I’m a Democrat, but the persistence of intense Bush-hatred as a political force has always made me nervous. Not just because there is something unnerving about “hate” being directed at the elected leader of our country regardless of party, but also because in my experience hatred ultimately becomes toxic to the hater.
Hatred is like a drug; it’s a rush. It becomes addictive. But it wrecks the heart and soul and fogs the mind. Hatred leaves you with nothing to build on; just a spiritual hangover.
George W. Bush’s poll ratings are low right now, thus hopes are high among Democratic leaders that Bush-hatred is now so widespread, it will cost the Republicans control of Congress. The defeat of “Bush love child” Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary is seen as the first tangible sign that the Bush-hatred has finally coalesced into a mass political movement, from which the Democrats will prosper.
And yet — there’s unease among some Democrats, expressed today in reliably liberal columnist E.J. Dionne’s op-ed:
The Democratic Party has a self-image problem.
Talk to Democrats at every level about the strong position the party is in for this fall’s elections and the conversation inevitably ends with a variation of: “Yeah, if we don’t blow it.” Karl Rove’s greatest victory is how much he has spooked Democrats about themselves.
It’s not a particularly brilliant column, actually. Dionne is so reluctant to challenge his Democratic Party sources, he always seems to be stepping quietly around the elephants in their office suites. But this section was telling:
(Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm) Emanuel is especially frustrated with large donors such as billionaire George Soros, who donated heavily to such organizing efforts as America Coming Together (ACT) two years ago. “These guys — where are they?” a frustrated Emanuel asked in an interview. After John Kerry’s loss, Emanuel said, “they walked off the field.”
Steve Rosenthal, who was ACT’s chief executive officer in 2004, said his organization’s financial backers were “very candid that they weren’t in it for the long haul and never said they were.” Nonetheless, Rosenthal worries about what the missing money will mean this fall.
Here’s the connection Dionne is reluctant to make: George Soros was the ultimate Bush-hater. He was never very interested in the Democratic party except as a vehicle to demolish the Bush administration. In 2004, the electoral process gave Soros his best chance to take Bush down. He tried. He spent hundreds of millions. But it didn’t work out, so he’s moved on. Bush isn’t on the ballot in 2006, and he won’t be on the ballot in 2008, so Democratic success in those election cycles won’t give serious Bush-haters like Soros the fix they need.
To be sure, there are plenty of Bush-haters who are very pumped up about 2006. With Democrats in charge of Congress, who knows what hell they can wreak on The Hated One? Bush could be impeached. Investigations will be launched. We’ll finally find out who Cheney met with to write his energy policy. We’ll learn the truth about the secret deals with Halliburton, Enron, the oil companies, and K Street lobbyists. Maybe some of Bush’s other love children will end up in jail.
But I’m dubious about this strategy. I’m guessing most Americans don’t want a political bloodbath in the next two years. Some voters who tell pollsters they disapprove of Bush will be content to just wait out the final 30 months of his administration. In other words, the low approval rating Bush-haters constantly cite doesn’t necessarily equate to widespread Bush-hatred. For some voters, it’s more like: Bush-disappointment. Bush-weariness. Bush-frustration. Bush-don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out.
The onus is still on the Democrats to do more than just tap into the range of negative feelings Bush inspires. The Bush-haters might turn out, like Soros, to be foul-weather friends. The key is to develop a coherent set of policies that reflect the world as it is today, which embodies the basic values of the center-left. Why do Democrat leaders act as if that’s too much to ask? As John Lennon might say, “Imagine there’s no Bush/It’s easy if you try.”