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Charles Krauthammer

The Pressure-Cooker Theory

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, August 27, 2004; Page A21

Upon losing a game at the 1925 Baden-Baden tournament, Aaron Nimzowitsch, the great chess theoretician and a superb player, knocked the pieces off the board, jumped on the table and screamed, "How can I lose to this idiot?"

Nimzowitsch may have lived decades ago in Denmark, but he had the soul of a modern American Democrat. After all, Democrats have been saying much the same -- with similar body language -- ever since the erudite Adlai Stevenson lost to the syntactically challenged Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. They said it again when they lost to that supposed simpleton Ronald Reagan. Twice, would you believe? With George W. Bush, they are at it again, and equally apoplectic.

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Actually, this time around, even more apoplectic. The Democrats' current disdain for George Bush reminds me of another chess master, Efim Bogoljubov, who once said, "When I am White, I win because I am White" -- White moves first and therefore has a distinct advantage -- "when I am Black, I win because I am Bogoljubov." John Kerry is a man of similar vanity -- intellectual and moral -- and that spirit thoroughly permeates the Democratic Party.

Democrats feel a mixture of horror and contempt for the huddled masses -- so bovine, so benighted, so besotted with talk radio -- who made a king of an empty-headed movie star (Reagan, long before Arnold) and inexplicably want the Republicans' current nitwit leader to have a second term.

Historians will have a field day trying to fathom the depths of detestation that the Democrats are carrying into this campaign. Vanity is only part of it. What else is at play? First, and most obviously, revenge. Democrats have convinced themselves that Bush stole the last election. They cannot bear suffering not just a bad presidency but an illegitimate one.

Moreover, against all expectations, it turned out to be a consequential presidency. Bush was not the mild-mannered, Gerald Ford-like Republican he was expected to be -- transitional and minor. He turned out to be quite the revolutionary, most especially in his radical reordering of American foreign policy. A usurper is merely offensive; a consequential usurper is intolerable.

But that is still not enough to account for the level of venom today. It is not often that a losing presidential candidate (Al Gore) compares the man who defeated him to both Hitler and Stalin. It is not often that a senior party leader (Edward Kennedy) accuses a sitting president of starting a war ("cooked up in Texas") to gain political advantage for his reelection.

The loathing goes far beyond the politicians. Liberals as a body have gone quite around the twist. I count one all-star rock tour, three movies, four current theatrical productions and five bestsellers (a full one-third of the New York Times list) variously devoted to ridiculing, denigrating, attacking and devaluing this president, this presidency and all who might, God knows why, support it.

How to explain? With apologies to Dr. Freud, I propose the Pressure Cooker Theory of Hydraulic Release.

The hostility, resentment, envy and disdain, all superheated in Florida, were not permitted their natural discharge. Came Sept. 11 and a lid was forced down. How can you seek revenge for a stolen election by a nitwit usurper when all of a sudden we are at war and the people, bless them, are rallying around the flag and hailing the commander in chief? With Bush riding high in the polls, with flags flying from pickup trucks (many of the flags, according to Howard Dean, Confederate), the president was untouchable.

The Democrats fell unnaturally silent. For two long, agonizing years, they had to stifle and suppress. It was the most serious case of repression since Freud's Anna O. went limp. The forced deference nearly killed them. And then, providentially, they were saved. The clouds parted and bad news rained down like manna: WMDs, Abu Ghraib, Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, Joe Wilson and, most important, continued fighting in Iraq.

With the president stripped of his halo, his ratings went down. The spell was broken. He was finally, once again, human and vulnerable. With immense relief, the critics let loose.

The result has been volcanic. The subject of one prominent new novel is whether George W. Bush should be assassinated. This is all quite unhinged. Good God. What if Bush is reelected? If they lose to him again, Democrats will need more than just consolation. They'll need therapy.

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