Hating Bush

Reading Jonathan Chait’s savage rebuttal today to the movement to favorably reconsider George W. Bush’s legacy, I was reminded, as others probably were as well, that Chait got an awful lot of attention back in the fall of 2003 for penning a piece announcing and defending his hatred of the 43d president. Here’s the lede for those who missed it:

I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his policies rank him among the worst presidents in U.S. history. And, while I’m tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him for less substantive reasons, too. I hate the inequitable way he has come to his economic and political achievements and his utter lack of humility (disguised behind transparently false modesty) at having done so. His favorite answer to the question of nepotism–“I inherited half my father’s friends and all his enemies”–conveys the laughable implication that his birth bestowed more disadvantage than advantage. He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school–the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks–shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks–blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him. I hate his lame nickname-bestowing– a way to establish one’s social superiority beneath a veneer of chumminess (does anybody give their boss a nickname without his consent?). And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.

Now Chait is a pretty good hater; shortly after writing the piece on Bush, he briefly authored a TNR blog entitled “Diary of a Dean-o-Phobe” that began with the observation that “recently I’m finding that Dean hatred is crowding out Bush hatred in my mental space.”

But looking back at his piece on Bush, what really strikes me is that Chait spent a lot of time comparing liberal hatred for Bush to conservative hatred for Clinton, finding the latter to be both more widespread and hysterical, and far less justified. In 2013, in the light of more than four years of Obama-hatred among Republicans that makes the earlier hatred of Clinton look like light mockery, any impulse among liberals to “reassess” poor W. isn’t likely to survive a millisecond or two.

Now the reality is that a lot of the conservative “reassessment” going on isn’t aimed at people like Chait or me, or even the general public. It’s aimed at conservatives who used to lionize Bush as The Liberator and a world-historical colossus, but then gradually came (for a variety of sincere and insincere reasons) to loath him as just another Republican betrayer of the Cause. Enduring Bush fans want today’s Republicans to consider re-embracing Bush policies like comprehensive immigration reform instead of attacking them, and beyond that, he’s the last Republican presidential nominee who actually won an election.

So those of us outside this intra-Republican argument can either use this opportunity to vent some more spleen, or let it go, particularly now that Barbara has significantly reduced the possibility of another Bush presidency anytime in the immediate future.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.