...Bush hatred is different. It's not that this time members of the intellectual class have been swept away by passion and become votaries of anger and loathing. Alas, intellectuals have always been prone to employ their learning and fine words to whip up resentment and demonize the competition. Bush hatred, however, is distinguished by the pride intellectuals have taken in their hatred, openly endorsing it as a virtue and enthusiastically proclaiming that their hatred is not only a rational response to the president and his administration but a mark of good moral hygiene.
This distinguishing feature of Bush hatred was brought home to me on a recent visit to Princeton University. I had been invited to appear on a panel to debate the ideas in Princeton professor and American Prospect editor Paul Starr's excellent new book, "Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism." To put in context Prof. Starr's grounding of contemporary progressivism in the larger liberal tradition, I recounted to the Princeton audience an exchange at a dinner I hosted in Washington in June 2004 for several distinguished progressive scholars, journalists, and policy analysts.
To get the conversation rolling at that D.C. dinner--and perhaps mischievously--I wondered aloud whether Bush hatred had not made rational discussion of politics in Washington all but impossible. One guest responded in a loud, seething, in-your-face voice, "What's irrational about hating George W. Bush?" His vehemence caused his fellow progressives to gather around and lean in, like kids on a playground who see a fight brewing.
Reluctant to see the dinner fall apart before drinks had been served, I sought to ease the tension. I said, gently, that I rarely found hatred a rational force in politics, but, who knows, perhaps this was a special case. And then I tried to change the subject.
But my dinner companion wouldn't allow it. "No," he said, angrily. "You started it. You make the case that it's not rational to hate Bush." I looked around the table for help. Instead, I found faces keen for my response. So, for several minutes, I held forth, suggesting that however wrongheaded or harmful to the national interest the president's policies may have seemed to my progressive colleagues, hatred tended to cloud judgment, and therefore was a passion that a citizen should not be proud of being in the grips of and should avoid bringing to public debate. Propositions, one might have thought, that would not be controversial among intellectuals devoted to thinking and writing about politics.
But controversial they were. Finally, another guest, a man I had long admired, an incisive thinker and a political moderate, cleared his throat, and asked if he could interject. I welcomed his intervention, confident that he would ease the tension by lending his authority in support of the sole claim that I was defending, namely, that Bush hatred subverted sound thinking. He cleared his throat for a second time. Then, with all eyes on him, and measuring every word, he proclaimed, "I . . . hate . . . the . . . way . . . Bush . . . talks."