AUSTIN, Texas -- Among the more amusing cluckings from the right lately is their appalled discovery that quite a few Americans actually think George W. Bush is a terrible president.
Robert Novak is quoted as saying in all his 44 years of covering politics, he has never seen anything like the detestation of Bush. Charles Krauthammer managed to write an entire essay on the topic of "Bush haters" in Time magazine, as though he had never before come across such a phenomenon.
Oh, I stretch memory way back, so far back, all the way back to -- our last president. Almost lost in the mists of time though it is, I not only remember eight years of relentless attacks from Clinton-haters, I also notice they haven't let up yet. Clinton-haters accused the man of murder, rape, drug-running, sexual harassment, financial chicanery and official misconduct, and his wife of even worse.
For eight long years, this country was a zoo of Clinton-haters. Any idiot with a big mouth and a conspiracy theory could get a hearing on radio talk shows, "Christian" broadcasts and nutty Internet sites. People with transparent motives, people paid by tabloid magazines, people with known mental problems, ancient Clinton enemies with notoriously racist pasts -- all were given hearings, credence and air time. Sliming Clinton was a sure road to fame and fortune on the right, and many an ambitious young right-wing hitman -- like David Brock, who has since made full confession -- took that golden opportunity.
After all this time and all those millions of dollars wasted, no one has ever proved that the Clintons did a single thing wrong. Bill Clinton lied about a pathetic, squalid affair that was none of anyone else's business anyway, and for that they impeached the man and dragged this country through more than year of the most tawdry, ridiculous, unnecessary pain.
"The puzzle is where this depth of feeling comes from," mused the ineffable Krauthammer. "Whence the anger? It begins of course with the 'stolen' election of 2000 and the perception of Bush's illegitimacy." I'd say so myself, yes, it would. I was in Florida during that chilling post-election fight and am fully persuaded to this good day that Al Gore actually won Florida, not to mention getting 550,000-more votes than Bush overall.
The night Gore conceded the race, in one of the most graceful and honorable speeches I have ever heard, I was in a ballroom full of Republican Party flacks who booed and jeered through every word of it. One thing I acknowledge about the right is that they're much better haters than liberals are. Your basic liberal is pretty much a strikeout on the hatred front. Maybe further out on the left you can hit some good righteous anger, but liberals, and I am one, are generally real wusses.
To tell the truth, I'm kind of proud of us for holding the grudge this long. Normally, we'd remind ourselves that we have to be good sports, it's for the good of the country, we must unite behind the only president we've got, as Lyndon used to remind us. If there are still some of us out here sulking, "Yeah, but they stole that election," well good. I don't think we should forget that.
But, onward. So George Dubya becomes president having run as a "compassionate conservative," and what do we get? Hell's own conservative and zilch for compassion. His entire first eight months was tax cuts for the rich, tax cuts for the rich, tax cuts for the rich. Then came 9-11, and we all rallied. Country under attack, most horrible thing, what can we do? Ready to give blood, get out of our cars and ride bicycles, whatever. "Shop," said the president. And more tax cuts for the rich.
By now, we're starting to notice Bush's bait-and-switch con. Make a deal with Ted Kennedy to improve education, and then fail to put any money into it. Promise $15 billion in new money to combat AIDS in Africa (wow), but it turns out to be a cheap con -- no new money. Bush comes to praise a job-training effort, then cuts the money. Bush says AmeriCorps is great, then cuts the money. Gee, what could we possibly have against this guy?
Then suddenly, in the greatest bait and switch of all time, Osama bin doesn't matter at all, and we have to go after Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9-11. But he does have horrible weapons of mass destruction. So we take out Saddam Hussein, and there are no weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, the Iraqis are not overjoyed to see us. By now, quite a few people who aren't even liberal are starting to say, "Wha' the hey?"
We got no Osama, we got no Saddam, we got no weapons of mass destruction, the road map to peace in the Middle East is blown to hell, we're stuck in this country for $87 billion just for one year, and no one knows how long we'll be there. And still poor Krauthammer is hard-put to conceive how anyone could conclude that George W. Bush is a poor excuse for a president.
It is not necessary to hate George W. Bush to think he's a bad president. Grown-ups can do that, you know -- decide someone's policies are a miserable failure without lying awake at night consumed with hatred. Poor Bush is in way over his head, and the country is in bad shape because of his stupid economic policies. If that make me a Bush-hater, then sign me up.