I remember watching President Bush shaking hands with members of Congress right before he delivered the State of the Union address in January 2006. Then as now, the country was torn over the Iraq War, and I thought it was amusing that Democrat lawmakers who despised Bush’s decision to invade Iraq would even want to have anything to do with him.
I was stunned by the sight of Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, one of Bush’s most strident critics, exchanging hugs and pleasantries with Bush on his way on the podium. I thought I was hallucinating: here was Rep. Lee, a woman who seemingly reviled Bush, actually getting along with the President? At first, I reasoned that despite her sharp differences with Bush, Rep. Lee regarded the President as a celebrity, and thus reacted the way most people react when they meet a celebrity. Several days later, I came up with an alternate theory.
Rep. Lee never had anything against Bush personally; if she did, she would not have given the President the time of day. However, she had a deeply negative opinion of the President’s supporters. Rep. Lee undoubtedly regards the folks who voted for Bush as less than concerned about the plight of her constituents. However, she does not hold any hatred towards Bush as an individual.
Unquestionably, there are folks who personally hate Bush–just as there are folks who personally hated Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. However, for most of us, hatred is not directed towards the individuals, but at those who find such individuals admirable.
About six months before WBZ-AM talk-radio host David Brudnoy passed away, he interviewed Clinton, who was on tour promoting his autobiography My Life. Brudnoy had for years criticized Clinton’s actions as President–but during the phone interview, Brudnoy was nothing but cordial towards the former Commander-in-Chief. It became apparent that Brudnoy did not have anything personal against Clinton (despite constantly referring to him as “Bubba” over the years; it was merely Clinton’s government-is-always-better political vision (and the supporters of said vision) that Brudnoy, a libertarian, found unbearable.
It may surprise some people, but I never felt any personal animus towards our junior Senator, John Kerry. Granted, I wasn’t alive when Kerry went after his fellow Vietnam veterans in 1971; if I had borne witness to Kerry’s slander, I would have held just as much personal contempt for Kerry as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did. Nevertheless, Kerry always seemed like a run-of-the-mill liberal politician, not an unbearable blowhard. I didn’t even hate Kerry enough to vote for Bill Weld in the 1996 US Senate fight; I voted for Susan Gallagher, a third-party challenger, because I was against the liberalism of both Weld and Kerry.
I voted against Kerry in November 2004 not because I loathed Teresa’s husband, but because I felt he was being supported by those who irrationally hated President Bush and who believed that an American defeat in Iraq would somehow be in the United States’ best interests. I roll my eyes when Kerry makes obnoxious remarks–his 2005 quip about American soldiers “terrorizing” Iraqi women and children, his 2006 “botched joke” about education and the Iraq War–but I regard those remarks as the products of idiocy, not iniquity.
Look closely, and you’ll see that a lot of partisan contempt in this country is not directed at candidates and officeholders so much as it is directed at those who are backing candidates and officeholders. Can anyone deny that the critics of Reagan and Bush 43 are in reality motivated by a distrust of the Christian conservatives who embraced both Presidents? Can anyone deny that the critics of Bill and Hillary Clinton are in reality motivated by a distrust of the “secular progressives” who supported the Clintons over the years?
There are certainly folks who regard the current President as evil, just as there are folks who regarded the previous President as wicked. However, there are also many Americans who see Bush the way Rep. Lee sees him, and who view Sen. Kerry the way I’ve always viewed him: not as an enemy, but as an individual soldier in a long and seemingly unending political/cultural war. Because our values are so important, we are compelled to fight the soldiers from “the other side.” The intense partisanship of the age is the natural consequence of reporting for duty.