This took place outside of Philly, on what’s known as the Main Line.

  20. Cathy Young

    Shouldn’t it be “left-wing extremists” in this sentance?

    Oops, Peter! Good catch. Thanks. Hm, I wonder if that typo was just on my website, or made its way into the Boston Globe as well?

    I should add that, of course, quite a few Democrats (though mostly ones in the party’s left wing) believe that Bush stole the 2004 election as well.

    Interesting question about whether “BDS” will outlive the Bush presidency. It might.

  21. peter hoh

    That typo is also in the online version of your Boston Globe column. These things happen.

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