For well over a decade now, right-wingers and Republicans have heaped insult, lies and slander on liberals and Democrats, who responded for the most part by becoming starchy, self-doubting and depressed. To complain was to be labeled elitist and fuddy-duddy: Rush and Ann and Bill and Sean say liberals are traitors and hate America? They’re populist entertainers! Jerry Falwell hawked a video accusing Bill Clinton of murder? Shut up and finish your latte. It took ages, not to mention a suspect election and a suspect war, but suddenly everywhere you look Democrats and liberals are fighting back.
The prissy and thin-lipped are cracking jokes, policy wonks are gabbing on Air America, voters once proud of being as unherdable as cats leap aboard the projects of MoveOn.org and write checks to long-shot red-state candidates because Howard Dean says it’s a good idea. Do some of these newborn activists feel an intense personal dislike of Bush and all his works? Think he’s a blithering idiot? Quiver with rage and loathing when they watch him flash that arrogant sneer and speak in that weird lurching way, as if he’s on the edge of blanking out totally? Sure. Probably some of them even enjoy seeing his features merged with an ape’s on smirkingchimp.com. But so what? This is America, where pundits have for years reassured us politics is a down-and-dirty contact sport with no room for girly men.
Bush hatred wasn’t supposed to happen. Liberals were supposed to be lofty and wistful and clueless, even as their enemies slimed them into irrelevance; they were supposed to say things like “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”–not cram into movie theaters to laugh hysterically at the President sitting in that classroom reading “The Pet Goat.” Something must be wrong with these Bush-haters, with their No More Years bumper stickers and their obsessional blogs–could they be insane? “Monomaniacal,” as Tucker Carlson put it on Crossfire: “Their hatred has become the focus of their lives. It’s actually a clinical description.”
In The New York Times Book Review, Leon Wieseltier uses his review of Nicholson Baker’s thin, sensationalistic novella Checkpoint, about a man holed up in a hotel with fantasies of assassinating the President, to deliver a long, sanctimonious lecture to the anti-Bush crowd: “The virulence that calls itself critical thinking, the merry diabolization of other opinions and the other people who hold them, the confusion of rightness with righteousness, the preference for aspersion to argument, the view that the strongest statement is the truest statement–these deformations of political discourse now thrive in the houses of liberalism too. The radicalism of the right has hectored into being a radicalism of the left. The Bush-loving mob is being met with a Bush-hating mob…. American liberalism, in sum, may be losing its head.” Wieseltier sees “signs of the degradation…everywhere”: Janet Malcolm wrote a letter to the Times in which she claimed the present moment is “as fearful as the period after Munich”; an anti-Bush anthology is decorated with anagrams like “The Republicans: Plan butcheries?”; MoveOn publishes an ad–a “huge” ad–that reads “The communists had Pravda. Republicans have Fox.” Liberalism, it would seem, is supposed to consist of constantly reminding ourselves that we do not live in a murderous totalitarian regime. Things could be worse! This too shall pass!