by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
Maureen Dowd wrote another unfortunate, poorly argued, and thinly researched column yesterday. She alleges that racism is behind the growing suspicion of the Obama administration and its initiatives. But almost everything we’ve seen so far has a parallel with liberal attacks on George W. Bush. By 2005, Democrats were booing him openly during his State of the Union address. Rep. Pete Stark called him a liar on the House floor. In fact, the response so far to Obama is mild in comparison to what Bush endured. That does not excuse the boorishness of Joe Wilson, but his tirade is symbolic of our loss of decorum since 2002/2003.
As we all remember, novels were published outlining dreams of killing Bush; a film on that theme won an award. Al Gore, John Glenn (of all people!), and Robert Byrd compared Bush to a brownshirt or Nazi, and they were echoed in the popular culture by the likes of Linda Rondstadt and Garrison Keiler (“brownshirts in pinstripes”). There was no liberal outcry in response.
The Guardian published a sick column by one Charles Brooker, who asked out loud, “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. — where are you now that we need you?” Howard Dean, head of the Democratic party, raged, “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for.” I think it was The New Republic that published Jonathan Chait’s infamous “Why I Hate George W. Bush” article — imagine the outcry should anyone now do the same reprehensible thing with Obama substituted for Bush (e.g., “Why I Hate Barack H. Obama”). A play ran in New York called “I’m Gonna Kill the President.”
Michael Moore was not censured by Democratic grandees for his horrendous comments (such as describing the insurgents in Iraq as modern-day Minutemen), but was instead rewarded with invitations from top Democrats, presumably because he was deemed useful. So far, unhinged Republican senators have not blasted Obama and suggested that our troops are akin to Nazis, terrorists, Khmer Rouge killers, and Baathists (in the manner of Senator Durbin or the late Senator Kennedy).
When an Iraqi threw shoes at President Bush, there was plenty of undisguised delight among liberal columnists and bloggers. I can imagine the response had a Bush-appointed green-jobs czar said that 9/11 was a government inside job, that Democrats were “a—holes,” that Obama was like a crackhead, and that black people were more prone to shoot people and pollute. He would be fired on the spot, and his insanities cited as proof of larger social pathologies.
Joe Wilson was boorish and absolutely wrong to have yelled out during a presidential speech. And a few of the signs at Saturday’s march in Washington were, like their counterparts on the left during their marches, way over the top. But so far, we have seen in the opposition to Obama none of the hatred and sickness that characterized a wide swath of opinion on the left during the Bush years — hatred and sickness that were mainstreamed by the likes of Alfred Knopf, the Guardian, and the Democratic party.
So far, the New York Times has not offered a discount to run a politicized ad like “General Betray Us” attacking Obama. I don’t remember Ms. Dowd herself complaining about the tone of any the above, but I do recall her own mean-spirited offerings, like her recent silly admission that “In the past week, I’ve twice been close enough to Dick Cheney to kick him in the shins. . . . I didn’t. It’s probably a federal crime of some sort. But a girl can fantasize.” Write about Obama in the manner Dowd did about Cheney, and one would of course be called a racist. This is all puerile and shameless.
The present poisoned atmosphere began in the 1980s and 1990s with virulent partisan attacks on Reagan and Clinton. But it was between 2004 and 2008 that the Left introduced a particularly sick sort of hatred to the political give-and-take, reminiscent of the lunatic right during the mid-1950s.
So far the opposition to Obama has not followed the Bush-hating exemplar, and let us pray that it does not. But there is a growing public perception that a Left that used every means to achieve its ends is suddenly terrified that others as crass might follow its own unfortunate lead. One of the most surreal developments of the last nine months has been to see Times columnists who were particularly unfair and vicious in their 24/7 attacks on the prior administration now call for more civil discourse and impugn the motives of Obama critics, apparently in bewilderment that anyone would question the president’s competence or sincerity. This is all quite amazing, really.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson