A Dislike Unlike Any Other?
Writer Jonathan Chait Brings Bush-Hating Out of the Closet
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 19, 2003; Page D01
The words tumble out, the hands gesture urgently, as Jonathan Chait explains why he hates George W. Bush.
It's Bush's radical policies, says the 31-year-old New Republic writer, and his unfair tax cuts, and his cowboy phoniness, and his favors for corporate cronies, and his heist in Florida, and his dishonesty about his silver-spoon upbringing, and, oh yes, the way he walks and talks.
For some of his friends, Chait says at a corner table in a downtown Starbucks, "just seeing his face or hearing his voice causes a physical reaction -- they have to get away from the TV. My sister-in-law describes Bush's existence as an oppressive force, a constant weight on her shoulder, just knowing that George Bush is president."
Has this unassuming man in a rumpled sports shirt lifted the lid on a boiling caldron of anti-Bush fury in liberal precincts across America? Or is he just an overcaffeinated, irrational liberal, venting to a minority of like-minded readers?
Ramesh Ponnuru, a soft-spoken conservative at National Review, pays Chait a backhanded compliment, writing that "not everyone would be brave enough to recount their harrowing descent into madness so vividly."
Ponnuru calls him "smart, funny and completely misguided." Since the president is so likable, he says, the outbreak of Bush hatred "just makes you scratch your head."
Chait, a doctor's son from suburban Detroit, obviously didn't create the Bush-bashing debate. But his recent "Bush Hatred" cover story helped bring the subject out of the closet, where it can be dissected and diagnosed as part of the lefties-are-from-Mars, right-wingers-are-from-Venus shoutfest.
Hatred, of course, is such an unpleasant word. Some afflicted with the condition would describe it as being steamed, ticked, appalled, revolted or otherwise fed up with Bush. But the salient characteristic is the scowling intensity of these feelings, particularly for liberals who despair that the other side controls the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court.
Mainstream journalism, with its traditional parameters, has somehow failed to connect with the notion that there are lots of Americans who walk around sputtering about Dubya -- despite fairly healthy approval ratings for a third-year incumbent. The press was filled with stories about Clinton-haters, but Bush-hating is either more restrained or more out of control, depending on who's keeping score.
A spate of liberal books are smacking the president around: David Corn's "The Lies of George W. Bush"; "Bushwhacked," by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose; Paul Krugman's "The Great Unraveling"; Joe Conason's "Big Lies"; and Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them." (These, of course, follow a flood of best-selling conservative books by Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Bernard Goldberg and others.)
The war in Iraq is a key factor. Corn, the Nation's Washington bureau chief, says he pitched his book in the spring of 2002 and his agent got no nibbles. But when he submitted a one-paragraph outline last October, during the run-up to the war, six publishing houses asked to see him immediately, and he had offers the next day.
"Having uninformed hatred of anybody is probably not a good thing," Corn says. "But if you have reason to believe the president of the United States is lying to you about significant matters, then you have damn good reason to be damn upset."
The other side is getting upset as well. David Brooks, the former Weekly Standard writer who recently became a New York Times columnist, took vigorous exception to Chait's piece, writing that "the quintessential new warrior scans the Web for confirmation of the president's villainy. . . . The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it's the haters themselves."
"I get the feeling that some Democrats had so much hatred for Bush that they had no hatred left over for Saddam," Brooks says in an interview. "Conversely, some Republicans had so much hatred for Clinton they could never bring themselves to support some of the good things he did."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company