Presidential hatred

Presidential hatred

: 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.”

See next Leon Wieseltier‘s brilliant dissection of Baker and his book and the atmosphere of presidential hatred. I love this lead in his New York Times review:

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.

  • The left has lost its right to complain about the demonization of Clinton the First because of its own treatment of Bush the Second.
    Hahahahaha. You’re such a comic, Jarvis.

  • chuck

    There may be little to love in John Kerry but there is little to hate.
    Says who? Them’s fightin’ words.

  • Brett

    I think what we’re seeing is the effect of the tribalism of the web. Here, you can find little like-minded communities and never venture far from them. Make camp with your buddies and then shout from the cabin at the other sites.
    As a veteran, I confess that I find little boring about John Kerry. I’m ticked at his lying, self-serving performances post-Vietnam.
    Would Kerry truly be awful, or greatly different from Bush? Hell, who knows. But that’s the point – given any two human tribes, no matter how alike they are to one another, people will find venomous discord at subtle differences.
    (I don’t think Kerry know how different he might or might not be… but I guarantee that before November, we’ll have ample evidence of both sides of that debate from Kerry himself. Just pick the sound bite that favors your point of view.)
    We’re making presidential politics into a ubiquitous Jerry Springer episode, and all forms of media are feeding that. It’s all entertainment now. Perhaps that’s why blogs get under the skin of some journalists: any “civility” is lost when we fact-check them, which only adds to the polarization of the electorate.
    New world, new dynamics. I don’t think it can be helped.

  • HH

    The mainstream Bush-hating left has officially gone further than the Clinton-hating right, period.

  • Yes, hating someone for a semen-stained dress is exactly the same as hating someone for sending over 900 soldiers to die, thousands more to be maimed and injured over a war that hasn’t made us any safer. Way to endorse moral equivalence there.

  • And by the way, nobody of note I’ve seen on the left has endorsed this Baker book. I can’t say the same of people like HH’s idol Rush Limbaugh, who has smeared he Clinton’s with the accusation of crimes more times than I care to think of.

  • chuck

    And Oliver scores own goal!

  • It’s easy when you’re the kicker and goaltender on your own field of one.

  • I highly doubt Oliver Willis could attempt any sort of physical activity let alone soccer. Just another American fatass.

  • “Oliver Willis — like Tar Baby to Stupid.”
    Hating someone for a “semen-stained dress”? Actually, no, we RWDB’s were ROLFOAO that that Bubba the Invincible was tripped up by a little 90210 homewrecker.
    It’s just like being fat, Oliver — don’t eat everything in front of you.
    Mr. Jarvis:
    Ah, yes, Presidet Peanut, whose “boring” presidency included the taking of US Embassy hostages in Iran, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, odd/even-day gas lines, taking foreign policy advice from his daughter (who flunked out of Brown!, for chrissakes), double-digit inflation AND interest rates, and goober-grabber accented ramblings about “malaise”.
    By all means, just what America needs, that and his apparent embrance of Michael Moore at his party’s convetion in Boston.

  • alkali

    I would say for what my little opinion is worth that Nicholson Baker is a tough and subtle writer, and I doubt very seriously whether the real subject of this novel is “whether the problems that now beset our cherished and anxious country may be solved by the shooting of its president.” Wieseltier, who is frequently a good writer and critic, is using this review as a jumping-off point to address what he wants to talk about, which is fine by me, but I will read the book for myself.

  • jeremy in NYC

    Yes, hating someone for a semen-stained dress is exactly the same as hating someone for sending over 900 soldiers to die, thousands more to be maimed and injured over a war that hasn’t made us any safer. Way to endorse moral equivalence there.
    Wow, I’d forgotten that the single only thing the ranting right ever accused Clinton of was Monica Lewinsky. Silly me! I had been under this weird impression that there was a whole slew of items they accused CLinton of, from Whitewater to a “wag the dog” in the Balkans.
    But now that I have Oliver, I know: it was only a semen stained dress he was accused of. Even years before anyone knew who Monica Lewinsky was, that was all.
    [Oh, and nice comparison – nobody of note has endorsed one signe (new) book yet, versus Rush Limbuagh accusing Clinton of crimes. Very equivalent. Tell ya what, if you want to go for real equivalency, I’ll betcha I can find some people of note accusing Bush of crimes (such as letting 9/11 happen, or war profiteering). I just betcha.]
    Frankly, Jeff, I agree with your point. Nobody should necessarily suport the president or his policies. But the need to demonize is so strong that I think we’re way beyond that, and I think that that demonization has become (or maybe always was) a part of our culture.

  • h0mi

    The left has lost its right to complain about the demonization of Clinton the First because of its own treatment of Bush the Second.

    which ignores the vitriol cast against Bush the First and Reagan the first. The tone was set in January 1993 in Congress.

  • Dexter Westbrook

    Mr. Jarvis: I disagree with your main point. I think a Howard Dean nomination would have been a better outcome.
    Have the Dems put up somebody who embodies their seething hatred, and have him get thrashed at the polls.
    It would be like an enema for the American left, which surely needs one.

  • jeremy in NYC

    which ignores the vitriol cast against Bush the First and Reagan the first. The tone was set in January 1993 in Congress.
    It did not start with Reagan’s opponents. Seriously, I recommend you read this. This kind of vitriol is nothing new in American politics and did not originate in 1980.

  • doug

    Wow! Before there was a Patriot act 900 FBI files ended up with the Clinton administration. Is it the law or the individual? As I understand the law that would be illegal. Must be no controlling legal authority. Democrats cann’t commit illegal acts. Right Oliver?

  • Trump

    AH, Oliver- who works for the Soros-funded media group- weighs in.
    Time to discount the paid hacks comments….

  • Jim C.

    I used to vote Democratic, but I’ve been voting Republican since 1994.
    I’m appalled, too, Jeff, and I’m worried. But didn’t Clinton blame rightwing talk radio for fostering a climate of hate that led to the Oklahoma City bombing? That wasn’t well-received. Free speech, you know.
    Where do we draw the line? Encouraging specific acts? Targeting specific people?

  • We have slid to dangerous depths of presidential hatred in this country.
    That’s just the tip of the iceberg, Jeff. It extends to a hatred of each other’s entire ideology and a daily ritual of demonizing the other side. I can’t name a single right wing blog or pundit that doesn’t demonize liberalism on a daily basis and I’m sure your pack of right whingers will say the same about the left.

  • Andy

    With a solid wall of entertainment celebrity hatred how can anyone create really good satire? With books and plays and propa-mentaries all skewing facts, appearances and sound bites; ho does a show like SNL or Mad find something that has not been done? Even the Daily Show has Jon Stewart being treated as a legitimate news outlet.
    When fake news and real news are treated as having equal validity; at what point does the hatred start to work against itself?
    President Boring? Surely you mean President cliche. The pat phrases, the soundbites and programmed generic appearances could be used as stock footage for any candidate, at any time. IS Kerry really out-there exhorting the faithful? Or is he appearing before a green wall? Was this campaign filmed 2 years ago?
    The “hatred” is not based on anything Bush has or has not done. It is generic hatred directed at the failings of the Democratic Party. Clinton betrayed the party. He could have/should have/ would have except he could not keep his zipper up.
    Clinton squandered his Presidency. Democrats cannot direct their anger at him. They have too much invested in him. He brings in too much money.
    They don’t know why Gore failed. (It should never have been that close-!)
    The only place to direct the frustration and rage is at Bush. It also helps that he has given the anti-war Left a reason to re-cycle their phrases and tactics from those long ago years, before AIDS, when bodies were firm and hair was long. Nothing new to learn, no nuances to understand.
    “Bring Home the Troops-!”
    “Secret Plan to stop the fighting”
    It was better the first time. Now the popcorn costs too much and there are advertisements vs cartoons.
    Presidnt Carter = President Kerry?
    Gas shortages? High inflation? Stag-flation?
    Can’t happen here? Wanna bet?

  • jeremy in NYC

    anne.elk: Do you have two settings – “on” and “off” and thus believe everything else does, too? There is a difference between criticism and seething hatred. In fact, there’s a whole fabulous complex world out there where people like Jeff can criticize some people’s actions but still bemoan the trand towards complete demonization.
    Or is it just more fun to toss up a knee-jerk reflex?

  • greeneyeshade

    a lot of the stuff i see, on both sides, reminds me, scarily, of alistair horne’s ‘to lose a battle: france 1940.’ horne argued that one reason france fell apart was that ever since victory in 1918, the french left and the french right had gone back to their old habits of seeing each other as the main enemy _ habits that didn’t change even with hitler in power and obviously spoiling for a fight. *we can’t afford this.* the people who pulled 9/11, and will do it again if they can, don’t care whether we’re republicans or democrats. as mordechai said to queen esther, don’t kid yourself that they’ll spare you.

  • chuck

    I hate Kerry’s hair. Really, I do.

  • doug

    Bill Clinton gave us,”it depends what the meaning of is, is” Kerry is giving us “it depends what the meaning of was, was” in his Christmas in Cambodia riff. How can independent thinking people believe what these politicos say?

  • John

    Basically, Jeff, you’re saying you hate what the people demonizing Bush stand for, but you’re probably going to side with them when you go into the polling place in November because Kerry is too boring to really do any harm.
    My question would be, since many of these people seem to think the war on terror is just some sort of false facade created by Bush to push his own re-election, and since many of those who’ve uttered some of the more paranoid/nasty fantasies against Bush are people in fairly prominent positions, do you think some of those people will have places and/or influence on foreign policy during a Kerry administration? And do you think that would mean anything, good or bad, for the ability to prevent a new terrorist attack on the United States?

  • I see a few significant differences between right and left “hate”. Most right “hate” of the left seems directed against ideas or actions while left “hate” of teh right is directed toward the person. Yes, there are some notables on the right (Anne Coulter, etc.) that routinely savage individual personalities on the left, but in general terms if you look at the writings and words I think my characterization is fairly representative of the mechanism generally seen from each side. This corresponds with what I see as a general tendency from the right to legislate actions (do this, don’t do that) and from the left to legislate feelings (hate crimes, etc), so whereas the right seems more inclined to say “I don’t care who you are, just what you do” the left looks at the same situation and says “you act this way because you are this way”. I may not have explained it well, but that’s the way I see it.
    I also think you are far from the mark when you say Kerry has nothing to hate. By his own design Kerry has come to represent all the contraversy rancor and division that today represents the Vietnam War. Should he be elected I see nothing but the liberals crowing over what they will see as a vindication of their anti-War stance and conservative seething over what they will see as a replay of America’s noble ideals being betrayed by liberal politics.

  • Mary

    Perhaps if Bubba hadn’t been putting his semen on Ms. Lewinsky’s blue dress those 900 men would not have been in Iraq.
    C’mon – just a wee bit of perspective mate?

  • Ryan

    “Yes, hating someone for a semen-stained dress is exactly the same as hating someone for sending over 900 soldiers to die, thousands more to be maimed and injured over a war that hasn’t made us any safer. Way to endorse moral equivalence there.”
    LOL….you know damn well the right hated Clinton before Lewinsky. And the left hated Bush before a single soldier died. Geez all that Soros money must be screwing with your “krypotonite”.

  • notthisgirl

    So just wait until Clinton the Second gets into office. Frankly, I can’t ever see that happening.
    Anyway … you could be right Jeff about Kerry being just a bore, and that might not lose him votes. I kind of doubt it though. I used to think that this election was Kerry’s to win. I tend to think now that it is Bush’s to lose.
    Something interesting that happened over the weekend with Kerry’s little train deal. For those of you who listen or watch Imus, you may have heard this.
    Imus owns a ranch in New Mexico where he provides a camp for kids with cancer. He is friendly with Kerry and has had him on his program around 50 or so times over the years. His wife has apparently been friendly with Teresa for some years. Kerry is a BIG contributor to Imus’ ranch. Imus is also a tepid supporter of Kerry’s.
    Anyway, the Amtrak train line goes right through Imus’ property; about 4 miles of it. Trains don’t go fast around there either because there is a giant S-curve close by. Imus tried through various methods (among them NBC) to contact the campaign to get the train to stop so that Kerry could meet the kids, and get a nice photo-op for Kerry as well.
    As the train approached, all the kids and Imus were waiting for the train, flags and Kerry signs waving merrily. Well don’t you know the train went zzzzzzzzzzzzing — RIGHT BY!!!!! The only people who were out on the rail were campaign workers smoking butts!
    Kerry is an empty suit.

  • Sandy P

    It’s like our little own “old Europe” in America.
    Then someone comes along and decides to take out the arch duke.
    And EUtopia reigns! Peace and harmony will come to all.
    It worked so well the first time. And once the JOOS are exterminated, the ME will also live in peace and harmony.
    JC, we’re refighting 20th century wars and even older political theories.
    And they’ve all ended in death and destruction. And this is going to be worse.

  • Wasn’t it the Turner Diaries that gave Tim McVeigh the idea to blow up a federal courthouse.
    Once again, two wrongs are just too wrong.

  • Jammer

    Bores us to death perhaps.
    And I mean death in the foremost definition of the word.

  • hey

    declaring victory and going home ends with the middle east dead
    bc04 is the only chance at life in the middle east…
    the war will not be over just cause john kerry wins, but he will govern like it is…
    we saw how badly that works since afghanistan 79…
    we almost lost to the russians… beating the russians led us to ignore the islamist threat
    we (and the middle east) barely survived that.
    we can not risk that again.
    what do you think would have happened if WTC had worked as intended and the towers went down immediately and fell onto the surrounding buildings like so many dominos?

  • Nahanni

    Checkpoint is “The Turner Diaries” of the LLL.

  • Rachel

    I would love to have my best friend’s grandma tell Ms. Malcolm what Germany under Hitler was really like – she had to raise a family under his regime during WWII.

  • Rachel

    If y’all are going to bash Oliver, mention how his hero went unilateral on Bosnia, set up the fall of the UN Sect. General Boutros-Ghali, and allowed the US to watch Rwanda bleed because he didn’t want the troops (under the UN!!) involved. Teasing is impotent.
    Ps. I voted for Clinton – twice. He was a good Pres. but he was human and made mistakes.

  • Kerry Lied, 2 million Died
    Nice bumper sticker, no? Or a protest sign at EVERY Kerry event.
    Cambodia is the important, UNFINISHED business
    of America after Vietnam.
    REAL alternatives are the issue; in Iraq, Iran, Sudan today.
    In SE Asia from 1968-1978.
    Killing innocents to stop evil is the moral problem.
    The anti-Vietnam War Left, in America, and the EU, have totally failed to look at the two
    real alternatives, and the one they “really” chose.
    1) Stay and fight and die (draftees!) and kill bad guys AND some innocents?
    2) Leave, stop dying (good!) let evil commies win, and accept the Killing Fields.
    Kerry advised (2), Nixon cut and ran, and Pol Pot, the kind of evil commie the US was fighting against, committed genocide in Cambodia (little complaint by Ford or Carter in 76-77).
    If you ask any anti-Vietnam War protester: “did you support the commies winning in Vietnam?” — they’ll say NO!
    But they are, in “reality”, lying. This is the BIG LIE at the heart of Bush-hate.
    Opposition to war in Iraq IS “really” support for Saddam.
    Kerry’s Big Lie was that the US leaving SE Asia was “good”.

  • DArryl

    Hate Bush I hate the whole Rupug I mean Republican Party. Talk about white collar crime at the top. Even the supreme court is involved. I don’t see why they want to keep up appearences. Write Bush a personal check to be put in the camne island account for 2 trillion now and lets call it a day.
    Well you have to give Cheney on for 3 trillion. The Saudi would need all the deeds for all the property in America and full control of our government. Osama would have to be paid in cash.
    The Carlyle Group and Haliburton ring the cash register every time terro is even mentioned. Bush is behind the terro.
    Cheney is deferring a couple billion by now.
    Bush and Cheney Rumsfeld and Rice planned out the whole thing. Since Jamuary 2001 9/11 was a kick off of Carlyle and Hali’s profits. Cheney is a communist the way he conducts business. The whole bunch are common criminals and its so obvious its laughable.