Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Roots of the Hatred: An Answer to Powerline

Over at Powerline, the question is asked: what, if any, is the rational reason liberals hate Bush?
My experience is that the two propositions set forth in the preceding paragraph are articles of faith among this crowd. The first -- distrust of U.S. power -- is the searing lesson of the Vietnam era. The second -- disdain for traditional religion -- is the lesson of the culture war. I may be wrong about this, but before confessing error I'd need to see, at a minimum, a satisfactory explanation for the intellectual left's hatred of President Bush that does not incorporate either of my two propositions, or others similarly fatal to the formation of a coalition with evangelicals.

Did someone call my name (I don't know if I qualify as part of the "intellectual left." I PLAN on being an academic, and my age isn't my fault!)? My immense distaste for President Bush stems from neither of the two premises Powerline puts out. The primary motivation for my ire is how Bush has delegitimized the exercise of U.S. power on the global stage, possibly for decades. I've already outlined the negative impacts of a world with an insular US, and I'm sure Powerline needs no persuasion on the matter. However, if it is important for the US to exercise power, than it must be EQUALLY important to create a climate in which US exercise of power to solve problems is supported, or at least tolerated. By undermining that sentiment, Bush has done the US (and the world) an immense disservice. In this respect, I loathe Bush for the OPPOSITE reason than the one ascribed by Powerline: It is my belief in the positive potential of US power that motivates my anger toward Bush's policies. I see him as destroying an ideal I deeply believe through arrogance, incompetence, and shortsightedness. An analogy that might work for Powerline would be if Bush was anti-tax zealot (not a hard picture)--but he expressed it by ONLY cutting taxes for millionaires. Powerline might be upset at the specific policy--I don't know--but it would be livid that now the whole enterprise of cutting taxes would be delegitimized by the idiotic actions taken in its name.

From a religious perspective, my faith dictates the extension of common decency to all mankind. Regardless of what I believe in private life, it is an important component of my spiritual beliefs that I believe them because I choose to, not because the government mandates them. I reject any attempt to impose religious views, whether I share them or not, on the population, because it is degrading to MY faith. Bush's cynical promotion of the FMA, which sought to degrade a class of human beings solely for the electoral benefit to be gained from it, was religiously offensive to me. And his and his allies' attempt to justify on the grounds of "Judeo-Christian morality," as if Jewish and Christian morality are remotely similar, was a distortion of historical realities (cf. Arthur A. Cohen, "The Myth of The Judeo-Christian Tradition," (New York: Harper & Row, 1957); Jacob Neusner, "Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition" (London: SCM Press, 1991); and Stephen M. Feldman, "Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State." (New York: New York University Press, 1997), esp. 17-18 and 258-59) that sought to falsely incorporate my religious views into his oppressive ideology. I'll concede that this stance of mine may not make for an easy common cause with evangelicals, but it is equally not an expression on my part that all religious persons (of whom a count myself as one) are "rubes."

Those are my biggest reasons, but others abound. The most important article on this is Jonathan Chait's aptly named article "Mad About You: The Case for Bush Hatred." Some of Chait's reasons are simply visceral emotion (and he is the first to admit it), but not all of them. A few of the reasons include Bush's extremism:
Clinton offended liberals time and again, embracing welfare reform, tax cuts, and free trade, and nominating judicial moderates. When budget surpluses first appeared, he stunned the left by reducing the national debt rather than pushing for more spending. Bush, on the other hand, has developed into a truly radical president. Like Ronald Reagan, Bush crusaded for an enormous supply-side tax cut that was anathema to liberals. But, where Reagan followed his cuts with subsequent measures to reduce revenue loss and restore some progressivity to the tax code, Bush proceeded to execute two additional regressive tax cuts. Combined with his stated desire to eliminate virtually all taxes on capital income and to privatize Medicare and Social Security, it's not much of an exaggeration to say that Bush would like to roll back the federal government to something resembling its pre-New Deal state.

When the September 11 attacks gave Bush an opportunity to unite the country, he simply took it as another chance for partisan gain. He opposed a plan to bolster airport security for fear that it would lead to a few more union jobs. When Democrats proposed creating a Department of Homeland Security, he resisted it as well. But later, facing controversy over disclosures of pre-September 11 intelligence failures, he adopted the idea as his own and immediately began using it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon Democrats. The episode was telling: Having spent the better part of a year denying the need for any Homeland Security Department at all, Bush aides secretly wrote up a plan with civil service provisions they knew Democrats would oppose and then used it to impugn the patriotism of any Democrats who did--most notably Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a triple-amputee veteran running for reelection who, despite his support for the war with Iraq and general hawkishness, lost his Senate race thanks to an ugly GOP ad linking him to Osama bin Laden.

And disingenuousness:
And, while there has been no shortage of liberal hysteria over Bush's foreign policy, it's not hard to see why it scares so many people. I was (and remain) a supporter of the war in Iraq. But the way Bush sold it--by playing upon the public's erroneous belief that Saddam had some role in the September 11 attacks--harkened back to the deceit that preceded the Spanish-American War. Bush's doctrine of preemption, which reserved the right to invade just about any nation we desired, was far broader than anything he needed to validate invading a country that had flouted its truce agreements for more than a decade. While liberals may be overreacting to Bush's foreign policy decisions-- remember their fear of an imminent invasion of Syria?--the president's shifting and dishonest rationales and tendency to paint anyone who disagrees with him as unpatriotic offer plenty of grounds for suspicion.

One might disagree with some or all of these, although at least a few of them should be roots for common cause between liberals and evangelicals (both, for example, hold value systems which would support more government spending to alleviate the ails of poverty). But they stretch beyond "irrational." Insofar as liberals and conservatives value different things, liberals might dislike Bush for some of the very reasons Conservatives laud him. But there are certain facets of Bush's presidency that should be detested by all members of the political spectrum. The excessive indulgence in partisanship, the poor handle on foreign policy, and the tendency toward extremism in lieu of compromise all spring to mind. If there is a group of Bush haters whose feelings are beyond the scope of rationality, there is another sect of us who share many common values with our Conservative brethren--if only they would acknowledge them.


Mark said...

Interesting post. However, one of your conclusions namely you write: ...(both) hold value systems which would support more government spending to alleviate the ails of poverty I'd disagree. Some time ago, I argued (here for example) that government sponsored charity is exactly the wrong thing to do if you feel charity is a valuable personal virtue.

Eben Flood said...

Commenting on your first reason for loathing Bush...

I understand that you feel he has deligitamized our use of power by not garnering world support, and I have heard this line of reasoning before, but it frustrates me to no end.

Speaking as a conservative who opposed the war I would like to ask 'how much support is enough'? I mean exactly how many countries do we have to have on our side, or how many votes on that circus called the UN Security Council do we need, before our actions are considered legitimate?

I also would like to know did Clinton's boming of Bosnia, without world support, cause you to loath him just as much? There are so many examples of American Presidents acting on their own, without 'world approval', that the list of Presidents you loath must be long indeed.

I believe we can act whenever we feel necessary, whether or not the whole world is against us makes no difference. I also believe acting in Iraq was not necessary.

David Schraub said...

Ain't this irony...a liberal who supported the war clashing with a conservative who opposed it. Politics is a weird creature...:)

I understand your objection, but I think it misses the point. Its not that I don't believe the US can't act unilaterally--I do. Its that I believe the US needs to create a global climate in which acting unilaterally is at least tolerated, if not accepted. The way you do that is by operating multilaterally WHEN POSSIBLE, thus gaining "credit," if you will, so you can act unilaterally if necessary without being seen as an evil titan.

Clinton and Bush make for an excellent here. Both attacked countries unilaterally (and I supported both actions). However, Clinton's presidency was characterized by engaging the global sphere, working with international and regional institutions when possible, and a general respect for the interests and concerns of other nations. The Bush administration, by contrast, as acted alone even when it didn't have to, has been aggressive in promoting the US' and only the US' interests, and has shunted aside international and regional institutions. Can it be any wonder that Clinton's action was met with a much more moderate reception than Bush's?

To someone like me, who sees the wisdom in both Clinton and Bush's wars, I'd say there is a qualitative advantage to living in a Clinton world (where US unilateralism is tolerated because it is a last resort) and a Bush world (where US unilateralism is feared becasue it is the first resort). Its not just about amount of allies we can count up on our side on any given project. Its about the global mood and how it reacts to the exercise of US power holistically that counts.

Eben Flood said...

I understand completely your point of view, I too was behind intervention in Bosnia. Your point of view has some serious drawbacks though, the main one being that those kinds of actions that garner broad international support are always the least risky and that international unity is quick to crumble. For example, liberating Kuwait was a no brainer, taking out Sadaam while we had a great opportunity to do so was out of the question if the coalition was to stay together.

It is the nature of the most dangerous threats, whether real or imagined (Iraq), that they require the most risky behavior to resolve. And it is in those situations that we will by default find ourselves the most alone. In my view this should be perceived not as a failure of our diplomacy but as a failure of the world at large to have any kind of a backbone.

N.S.T said...

Credit? The weasely French would be speaking German if it weren't for us, the Germans wouldn't have been able to rebuild their country without our foreign aid, all those countless other countries who we saved from communism, and the list oes on. If we are to have a different status in the geopolitical sphere, and I believe we should have such a status, it should be a higher, superior status, and it should be based on all of the foreign policy "credit" which we've already earned.

H said...

"Eben Flood" and "NST" might do well to follow some of the resasoning being used to justify the debacle in Iraq - "We fight with the army we have, not the army we want to have" or something similar (that paraphrase is a real butchery, but it's the basic reasoning employed by Rumsfeld et. al.)

Similarly, we live in the world we have, not the world we want to have. And while self righteous anger and nativist rhetoric targeted around the world might make for popular political lines, it certainly isn't smart foreign policy. I affirm that the US must in some situations act unilaterally, but I take issue with the stupidity involved in Bush's approach to unilateral action. In slightly different terms, unilateralism in Iraq was a senseless waste of US political capital. I can't set a number for "how many allies" we needed without doing research I don't have time to do right now, but the US could have used its political capital in a much more efficient fashion by taking more time with coalition building. In turn, this would have left the US with the resources to conduct effective diplomacy, giving us a better chance of solving things like trade disputes with the EU, nuclear proliferation etc.

And to the original republican "justication" for the senseless waste in Iraq: I agree that the reasoning is valid, but I think it paints a false picture of what's happening. Of course we fight with the army we have, but that's no excuse to fight stupidly with the army we have. The real problem is that we have to fight with the CIC we have, not the CIC we want to have.