Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The Morality of Bush Hating 

Following on the timid Molly Ivins, who wants Democrats to confine themselves to polite disagreement about Bush's "wrong" policies, Bob Somerby thinks Jonathan Chait should have kept his big mouth shut instead of running "to hand his head to the cons" with his New Republic piece, Mad at You." Chait's thought crime? Saying he "hates" Bush, thereby supposedly vindicating the current vogue for exposing vile "Bush hating" among liberals.

Digby has had typically trenchant things to say about the GOP's sudden, touching concern for Democrats' mental health that I can't possibly improve upon. However, Somerby's chastisement of Chait, and Ivins' advocacy of unilateral disarmament, marks a peculiar turn in the evolution of this debate that cries out for response.

It's certainly true, as Somerby amply documents, that "Clinton hating" during the 90s had a much wider and more demented cast to it, than "Bush hating" does now. However, in so doing Somerby commits the fallacy of treating "irrational hate" as a redundancy, so that it is not possible to properly and validly hate someone.

On the contrary, as Robert Wright would agree, hate is one of the moral emotions, whose evolutionary utility is to enforce social values by mobilizing the collective disapproval of society at flagrant violations of those norms. Simply put, hate is healthy when it functions to identify and punish the most serious malefactors. The question, then, is whether a given hatred is well-founded, or if it is simply the hypocritical expression of the hater's own aggrieved self-interest tricked up in moral garb.

This is where the spuriousness of the comparison between Bush- and Clinton hating completely breaks down. Unlike the case for hating Clinton, the case for hating Bush does not depend in any way, shape or form on manufactured evidence, speculation about motives, or unwarranted inferences from known facts. (No, I'm not saying Clinton didn't do anything worthy of censure.) You don't have to believe in the Bush family's connection to the Nazis, his possible desertion from the Air National Guard, whether he "let 9/11 happen," or even the role of oil interests in motivating the rush to invade Iraq. The real grounds for hating Bush, which Chait eloquently lays out, is the complete mockery his life, persona, and policies make of the very Christian values that he and his followers claim to promote, of honesty, hard work, compassion, frugality, humility, and sincerity, to name just a few.

This is a professedly "moral" man (and movement), after all, who has knowingly set us up for an unavoidable fiscal crisis a decade from now by repeatedly lying to the voters about his policies (and appealing to their short-sightedness) in order to line his own class' pockets; in the process he is undermining, likely intentionally, social institutions and compacts between generations that have taken decades to nurture. And that's just for starters. What's not to hate?

If we aren't allowed to state this baldly and with a healthy sense of outrage, we're not being fully human, and we're certainly not fulfilling our responsibilities to each other as moral citizens. As Chait puts it in a rebuttal to David Brooks and others yesterday, "[I]f Brooks wants to proscribe all Bush-haters, not just the conspiracy-mongers, then what he seeks isn't a higher level of discourse but raw partisan advantage." Hating Bush openly is not "handing one's head to the cons"--that's holding one's head up, and speaking the truth to illegitimate and abusive power.

corrente SBL - New Location
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