In politics as in personal life, hatred is a dangerous tool. It's like one of the early medieval cannons, just as capable of blowing up in your face as it is of lobbing a ball at the enemy. Of course, the medieval metal casters realized they had a problem and worked to correct it. Haters never seem to get that far.
For the latest evidence of this, we can thank Peter Berkowitz. Berkowitz is that rarity, a sincere liberal with as critical an eye for his own side as he has for the opposition. In a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, "The Insanity of Bush Hatred", Berkowitz attempts to take the measure of the haters, a phenomenon generally unmentioned by the legacy media, which prefers to act as an unknowing conduit for these people (watch how quickly this changes if Madame Hillary manages to squeak in).
Berkowitz gives us several fine examples of individuals on the very edge of permanent cognitive damage from Bush Derangement Syndrome. People who can't so much as hear the name without their faces going red and their features distorted. (My favorite is the "political moderate" who answers a civil question with: "I . . . hate . . . the . . . way . . . Bush . . . talks", an excellent illustration of the psychological factor called "displacement".)
(Other examples, if such were needed, can be found in this piece, concerning the next president's options in Iraq. According to Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group, the surge and its results are no more than a piece of theater worked up to allow Bush to hand the disaster over to the next administration. That is to say, Al Queda in Iraq is allowing the tar to be beaten out of themselves on behalf of their old pal George. Thanks for the input, Joost.)
Berkowitz gives us a nice guided tour of liberal follies from the inside. But he fails at coming up with an explanation. He's a rational man, looking for reasons in the record, sorting through the facts in an attempt to pinpoint exactly where Bush hatred began to metastasize within the liberal mentality. But all he succeeds in doing is to underline the fact that there is no rational explanation. Bush v. Gore, the War on Terror, the administration's trampling of the Constitution... all clearly reveal themselves as hollow excuses, created ex-post-facto to hide the actual explanation. The Supreme Court decision was triggered by Al Gore himself. Future historians will marvel over the fact that an attack against the U.S. generated hatred not for the enemy but for American leadership. And whatever depredations have been carried against American rights and liberties (and I don't believe anything of the sort), they pale in significance against those of FDR, Woodrow Wilson, and, for that matter, Abe Lincoln.
All the same, the two Bush terms have been on unending carnival of hatred. Just to hit the high points, there's the novel blueprinting his assassination, a film on the same topic, and probably more. We've had several impeachment attempts, all hopeless on their face, the latest proposed by the noted statesman Dennis Kucinich. And all this before we get to one single word of media coverage on Karl Rove, waterboarding, surveillance, Valerie Plame, or Scott McClellan.
It's a waste of time looking for a rational explanation amid all this. None could conceivably cover every last convolution of paranoia, delusion, and obsession. "Bush hatred," as Berkowitz writes, "is different." It's different because it has its roots in ideology.
We often overlook the fact that liberalism is an ideology, and has been since the days of the New Deal. It is not a doctrine or a school of thought, and does not operate by the rational rules required in those cases. It's an ideology in the sense of a synthetic, politically-based replacement for religious belief, and it operates by the rules of an ideology -- irrational, compulsive, and totally divorced from anything outside of the ideological system itself.
Hatred, along with fear, hysteria, and conformity, is a basic element of ideological thinking. I know of no exceptions. For the Nazis, the hate-figures were, of course, the Jews. For the Soviet communists, they were a shifting cast of kulaks, socialists, capitalists, Trotskyites and "wreckers" (saboteurs out to destroy communist achievements on the orders of any of the above). For the New Dealers, it was businessmen (as it is today for some Greens).
The need for devil figures remains true no matter what part of the political spectrum the ideology lies on, what other elements are present, and whatever the ideology's goals may be. You could go so far as to say that hate is necessary to the definition of any ideology.
The hate figures are often synthetic. Orwell recognized this in his creation of Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984. Goldstein (who was based on Trotsky), the victim of the book's five-minute hate, was a semi-mythical entity with the exact characteristics required to fit the passions of the moment.
If the hate-figures aren't completely artificial, if they're based on real individuals, then they're caricatures, figures distorted to an extent that all sense of reality has been drained out. We've seen this repeatedly from American liberals.
Richard M. Nixon's notorious social gaffes (which are usually a product of extreme shyness) were presented as evidence of incipient insanity, with all of Nixon's actions analyzed for evidence of a breakdown. Thus the 1970 incursion into Cambodia, the result of months of pleading by U.S. military commanders to be allowed to hit the PAVN's supply dumps and training camps across the border, was explained with a claim that Nixon had seen the film Patton the night before.
While it was forgotten amid all the adulation following his funeral, Reagan was loathed nearly as much as Bush during his presidential terms. (A critical moment in my political education occurred when I stepped out of my office moments after Reagan was shot in 1981 and saw Americans dancing in the street over the news.) Reagan, of course, was the halfwit who needed to be led around by his "handlers" lest he stumble in front of a bus or hit the wrong button on the nuclear football. Almost everything he said or did was reported to fit that image, for example, the widely-covered incident in which he referred to Thailand as "Siam". What the reporters failed to realize was that for the first third of Reagan's long life, the name of the place actually was Siam. (Late in the 80s, a small number of liberals began to wise up. Prominent among them was the cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who published a cartoon showing one of his trademark wimpy liberals saying, "Reagan said the Berlin Wall would come down, and I said Reagan was a fool." Each panel featured yet another statement by Reagan answered with the same refrain, until we reach the last: "Because if Reagan was right all along... ... then what kind of fool am I?")
We could go on for page after page if we liked. Eisenhower, the man who coordinated Allied strategy against Hitler's Germany (a better piece of work than any of his critics ever achieved) was dismissed as the "Great Golfer". Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay. Possibly the most odious case I'm aware of: Garry Wills. After it was revealed that an Iraqi hit team had been stalking George H.W. Bush, Wills produced a column in which he said, "Who cares? It's only George Bush."
Then, after all that, and only after all that, do we get to George W. Bush, baby-killer, torturer, trasher of the Constitution, and slave of Halliburton. In the context we've established, none of this looks particularly unprecedented or unique, or even surprising. Bush is simply the latest of a long line of hate-figures -- it's the way the liberal-left does things
Liberalism does things that way because it has devolved into an ideology with an ideology's characteristics. (Liberalism may well be the only ideology that has actually gone through a process of development: most of the others were designed, to one extent or another.) Little trace remains of discussion, debate, consensus, or any respect for democratic norms and procedures. There's only the philosophy of "whatever it takes", the strategy of "by any means necessary".
It will grow more rabid in time, as it always does. When Rudolph Giuliani is elected, they will turn on him the same way they did Bush. They already have in New York City. (In all discussions of Giuliani's "failings" I have yet to see anyone point out that Giuliani is the sole Republican candidate who has put the boot to the liberals successfully and repeatedly.) For that matter, Mitt Romney would be in for the same treatment if he were elected. Even Ron Paul, borderline radical that he is.
Any Republican elected to high office will be treated the same for the foreseeable future. So the media may as well knock off all the marveling on how hated Republican office holders are. At this point, it's simply part of the job description. Liberalism has become the party of hate -- the first major party to fit that description since the heyday of the Know-Nothings. You can check the record and see how long they lasted.
Can liberalism change? It's doubtful. There are still decent liberals. Berkowitz is only one example. But they are islands. They alone can turn it around, and I don't think there are enough of them. (By his own admission, Berkowitz doesn't seem to have had much luck with his intellectual friends.
In any case, what's required would be that the liberals "de-ideologize" themselves, and there's no record that any political entity has ever accomplished this. Communism was de-ideologized by collapse, fascism by Allied tanks. Not much of a choice from the liberal point of view.
So we can look forward to more viciousness and more nastiness, more foully and more often expressed. It will only break when liberalism does.
Speed the day. Related article: The Politics of Anger on the Left
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.