: We have slid to dangerous depths of presidential hatred in this country.
Both sides are plenty guilty: the rabid righties who hated Bill and Hillary and the seething lefties who hate W. Two wrongs make too many wrongs.
The dangers of presidential hatred are many:
First, it makes the debate stupid. The presidential haters think that getting rid of one man will get rid of our problems. That’s naive. It’s dumb. And it cuts off serious debate on difficult issues. “President X is evil” is pretty much a conversation stopper. (See Enough Gotchas.)
Second, what goes around comes around. The left has lost its right to complain about the demonization of Clinton the First because of its own treatment of Bush the Second. So just wait until Clinton the Second gets into office.
Third, presidential hatred speaks ill of us. Whether to young people entering the republic or to Frenchmen who want to hate us — or to terrorists who want to kill us — it only makes us look bad.
Fourth, it shifts our attention away from the real bad guys. Terrorists and tyrants are the enemies — presidents are not — and the real bad guys are glad for the distraction, thank you.
Fifth, we don’t know where this will lead, but I fear it could lead to assassination. No, Michael Moore will not pull the trigger (he doesn’t like guns, remember). But this atmosphere of hatred could inspire and embolden someone to try. The ultimate extension of presidential hatred could be assassination.
The movement of presidential hatred is dangerous and destructive. It puts higher value on argument than conversation, on invective than improvement. It is time to put an end to it. It has gone too far.
See Nicholson Baker’s new polemic/novel, Checkpoint, about a man determined to assassinate George W. Bush “for the good of humankind” with his “Bush-seeking bullets” in the belief that murder is a means to a cause: “By causing a minor blip of bloodshed in one human being I’m going to prevent further bloodshed.”
This scummy little book treats the question of whether the problems that now beset our cherished and anxious country may be solved by the shooting of its president. Nicholson Baker’s novel does not advocate the assassination of George W. Bush, to be sure. It is more cunning. ”Checkpoint” comes armored in ambiguity about its own character. The protagonist of the novel, who is preparing to perpetrate the deed, is quite obviously an unbalanced individual, a misfit, a loser, a fantasist, a paranoid, and so his violent plan for rescuing the United States cannot be taken seriously, though of course this is true of all such conspiracies. And Baker includes another character, a sensible friend of the homicidal progressive, who tries to dissuade the man from acting so drastically on his alienation. So ”Checkpoint” is not, strictly speaking, an incitement to a crime, and there is no need for the F.B.I. to pull people off the hunt for this summer’s terrorists and open an investigation into the fictional devices of a certain Nicholson Baker. Except for its inflammatory theme — Baker’s novels have always been desperate to be noticed, and here he breaks new ground in his sensationalism — ”Checkpoint” could be dismissed as another of Baker’s creepy hermeneutical toys. But this is no ordinary inquiry into obsession. The object of Baker’s fascination this time is the murder of the president of the United States. And the fascination is genuine. Like all of Baker’s books, this one is much too close to its subject. This novel whose subject is wild talk is itself wild talk, and so another discouraging document of this age of wild talk.
Yes, art — or polemics hiding behind the cloak of art — are not trying to etch a message for the ages; they are trying to change the world today. Baker, Moore, John Le Carre, the Manchurian Candidate (which I have not seen yet): It’s all political argument, but without the discipline of facts or the opportunity for debate. It used to be when art abstracted the world, it made you think. Now, when art abstracts current issues, it wants to make you mad. It’s not just talk radio that’s doing this now. It’s cable news and nonfiction books and movies and now even works of fiction.
So I’m glad that Wieseltier identifies the bigger, badder, stupider trend at work in society, in politics and art.
For the virulence that calls itself critical thinking, the merry diabolization of other opinions and the other people who hold them, the confusion of rightness with righteousness, the preference for aspersion to argument, the view that the strongest statement is the truest statement — these deformations of political discourse now thrive in the houses of liberalism too. The radicalism of the right has hectored into being a radicalism of the left. The Bush-loving mob is being met with a Bush-hating mob…. American liberalism, in sum, may be losing its head.
And Wieseltier finds similarities between the monologues of the demented assassin in the Baker’s novel and those of Bush haters in op-ed pages:
The opinion that these are not normal times, that the Bush years are apocalyptic years, is quite common. ”We are no longer in the ordinary times we were in when the conservatives took out after Bill Clinton,” Janet Malcolm recently explained in a letter to [The New York Times]. ”We are in a time now that is as fearful as the period after Munich.” Life in South Egremont, Mass., may be excruciating, but Malcolm’s knowledge of the period after Munich has plainly grown dim. And who, in her ominous analogy, is Hitler? If it is Osama bin Laden, then she might have a little sympathy for the seriousness of this administration about American security, whatever her views about some of its policies. If it is George W. Bush. . . . Well, she continues: ”Those of us who are demonizing George W. Bush are doing so not because of his morals but because we are scared of what another four years of his administration will do to this country and to the world.” So whether or not Bush is Hitler, he is a devil. This is what now passes for smart….
The demagogue’s gravest sin is not incivility, it is stupidity…. It will be disastrous, for liberalism and for America, if the indignation against George W. Bush becomes an excuse for a great simplification, for a delirious release from the complexities of historical and political understanding that it took the American left decades to learn.
This is why I try to give the administration at least a chance; I don’t want to pile on — and that’s a problem, too. There is plenty to criticize in this administration! But I fear that others who have wise and well-founded criticism are shying away from joining the mob. As Weiseltier puts it: “There are many good reasons to wish to be rid of George W. Bush, but there are no good reasons to wish to be rid of intelligence in our public life.”
But there’s good news: To go up against Bush, Democratic voters did not select an opposite — Alien v. Predator (Bush v. Dean); they selected a bore. There may be little to love in John Kerry but there is little to hate. It has been said that he’s another Carter (or, I’d say, Ford). Maybe what we really need is a president who bores us and that’s the choice we have this fall.