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October 11, 2005

Hate and Self-Satisfaction

This little tidbit from the Washington Times last week sums up, I think, why some people hate George W Bush:

"What those who despise President George W. Bush -- and there are many, judging by the reaction to the last election -- don't get is that any philosophy or political vision that lacks the concept of evil will not fly with a great many folks in America.

"Liberals tend to explain evil in the world as the product of bad luck, disease and other impersonal forces ... assault, battery, robbery, burglary, theft, laziness, recklessness and the like -- these are all due to sad circumstances in the lives of the offenders. ... It's always in the stars, not in ourselves, that the fault lies.

"... This is why when President Bush had the gall to use the phrase 'axis of evil,' and when Ronald Reagan earlier referred to the Soviet Union as 'the evil empire,' liberals smugly dismissed it all as shallow moralizing unworthy of sophisticated folks everywhere. ...

"I am convinced that one of the main reasons [President Bush] won the election is that many Americans simply could not abide some of Kerry's supporters, academics and other intellectuals who scoff at the belief that there are morally right and wrong actions that people engage in throughout the world. --

"They supported Bush, who at least appears to acknowledge an elementary fact about human life: some folks act badly and are responsible for their actions, while others act decently and should be recognized. Not until liberals produce a philosophical-political vision that makes room for this position will they stop being at odds with the bulk of Americans."

Tibor R. Machan in "For Liberals, No One's Evil" in the October/November issue of Free Inquiry

Very true, as far as it goes. Let's examine it a bit further.


This is a favorite charge, usually made by liberals about conservatives and religious leaders. It is also one that is usually made by people seeking to avoid either debate, or examination of their own moral failures, or both.

Before we go on, however, we need to distinguish between inconsistency and hypocrisy, for they are often mistaken for one another. Inconsistency is when a person does or says two things that are at odds with one another. In 1990 John Kerry voted against going to war with Iraq over Kuwait. When running for president in 2004, he said that he opposed the war in Iraq because we did not have a large international coalition. In taking this position Kerry was certainly inconsistent, but he was not a hypocrite.

An argument stands or falls on its own merits, not those of the person making it. Adultery is a sin, a bad thing. This is so whether the person admonishing us to be faithful to our spouses is faithful himself. It was either a good idea or not to invade Iraq, and whether or not the person making the case for invasion had ever served in the armed forces or not is irrelvant.

Hypcrisy is certainly something to be avoided, both in one's personal life and in recommending public policy. While the preacher who says that we must lead clean lives is certainly speaking the truth, if nothing else, his message is dimished if he is caught in bed with another man's wife.

Ramesh Ponnuru examined the charge of hypocrisy in the June 20th, 2005 edition of National Review (digital subscription required.

The traditional view of hypocrisy made allowance for the garden-variety sinner: His words and his beliefs may line up, but his actions fall short of them. The current view of hypocrisy makes no such allowance in practice. Any gap between words and actions is taken not to be merely evidence toward the verdict of hypocrisy, but to be the thing itself; and the words are judged at least as harshly as the actions. A subtle shift from integrity to authenticity has been made.

What makes this change more consequential is that journalists have adopted this view of hypocrisy and made it a standard for their coverage. The result is to tilt the political field against those who speak up for moral standards in public. A surefire way for a public figure not to be judged a hypocrite, and thus a good way for him to keep his moral lapses out of the papers, is not to uphold moral standards in public. (Betraying your vices does not run the same risk. When Hugh Hefner briefly decamped from the Playboy Mansion because it was not a good environment for his children, nobody called him a hypocrite.)

Ponnuru hit upon one of the most maddening characteristics of our modern culture; one in which the person who tries do live right but falls is considered a worse person than the person who doesn't try at all, and indeed flaunts his immorality. Considered even worse is the person who dares to tell others that they should live moral lives, yet who themselves yields to temptation.

Who is subjected to more abuse by the media and professionaly punditry; Monika Lewinsky or Jim Bakker?

To be sure, Bakker defrauded his followers of millions, so the analogy is not perfect (they never are). But consider their reactions when caught: Lewinsky seems proud of her affair with the president, while Bakker wrote I was Wrong, a 1996 mea culpa. I rather doubt we will ever see a similar book from Lewinsky, nor will one be demanded from her.

So we may conclude that while hypocrisy is something to be avoided, as a sin it has so en blown out of proportion that being a hypocrite is viewed as worse than someone who commits a sin and doesn't care who knows it. This is wrong.

But Why Such Satisfaction?

Why is it, after a religious figure gets caught in a scandal, that some people so much satisfaction in their fall? Several reasons, I think.

Some, usually religious folk themselves, think that the fallen was wrong to begin with. They may have objected to their style, or to their theology. But they usually keep their satisfaction to themselves, realizing that such thoughts are quite unchristian. And they are the minority, and not what this post is about.

No, the majority who vocally and gleefully exult in the fall do so for much worse reasons. And to find out why we need to go elsewhere for a minute, so stay with me.

Who has been in a situation whereby everyone else in the group wanted to do something that you knew was wrong. Maybe it was a situation when you were a kid and they all wanted to go to a place your parents had forbade you to go. Maybe it was on a business trip when "the guys" all wanted to go to a strip club and you demurred. Either way, the reaction is often the same; they make fun of you. You suddenly become the bad guy, the one who "doesn't want to have fun".

The reason for their behavior is obvious; somewhere inside they know that what they are doing is wrong, or unacceptable, or frowned upon by society. And it makes them feel better about themselves when they attack you.

It's the same reason we gossip; it makes us feel better about ourselves. People read Dear Abby, or watch Judge Judy, for the same reason; "I guess my life isn't really so screwed up. So-in-so is worse."

And this brings me back to the fallen leader. Most of those who are vocal in their satisfaction are that way because they themselves are doing things they ought not to be doing, and this is a way of justifying it to themselves.

Some will not like this, but that's just the way it is.

Bill Clinton

Almost time to get back to our president. Before I say why so many hate him, I think I owe my readers, especially any liberal ones, an answer to the question of why so many conservatives hated Bill Clinton.

Policy is always part of it, although this alone does not explain things fully. Sure, we hated "Clinton Care", but that was more Hillary. And we disliked that he cut so much from the military, but George H W Bush started that. And sure, he involved us in military ventures that had no bearing on national security, but they didn't cost much in lives or treasure.

And it wasn't really personality either. I can't tell you how many times I heard a fellow conservative say "I admit he'd be a great guy to go out and have a beer with, I just wouldn't bring the wife/girlfriend along!"

No, it was his lack of morals that so offended us. With Clinton it was a scandal-of-the-week, one thing after another, all culminating with the horrible Monika Lewinsky affair.

Back to George W Bush

All of this brings us back to George W Bush and our initial question of why some people hate him so.

First, we need to remember that such hatred is nothing new in our world. It is always tempting to view the times in which one lives as unique and special. While they may be in certain ways, we much avoid the temptation to view everything as if it has never occured before, perhaps in worse ways.

One only has to go back twenty-odd years ago to remember how another president was hated. What is interesting is that liberals said the same things about Reagan that they now say about Bush. They called Reagan stupid, an intellectual lightweight, that he was controlled by more powerful personalities around him, that he was a "cowboy" that would surely lead us to World War III, on and on it went. How they hated him, and how well I remember it. Then when he died they pretended like they'd liked and respected him all along.

Next, we cannot dismiss the fact that some genuinly dislike Bush for his politicies. It is always tempting to believe the worst about one's political enemies, and assume that their motives are always base. This we must avoid. So I will say that there are some who simply think Bush is wrong on this or that.

But by the same token it is clear that many on the left have simply become unhinged. Anyone who believes that "Bush lied!" about WMD, people who simply will not believe that it was an honest mistake, are part of this group. Those who believe that the slow federal response to hurricane Katrina was motivated by race hatred of blacks are also members. And it is these people that we will consider.

In my opinion, there are four primary reasons for Bush-hatred:

1) He got over his drinking problem
2) He is both religious and conservative
3) He believes that evil exists
4) He believes that morality matters

1) Consider that of the favorite "jokes" made by people such as Bill Maher is that President Bush has started drinking again, and is now beating his wife.

Let's face it, if you're doing something you ought not to be doing, and someone else who is doing the same comes clean, it makes you look bad. Thus there is a tendancy to attack the person who cleans up their act.

Now, I am not condemning all drinking, not at all. Nor am I saying that anyone who makes fun of Bush's old problem is themselves a drinker. If this is what you think you are missing the point.

My point is that there is a certain group of people in this country who simply cannot stand it when someone cleans up their act. To this group, once you have done wrong you are apparently supposed to wallow im misery the rest of your life, to prostrate yourself and always beg for forgiveness, or to engage in self-flagellation in the manner of Hawthorne's Arthur Dimmesdale.

2) People on the left don't like religious conservatives. Bush is in that category. 'nuf said.

3) A lot of people today have a problem with the term "evil", when applied to anyone other than Nazis or Klan members. Bush is derided as seeing the world in "black and white" terms, of having a "manichaean" outlook. Sophisticates on the left see Bush as being a simpleton, while a more astute viewers understand the nuances. Just as they derided Reagan for calling the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire", they sneer at Bush's "Axis of Evil".

4) Just as many cannot stomach the term "evil", they are uncomfortable in discussing morality. They usually say that they don't like "being preached to", but that doesn't hold water. The left has spent a lot of time and energy forcing its morality on everyone else, and just doesn't like it when they get a taste of their own medicine.

But the point here is that many on the right look around the country and are unhappy with what we see as a serious decline in parts of our culture. Whether it be the sitcoms where the "humor" is one sexual inuendo after another, the soft porn of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, the sexualization of girl children through the marketing of ever-more revealing clothes, or the in-your-face gay culture that we are all now supposed to unquestioningly accept, a lot of people do not like what they see. And it keeps getting worse, deviancy keeps getting defined downward.

It's not that George W Bush has made an attempt to change the culture, for he really hasn't. It's what he represents that bothers these people. By reforming himself and living a clean life, by being openly religious(and meaning it), and by having a wife who is not a policy-wonk with presidential ambitions, he is seen as being part of this group. And, in a way, he is.

They Can Come Home

Liberals can and should come home. It's not that complicated; drop the Hollywood crowd, do more than pretend that you recognize that religion has a significant place in American culture, speak about moral values in a meaningful way. But as Machan says, "Not until liberals produce a philosophical-political vision that makes room for this position will they stop being at odds with the bulk of Americans." Let's hope they do.

Posted by Tom at October 11, 2005 7:51 AM

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