Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Explaining Political Hatred

Anonymous, if that really is his name' left the following comments; I've edited them down to those I'd like to comment on:

Lefties hate Rove for his words and deeds, which they believe damage their country ... Anyway, this interpretation of Rove's effect on the nation's laws naturally morphs into hatred of Rove the person.

It's not as clear to me that conservatives' hatred of the Clintons is so closely tied to their effect on policy. Bill contributed to some things that principled conservatives should have found acceptable ( actually ending welfare as we knew it, pushing free trade, eliminating the deficit while concurrently cutting taxes for significantly more Americans than for whom they were raised), yet the hatred was unrelenting. In the 90's , I used to ask my Clinton-hating friends to name 3 policy changes ( i.e., differences with Reagan and/or H.W.) that they disagreed with; in the admittedly small and possibly non-representative sample, no one could do it ( although I'm sure that Hatcher could rise to the challenge). They instead seemed fixated on his private morality. At the time, I gave them the benefit of the doubt, figuring that maybe conservatives just harbored a stronger belief in the importance of private morality ( e.g., elected officials are role models who have an impact on the norms regarding acceptable behavior throughout all of society), but then , in 2000, they preferred W ( who, taking his adult life in its totality, seems to be a man of rather low moral character) over McCain. So that can't be it. I'm still puzzled.

From whence does the hatred spring? I've contemplated this often, but I think Anonymous is a little blind to the hatred emanating from the left ... it is not all based upon a hatred of policy morphing to a hatred of the person advocating the policy. "Bush = Hitler", I'm sure Anonymous would admit, is a little unhinged when you consider that Bush's main crime (in their eyes) is ridding the world of a fascist murderer. You may have preferred he be left in place, arguing he posed no threat to us, but it was impossible to say on humanitarian grounds that what we did was a bad thing. And clearly the Bush admin thought he could some day pose a threat, and why wait until Jimmy Carter negotiates a deal that allows them to develop a nuke? Why wasn't "Clinton = Hitler" for bombing the bejesus out of Milosevic? The only difference I can see is that we actually did have a security interest at stake in Iraq, whereas with Eastern Europe we had none.

Still, with that said, I take your point - many of the Clinton policies were desirable to conservatives, principally welfare reform and NAFTA. He signed the welfare reform bill out of necessity, unceremoniously at midnight; it was a matter of political survival. NAFTA he campaigned on, so there is no caveat placed on his role in extending free trade. Deficit reduction, like welfare reform, was pushed on him by the Republican Congress, and while I am not sure the numbers support this argument ('cause I'm too lazy to check), I suspect much of the deficit reduction came from his ability to reduce military expenditures with the Cold War behind us (showing that the Reagan deficits paid dividends down the line). Other conservatives have pointed out the centrist achievements of the Clinton administration - Norman Podhoretz did a long article in the late 1990s in National Review saying that Clinton had effectively saved the Democrats from its McGovernite tendencies, though they seem to be slipping back in that direction.

But the same question could be posed with respect to Bush - the medicare drug entitlement that he created should have liberals dancing in the streets; he's increased the size of government; he's expanded a Department of Education that Gingrich wanted to eliminate in 1994; he's pledged more money to fight AIDS in Africa than anyone prior. But still liberals think the guy wants to starve and torture puppies.

So let me offer my non-partisan take on the illogical hatred that goes both ways. In the 1990s, the tranquil foreign policy scene elevated the culture war to a higher prominence in domestic politics. Roe v. Wade has made that battle more heated; such culture issues have tended in the past to not matter all that much in times of war, but even that changed with Vietnam. Independent of the actual policies implemented by a President, or the things that Presidents say, people on both sides of the aisle lump them into one side of the culture war. When that President champions a cause that is to the liking of the other side, the other side typically views as it as motivated by expediency at the expense of principal, and believe that if they are not vigilant in opposing the President, he'll let his true colors show whenever possible. They both resent him for tacking to the middle and for going away from the middle, under the theory that if he would only be consistent with his principles, he'd be voted out of office in a heartbeat.

That is what the two sides share in common in their political hatred. But their hatred manifests itself in different ways, because they hold different personal qualities in high regard. Our status-consciousness makes us vested in whether or not the man who heads the nation mirrors our image of the good man. The political left tends to value intellect above all else, confusing it with virtue in a rather self-serving manner. The political right tends to value integrity and character above intellect; they are not wowed by a wonkish Southern president, and tend to focus upon his lack of character, character they regard as being necessary for leadership. The guy could talk intelligently about policy all day long, but I can't get the image out of my head of him talking about the latest Sara McClachlan CD with Monica Lewinski - he's just a really smart teen-ager, not really worthy of any vaunted status. People who worshipped his intelligence, and there are many, excuse his severe shortcomings; his bountiful intelligence, an intelligence he so selflessly offers up for our service, more than makes up for his lack of character. We should let him grope, rape, etc. - small price to pay.

Now think of the number one thing liberals like to flatter themselves about with respect to Bush - how comparatively stupid he is, on their reckoning. His "Bushisms" give it away - really intelligent people are apparently, to a man, great extemporaneous speakers. I always think of Ed Prescott here, my Macroeconomics teacher and Nobel Prize winner, who makes Bush sound like Churchill. Because they've anointed themselves as smarter than Bush, their intelligence permits them to insult, because after all lack of intelligence is equivalent to lack of virtue; and having it excuses them for calling a guy they don't know a moron. They did it with Dan Quayle, and to some extent with Reagan.

There is also the class angle that tends to seep in. Bush gets no credit for changing his life, because he was born with the silver spoon in his mouth. The myopic materialistic view of the left is that only the poor are capable of struggles in life; those of the rich, especially those of the offspring of a famous parent, are treated as the whines of the spoiled. Clinton's solidly middle-class background is always played down to the level of near poverty to make it look like he's overcome great obstacles. I've seen his boyhood home in Hot Springs - it is a nice home on a very sizable lot - we're not talking a southern kid running around barefoot with ringworm. No doubt materially he has progressed further from where he started, but that is easier when one hasn't as far to fall. But more importantly, professional success is not all that a man should be judged upon, and I frankly thing Bush's dedication to his family versus Clinton's dedication to his sexual appetites makes Bush the better man by far. (That said, I think that there is a high probability that if they switched wives, I'd be saying the opposite).


Blogger Clupbert said...

Very good post Hatcher. I'm going to link to it on my other blog, IHHAC.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought we didn't like Clinton because he LIED under oath about his behavior, not because he actually had the affair...


5:16 PM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

I don't know who "we" is, but let me say for myself that it would be inaccurate to say I don't like Clinton. I hate him. Saying I don't like him is too kind, making me look more psychologically balanced than I truly am. With that said, I'm allowed to hate him for many reasons, and in fact do. Not content with the myriad of reasons I already have, I constantly look for new ones.

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A very good response to my comment ( and your edit actually improved it; my ranting about Rove was off point).I agree with parts of it, but since such a list would make for boring reading, I'll organize this around some dissents:

- I heard W trying to explain a nuance of the Social Security system a couple of weeks ago. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. So I think that if you control for the degree of difficulty of their standard topics, Bush might be no more articulate than Prescott ( this is JohnW, your one time partner on the left side of that storied Stochastic Processes' infield of the mid-'90's ( to the uninitiated, think Bowa and Schmidt). A thanks to DrQ, the anchor of the right side ( of that infield, not the political spectrum) for informing me of your blog. It's very well written). But your larger point, that eloquence and intelligence are not perfectly correlated, is strong. I think that your thoughts on why many liberals nevertheless focus on this are valid.

- You implied that liberals like "big government", no questions asked. It's more a belief that certain social goals need to be met, and that markets will fail to meet them. So "big government " then follows organically. The prescription drug law includes a massive giveaway to Big Pharma, which ties up funds that could go to more worthy projects, and plays to liberals' beliefs about W's entire governing philosophy. So I think it's still a policy difference. That said, there's no question that much of the Bush-hatred has approached Clinton-hatred in its apparent ( to me , anyway) irrationality
( although war raises the emotional stakes a bit, so it may not be comparable. And imagine the heights Clinton-hating could have reached if the majority of conservatives genuinely believed that he wasn't the duly-elected POTUS). And your point about Kosovo is well taken, although that hypocrisy seems to rest on both sides.

- My main point in the 2 posts on that thread was that conservatives' belief in the importance of character is inconsistently applied, so much so that I'm not sure that it's genuine ( in general; that's not about you). While I don't believe that Bush would win a moral character showdown with Clinton
( when considering their respective backstories, we probably wouldn't agree about what's true vs. what's myth), it seems a close call. But, even if you give the decision to Bush, that doesn't imply that the line betwen "high" moral character and "low" falls between them. If the direction of causality for conservatives is " He has the best character, thus ( if his policies are within an acceptable range ) I'll support him ", then, in 2000, most Republicans would have considered the backgrounds and found W lacking ( the lying under oath, probable insider trading, lack of follow through on his National Guard commitment, etc.). President McCain would be in his second term. My guess is that they instead found McCain not to be their exact choice on policy, so they supported W. Nothing wrong with that. But it's more " I agree with him on policy, thus I'll convince myself that he's a man of high character". I don't see a meaningful distinction between this and the Clinton-supporter's perspective of " I agree with him on policy, so I'll just ignore his moral shortcomings".

8:49 PM  
Blogger Clupbert said...

Liberals fundamentally misunderstand christians and their character judgments. Christians believe all people are sinners so being a sinner is nothing special. It is how someone atones for their sin that is important. Clinton to this day thinks his lie helped America(remember when he said this on Oprah) and doesn't make apologies for being a douche bag. W repeats all the time that he has made mistakes and has been born again and yada yada yada.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

"Now think of the number one thing liberals like to flatter themselves about with respect to Bush - how comparatively stupid he is, on their reckoning. His "Bushisms" give it away - really intelligent people are apparently, to a man, great extemporaneous speakers. I always think of Ed Prescott here, my Macroeconomics teacher and Nobel Prize winner, who makes Bush sound like Churchill. Because they've anointed themselves as smarter than Bush, their intelligence permits them to insult, because after all lack of intelligence is equivalent to lack of virtue; and having it excuses them for calling a guy they don't know a moron. They did it with Dan Quayle, and to some extent with Reagan."

Gold. Pure gold. I'm blogrolling you for that.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

Personally, I think both sides are perfectly capable of irrational hatred of politicians on the other side and are willing to overlook the faults of their own guys. "You've got to dance with them that brung ya."

My guess is that we all develop these hatreds of politicians because they serve as a personification of policies we don't like. It's really hard to sustain a nice long burning anger at a statute or regulation. It's just too abstract.

I mean how many of you get pissed off about sugar subsidies that rip you off by $5/year each year. But that kid in junior high who stole your $5 of lunch money, I bet you would still like a chance to kick his ass twenty years later.

It's just way easier for Hatch to hate Clinton and for me to hate Rove than for both of us to keep up a burning passion for eminent domain or marginal tax rates.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Wow, John W. Who'd a thunk it? Good to have you as a reader/commentor. I'm flattered by the comparison of me to Bowa, but I must say that Bowa would never get replaced by PaulS.

Just one point on your comments - a "giveaway" to Big Pharma, in my view, beats any other giveaway that the Govt. generally engages in. Big Pharma typically just funnels profits back into R&D, which generates HUGE consumer surplus down the line.

Another plus on the Bush side from a liberal perspective is that he has prosecuted corporate fraud pretty aggressively, and I might add that most all of that corporate fraud occurred under Clinton's watch.

9:02 AM  

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