May 10, 2004,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the May 17, 2004, issue of National Review.
These days, conservatives and liberals seem to find it hard not only to get along, but even to comprehend one another. What liberals don't understand about conservatives would fill several years' worth of this magazine, and has. The chief thing conservatives don't understand about contemporary liberals is why they hate President Bush. Conservatives see him as a decent, moderately conservative, and not-especially-partisan figure. They can't understand why he arouses such strong dislike. What follows is an attempt neither to excuse nor to damn the Bush-haters, but to understand them.
Some of the reasons for their animosity are quite obvious. We conservatives may think that Bush won the last presidential election fair and square, and find most of the Democrats' complaints about Florida foolish. But foolish grievances can also be understandable ones. An election that close, with so many disputes in its aftermath, is going to lead to hard feelings.
The country's cultural divisions, and the way they underlie our political ones, account for another large chunk of the hostility. Much as President Clinton became a symbol to conservatives of everything they detested about "the Sixties," so has Bush become the symbol of what liberals dislike about modern America. They see in him the narrow-mindedness they associate with the Bible Belt and the boardroom.
Related to this is the tendency of liberals to regard liberalism as the natural home of intelligent and sophisticated people. This self-image, which seems to be quite important to them, is rooted in primordial memories of ancient quarrels between the party of reason and the party of tradition. Bush never defers to this liberal self-image. He has made it pretty clear that he, unlike some previous Republican leaders, does not care what the editors of the New York Times think about anything.
Even the hostility directed at Bush because of the Iraq war may be largely a function of the culture wars. Surely part of the reason that this war and the Kosovo war were greeted so differently by liberals (and conservatives) is that the latter was seen as a blue-state war and the former is seen as a red-state one. Much of the public debate seems to be turning on people's attitudes toward Europe, American exceptionalism, and other value-laden topics.
These liberal tendencies reinforce one another. Florida, for example, changed Bush's alleged stupidity from a source of disdain to one of anger. Subsequent events have made things worse. To be opposed by a fool is one thing; to be bested by him, repeatedly, is far more galling.
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