by Victor Davis Hanson
I’d say if you live in the United States of America and you vote for George Bush, you’ve lost your mind. — John Edwards
When does the legitimate “I oppose Obama” descend into the illegitimate “I hate Obama”?
It is popular now to suggest that conservatives in general and congressional Republicans in particular suffer from an obsession characterized by an uncontrolled antipathy for Barack Obama — personal and visceral — that warps their entire political outlook. No doubt some do experience the same obsessions that infected the Left in their furor at George W. Bush. One can find unhinged posters at anti-Obama rallies similar to those at anti-Bush demonstrations. Bloggers can show hatred for Obama in the manner one found them despising Bush. Perhaps for Howard Dean’s rants about Bush’s supposed foreknowledge of 9/11, we have Donald Trump insisting on a fraudulent Obama birth certificate. Truthers are analogous to Birthers. And for every conspiracy theory that Bush was continuing a long family tradition of profiting from Nazi trade, there was a suggestion that Obama was a Manchurian candidate planted here by Islamic interests to destroy from the inside the United States.
But again, I am not talking about conspiracy rants and raves, but a general psychiatric affliction that infects the influential political class — politicians, journalists, and those in popular culture and the arts.
So how does one distinguish natural political opposition from a psychotic state? In other words, when will we know that popular opposition to Obama’s worldview and a dislike at the way he seeks to divide the country degenerate into the paranoid venom that was unleashed against Bush?
Here are some things to watch on the national scene to warn us:
1) Assassination Talk
Watch it when opposition to Obama evokes thoughts of assassination and is not countenanced by the conservative community. In other words, be on guard for the conservative equivalents of a Gabriel Range’s Death of a President — a docudrama imagining a hit on Barack Obama. Especially important is to note any positive reaction to such hatred, like a first-place award from the Toronto Film Festival.
And do not forget novels. We are in trouble when a mainstream New York publisher (say, an Alfred A. Knopf) publishes a novel in which characters fantasize about shooting Barack Obama — in the manner of Nicholson Baker’sCheckpoint. Important here, then, is the reaction to such expression of murderous hate. Keep on guard for a conservative Michael Moore who might suggest that 9/11-like mass murder is appropriate for Obama supporters (“If someone did this [9/11] to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who did not vote for him!”) or who might resort to teenage trash-talking, such as “What I meant to say is that George W. Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk driver, a WMD liar, and a functional illiterate. And he poops his pants.”
The point is not that there won’t be conservative deranged equivalents to Moore, but to watch whether such demonic figures are fully embedded within the conservative political establishment. If one were to substitute Obama for Bush in Michael Moore’s rants, would he then be invited as a guest of honor to the Republican National Convention? If so, we would have a good example of Obama Derangement Syndrome. Note too the spread of Obama tics into the entertainment industry: do Hollywood celebrities routinely in their award acceptance speeches, performances, and interviews interrupt to blast Obama in the obsessive manner of a Barbra Streisand, Matt Damon, Sean Penn, or the Dixie Chicks?
2) Nazi Talk
Watch the Nazi analogies from public figures; they are good evidence of psychosis. Are there anti-Obama zealots like an Al Gore, John Glenn, or Garrison Keillor who without rebuke compare Barack Obama to a brownshirt or Nazi? If they do so, and go unchallenged, then opposition to Obama may be reaching afflictive levels.
“Hate” and “liar” are also tip-offs, especially when used routinely bymainstream public figures and publications. We saw a little bit of that with Rep. Joe Wilson’s quite crudely spontaneous “You lie!” outburst during a presidential address. So look to see whether prominent conservative journals — a National Review, Commentary, or Weekly Standard — are publishing the equivalent of Jonathan Chait’s reprehensible New Republic article: “The Case for Bush Hatred.” It began: “I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his policies rank him among the worst presidents in US history. And, while I’m tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him for less substantive reasons, too.”
Of course, Chait’s article was not that unusual (cf. David Corn’s “The Lies of George W. Bush” — “George W. Bush is a liar”). Should the National Reviewever publish an article that begins: “I hate Barack Obama. There, I said it,” then we can properly conclude its editorial board suffers from ODS.
4) America Is Guilty Too
A good symptom would be conflating opposition with Obama with hopes for the failure of the United States — in the way a Michael Moore openly rooted for those killing US troops in Iraq (“Minutemen”) and suggested our losses were proper penance for supporting Bush’s war. So does anger against Obama equate to anger at America itself? David Axelrod sort of argued that Republicans are actively trying to subvert Obama’s efforts to revive the economy in a way that is not constructive for the country (e.g., out of partisan maliciousness rather than genuine belief that Obama’s remedies are hurting rather than accelerating the recovery). But when a Senator McConnell openly states his efforts are focused on replacing Obama, or a Rush Limbaugh proclaims that he wants Obama’s program to fail, there is at least some indication that they offer such harsh judgment in hopes that Obama does not continue to apply statist medicine that makes us, the patient, worse off.
And, of course, arguments over how best to restore jobs are not quite like those aimed at a nation at war. By that I mean a true Obama Derangement Syndrome sufferer might announce that the US military should quit fighting in mediis rebus — in the way Harry Reid declared the Iraq War lost, or that Barack Obama announced the ongoing surge was an instant failure even as it began succeeding. So far, we have not seen anything like the “General Betray Us” ads, or comparisons of our military to terrorists and mass murderers that were invoked against the Bush war in Iraq and the war on terror by the likes of a John Kerry, John Murtha, and Dick Durbin.
When opposition to Obama’s interventions is such that it translates into the hectoring of US troops, then, yes, we have a reached a psychotic state. One can agree or disagree with Obama’s Libyan intervention (I thought “lead from behind” was poorly planned out) but once the US started bombing, then surely it was important to win that war. If any wished us to fail in Libya because Obama was commander-in-chief, then they were pathological.
5) Congressional Hatred
Joe Wilson’s outburst, as I noted, was quite wrong. But have we reached the point where senior Republican Congressional figures express serial personal animus in the strain of Harry Reid? (“President Bush is a liar. He betrayed Nevada and he betrayed the country.”) I am not aware of any Republican senator, as yet, on the floor of the US Senate, who has compared Barack Obama to Hitler, in the way Robert Byrd did so — and without rebuke from his own party.
6) That Was Then, This Is Now
Look at issues that are identically embraced by both Bush and Obama. Are conservatives suddenly damning Obama, not for his hypocrisy, but for his advocacy of tribunals, preventative detention, the Patriot Act, renditions, and wiretapping? Or are many liberals now silent about or supportive of just those measures that they once damned when associated with George Bush? Are conservatives furious for Obama’s continuance of a US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2009-11? Are they mad at the extension of the Bush tax cuts because Obama supported it? It would be psychological derangement to so detest a president that one would simply condemn all his policies as nefarious.
In short, a symptom of BDS would be furious opposition to Guantamo, renditions, and tribunals, followed by silence or support for Obama’s embrace of them — in the manner ODS would envision a conservative in the past railing about the need for Guantanamo and tribunals followed now by abrupt opposition to them, given Obama’s surprising current signature upon them.
But Obama is not Bush?
So far we do not have much evidence that there is unhinged hatred for Obama in the manner expressed for Bush by mainstream public figures, publications, films, and cultural institutions.
Why? I think ultimately the reason is that the Left really does believe in a sort of exalted ends justifying extreme means.
That is, they believed George Bush really was evil, incompetent, or fill-in-the-blank in the way that Barack Obama, champion of the poor and oppressed, could not possibly be. Therefore, hating Bush and what he stood for was legitimate in a way that opposing Obama is now deranged. Hypocrisy, then, just does not enter into the equation, given the claim of a greater morality that trumped consistency.
And it is sadly more than that: “correct-thinking” people, of course, can legitimately, given their exasperation at speaking truth to power, express venom for the Yale BA/Harvard MBA “nucular” idiot George Bush in the way that no one in his right mind could ever become furious at the Columbia BA/Harvard JD “corpse-man” savant Barack Obama. Dunce Bush got into the Ivy League only by pull and his now public undistinguished Yale undergraduate record proves that; genius Barack Obama got into Columbia by his brains and achievement and thus there is no need to produce the unreleased transcript to prove the obvious.
Tragically, in the end it is just that simple: Hating Bush is understandable opposition; opposing Obama is unfathomable hatred.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson