The Great Liberal Backlash of 2003

AUSTIN, Texas -- I'm a card-carrying member of The Great Liberal Backlash of 2003, one of the half-dozen or so writers now schlepping around the country promoting books that do not speak kindly of Our Leader's record. As a group, we are making satisfying inroads on the best-seller lists, a merciful switch from the garboid right-wing cow-flops that have appeared there lately.

Our points of view vary, our modes of attack differ -- some of us are funny and some somber -- but it continues to amaze me that there is so little overlap in what we have written. What's wrong with this administration is not a short list.

Nevertheless, we are, one and all, being dismissed by right-wing media, with its unmistakable lockstep precision -- that everybody-singing-off-the-same-page that so distinguishes the right -- as "Bush haters." Not a radio call-in show goes by, not a right-wing host fails to mention (even when I try to pre-empt the charge) that I am "just another Bush hater."

If you do not suffer from amnesia, you may recall that this country was cursed with Clinton haters for eight long years. They were a little over the top -- they accused the man of rape, murder, drug-dealing, miscegenation, treason and more. And his wife of worse.

Like most Americans, I was sick of the politics of personal destruction long before it all finally limped through the idiotic impeachment hearings. I wrote this new book ("Bushwhacked" -- my publisher would want me to mention it) in part as an effort to show how I think political differences should be addressed.

This is a book about policy. In particular, it is a book about how policy affects "average, ordinary, everyday Americans," and of course the great joke on me is that none of the people we met and talked with is "ordinary." They are not only above average, they are exceptional. They're everyday great Americans -- tough, feisty, funny, mad as hell, ready to stand up, start over or whatever it takes. And they're getting screwed by their own government.

Over many years of covering politics, I have known and liked a lot of politicians with whom I never agreed about a single thing. Bob Dole and Alan Simpson come to mind as two of my favorite Republicans, and I could list Texas conservatives by the dozens.

As it happens, I have known George W. Bush for a long time -- not well, but for a long time. Since we were both in high school. He went to prep school in the East, and I went to prep school in Houston, but he hung around with friends of mine, dated girls I knew. I would never claim we were friends, but he was someone I vaguely knew.

For the six years he was governor of Texas, I watched him closely and filtered my view of him through, among others, that of the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, his mentor in Texas politics. Although Bush rather promptly becomes defensive and prickly when questioned, he is by and large perfectly affable. You would have to work at it to dislike him personally. On the occasions when we meet, we would "rib" one another. I personally hope the photo of me sitting on his lap at a Christmas party with him dressed as Santa has disappeared for all time.

Did you know that it is quite possible not to hate someone and at the same time notice their policies are disastrous for people in this country? Quite a thought, isn't it? Grown-ups can actually do that -- can think a policy is disastrous without hating the person behind it. Lyndon Johnson comes to mind: a great president who was disastrously wrong about Vietnam.

Imagine how startled I was: In a column by David Brooks, the new conservative at The New York Times, whom I had rather liked for his reasonableness, I found myself cited as a "Bush-hater" and someone who "knows less than the KKK does about the NAACP."

Holy cow. Here I am thinking I actually know something about Bush just because I already wrote two books about him, and that his biggest problem is that he's real limited in his worldview. Solely due to an accident of geography, I happen to be quite familiar with both the KKK and the NAACP, and I figure this guy is the politician equivalent of that for me.

I honestly don't think you have to hate someone in politics to think they're wrong. I would like to remind all the lockstep conservatives that there is a difference between hatred and anger. What you are looking at in this country is not hatred of George W. Bush -- a perfectly affable guy -- it is growing anger.

Beware the anger of the legions, left too long in Iraq without enough help; of the unemployed; of the uninsured; of the million who were left without workers' comp; of those who have lost health insurance, overtime, the right to organize. Beware the anger of those whose pensions and savings are gone due to Bush pals like "Kenny Boy" Lay; beware the anger of middle class investors in mutual funds; the anger of those who see the big rich take their money offshore so they won't have to pay taxes, those who watch the corporations get special tax breaks for exporting jobs abroad; the anger of those who are shunted aside while the CEOs of their companies make over a hundred million.

You don't have to be hateful to have bad policies. You just have to be wrong.

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