Someone who commented on my piece, basically said that while I condemned the vitriolic partisanship that refuses to accept President Obama’s election as a legitimate national decision, the hatred and loathing of President George W. Bush by his opponents was portrayed by liberals as normal patriotic dissent and given a pass from criticism.
This misreads the article.
I took care to show that the disgraceful animosity of certain segments of the public against FDR came from the propertied classes, chiefly Republicans, but I also took pains to snow the excoriation of our first president, George Washington, took place at the hands of the Democrat-Republican group formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who loathed the Federalists with whom Washington was in broad sympathy.
In any case I want to be clear: I think uncivil and unscrupulous conduct by any party or any group or person should be contended with and rebuked. I was aware that Bush was disliked by many Democrats, but I was unaware that he was a major target of talk radio hosts preaching hate or that he was the object of rabid, inflexible animosity from any Democratic faction. I was not aware of widespread and unruly public dislike of Bush that in any way matched the shameless effrontery and near savagery of the Obama case.
I was aware that many felt Bush had stolen the 2000 election, but the election for me was over. I had no patience for people who kept picking over the scabs of that campaign. What was the point of nursing a sense of resentful victim-hood?
He was clearly a liar. I was against the Iraq War, but my dislike evolved from fact, and analysis, not bias. I write about espionage/intelligence for a living and in doing my job, knew that much of what we were being told was untrue. But while I detested Rumsfeld, it never occurred to me to be rude to him or call him a heartless plutocrat.
I wrote and am writing about the Town Hall Meetings because it is the clearest instance, in my lifetime at least, of a hostile party taking the issue of Health Care as a premise, not for discussion, but to vilify in the most rancorous terms, a party that defeated them in an election and in doing so, managing to stray far away from the issue in order to drop in pet peeves, like the man who said that healthcare should not even be the issue — that the most important agenda item was “sealing our borders.”
I don’t condone political dishonesty in the least. Politics hit a new low during the Presidential election campaign when Hillary Clinton spoke of having landed with her daughter in Bosnia under fire. Accusing your opponent of lacking experience and then fabricating your own –you can’t get much more despicable than that.
The thereat to democracy comes from what Walter Bagehot called, “the uninstructed mob” which says whatever it likes. Public opinion is the opinion of the half-baked and wrong-headed, and if not fought or corrected, it acts to lower the value of all opinion. What irks me about the Town Hall rowdies is that their assertions contain no facts and no sense. That is the reason I wrote, not to promote one group over another, but to condemn argument by label. When you call someone a Stalin or Hitler, just their names being stated paralyzes analysis like a bug stung by a wasp. The name is designed to provoke emotion and not thought. It is argument by label. Its mere utterance It is a name with its own ideology with only one reaction possible and the hearer recognizes this. Unfortunately, recognition is always the enemy of intellectual examination. We see a stop sign by the side of the road, and we slow our car. It is unthinking reaction. Recognition thus reduces the vital responsiveness of thought to mere mechanism. All evil is not uniform. To call a person a Hitler is a way of escaping the burden of accurately observing and depicting his peculiarities. By uttering the name, emotion is forced to do the work of the eye and the mind.
In the end, politics can only improve when the mass of people on both sides of an issue reject the idea that it is okay to say what isn’t true about someone or something you do not like.