A Dislike Unlike Any Other?
But, he admits, "I wish I'd been more critical during the Clinton years. I was reluctant to attack people I liked." Brooks calls Chait a good journalist, but adds: "After you say you hate the way Bush walks and talks, you can never again ask readers to trust your judgment on anything involving Bush."
The New Republic's editor complained in a letter to the Times that Brooks had ignored Chait's substantive arguments against Bush. And Chait says that gee, by the way, Republicans set a "perjury trap" and impeached a popular Democrat, and yet "suddenly it's time to declare president-hating out of bounds."
Such attitudes draw a chuckle from Laura Ingraham, a conservative radio talk show host whose new book is called "Shut Up and Sing: How Elites From Hollywood, Politics and the UN are Subverting America."
"What drives them nuts is that people actually like Bush," she says. "Even if they disagree with him, they think he's a good person." But for many liberals, "Bush isn't just wrong, he's evil. The axis of evil for these guys is George Bush, Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld."
The debate inevitably slams into reverse by examining the antipathy for all things Clintonian (Ingraham, for instance, wrote a highly critical book on Hillary). After all, the libs say, Bill Clinton was accused by his feverish foes of such absurdities as murder and drug-running, and denounced by more mainstream Republicans, such as Indiana Rep. Dan Burton, who once called Clinton a "scumbag" and reenacted the Vince Foster shooting with a pumpkin. But as National Review's Byron York points out, one far-left Web site accuses the Bush family of involvement in hundreds of deaths, while others liken the president to Hitler (you can order a Bush T-shirt with a swastika in place of the "s") or just call him an idiot (Toostupidtobepresident.com). York also notes that Sheldon Drobny, who is arranging financing for a liberal talk radio network, has alleged online that the president's grandfather, Prescott Bush, did business with the Third Reich but that "as in any fascist regime, the press is prevented from publishing it."
Fringe Web sites aside, liberals insist that Bush-bashing is "different from Clinton-hating and Nixon-hating," as Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of the New Yorker, puts it. The reason: It's not personal, in the way that conservatives saw Clinton "as a '60s hippie and hated him for that."
Hertzberg, whose friends openly disdain the commander in chief -- "The phrase 'President Bush' hurts their eardrums" -- is among those who proudly refuse to Get Over the high court's ruling in Bush v. Gore.
"Bush lost in the vote of the people, and his legitimacy is hard to accept," he says. "Having lost the popular vote, he took no account of the special circumstances of his election and governed as if there was a popular mandate for the whole program of the hard right."
Why, then, did Florida quickly fade as a journalistic issue? "The media did not want to face the idea that we had an illegitimately installed president," Hertzberg says. "That's too big a piece of bad news that shakes too many kinds of civic faith."
Others are fuming not so much about the recount as about Bush's self-portrait as a compassionate conservative. "In 2000 the press did a historically awful job" of exposing the gap between Bush's soothing rhetoric and his conservative record, Chait says.
One of the few points of agreement is that Bush has done to the Democrats what Clinton did to the GOP: pilfered their best issues. Just as Clinton seized credit for welfare reform and crime fighting, Bush has stolen the opposition's thunder on such perennial liberal causes as education and prescription drugs for the elderly.
"Being beaten is never fun," Ponnuru says, "particularly when you're being beaten by someone you consider a moron."
But the consensus breaks down over whether Bush has been deceiving the public -- not just over his decision to invade Iraq, a debate that continues to rage, but also whether he misrepresented his tax cuts as helping the middle class when they are heavily tilted to the wealthy.
The ball is hit back and forth, across the net that divides the media landscape, from those who cheer Fox to those who swear by NPR.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company