I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it.
These first two sentences of Jonathan Chait's current New Republic cover story would seem more appropriate to a confession than a polemic, and, in the rest of this introductory paragraph, which moves from a brief mention of policies to a series of petty and parochial, rather literally adolescent reactions to the person of President Bush, one can see why Chait might feel embarrassed:
[Bush] 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.
Chait seems to sense that there's something wrong with these remarks - that they may reveal at least as much about him as they do about George W. Bush - but, rather than facing the implications of his own words, he seeks refuge in numbers:
There seem to be quite a few of us Bush haters. I have friends who have a viscerally hostile reaction to the sound of his voice or describe his existence as a constant oppressive force in their daily psyche. Nor is this phenomenon limited to my personal experience: Pollster Geoff Garin, speaking to The New York Times, called Bush hatred "as strong as anything I've experienced in 25 years now of polling." Columnist Robert Novak described it as a "hatred ... that I have never seen in 44 years of campaign watching." [...and so on.]
"Why do you hate George, Johnny?"
"Cuz everyone does!"
Answering a challenge from Hugh Hewitt, who believes that Chait's principal though unstated motivation comes down to envy, other bloggers have analyzed the body of Chait's article in some detail (Hugh promises to provide links as the pieces are published). Their work is welcome, but it seems to me that Chait (even his name contains the word "hate," and would be indistinquishable from it for certain non-native speakers of English) has already fisked himself: He has made it clear that his feelings are irrational, crucially non-political, and altogether uncontrollable - that, in short, his judgments on any subject relating to Bush simply cannot be trusted, and are therefore unlikely even to be worth the time it takes to sort them out. Still, even if Chait disqualifies himself as an observer, the phenomenon that he both examines and represents remains deserving of attention - not least because a more probing analysis can lead to insights of the sort offered by Hindrocket over at Power Line. After working through the predictably tendentious, convoluted, and dishonest argumentation that Chait deploys in an inevitably hopeless attempt to justify Bush-hatred as "a logical response to the events of the last few years" - a "logical" hatred? - Hindrocket finds a more persuasive explanation of the phenomenon, even while taking Hewitt's theme a step further:
The ascendancy of President Bush and his popularity with the American people threatens to put the final nail in the coffin of liberalism. Millions of people whose self-images have been shaped by their conviction that they are better, more moral, and above all smarter than their fellow Americans are faced with the prospect that they have been, after all, on history's losing side. And that thought is, for many of them, too much to bear. Hence, I think, the hate. Bush is a criminal, a fraud and a liar. He has to be.
In other words, Chait could hardly be more wrong. Hatred is not, as it cannot be, a logical response to Bush either as a human being or as a politician, or even to whatever events Chait associates with him: It is not the logical but rather the only response left to those who in the very act reveal themselves to be incapable of responding logically - that is, with coherent analysis, effective proposals, the basis of a positive political vision. Instead, they choose a refusal of logic, the defiance of logic - a flight from a set of logical implications, and the hostile assertion of fantasy in their place. Logic applies only to the process, not to the content. It's a logic of desperation, one that compels the representatives of an empty, senescent, almost purely reactionary political movement, as they sense that all reason has turned against them, to commit themselves wholly to the irrational.