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Pathologizing Bush Hatred

August 16th, 2006 · 11 Comments

Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall both reflect this week on their sense that they’ve become more angry and intemperate over the years as the shadow of George Bush darkens over the nation. I know the feeling.

The intriguing thing is how the President’s dwindling claque of defenders have reacted to the growing agitation and rage of once–moderate seeming pundits. The term “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” coined by Wagnerian superhero Charles Krauthammer, has gained great currency on the right side of the blogosphere. In the Weekly Standard, John Hindraker—most reflexive of the Bush defenders even in PowerLine’s Pavlovian pantheon—has argued that mounting evidence of the administration’s incompetence and mendacity constitutes definitive proof… of the CIA’s nefarious vendetta against George Bush.

Now, it seems to me that the natural response to an intense and growing dislike of the administration—not only among formerly-moderate pundits, but in a caste of professionals who have devoted their careers to, and sometimes risked their lives for the sake of, guarding America—would be to conclude that there’s a good chance of something’s being seriously amiss. But in a bizarre inversion that defies parsimony, this dislike is regarded as cause rather than consequence: Bush’s apologists conclude that Bush hatred is some kind of free-floating force that does not result from disagreement with bad policies, but rather explains that disagreement. To disagree with Bush is to show symptoms of BDS. Since of course people with BDS will reflexively criticize whatever the president does, those critiques—all critiques—can be dismissed out of hand. QED.

On occasion, attempts are made to explain BDS itself. Sometimes, for instance, it’s attributed to some kind of elitist cultural loathing, which might make some kind of sense if the president were not the Yale and Harvard–pedigreed scion of an absurdly wealthy politcal dynasty. So mostly BDS, like SIDS, must simply be regarded as a mysterious and terrifying affliction that strikes without reason or warning: He seemed so hale and sane just a year ago, and now he’s raving about executive overreach and “quagmires!” What could have happened?

For our own counterdiagnosis, let’s turn the reins over to guestblogger Thom Yorke:

And it’s fucked up, fucked up
And this is fucked up, fucked up
This your blind spot, blind spot
It should be obvious, but it’s not.
But it isn’t, but it isn’t

To quote one noted psychotherapist: Indeed.

Tags: Journalism & the Media



11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kevin O'Reilly // Aug 16, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    Didn’t you go to New York University? Don’t you live in Washington, D.C.? Haven’t you written for Reason magazine? Is there a reason why we shouldn’t expect you to hate Dubya, independent of his policies? Jeepers, creepers.

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Aug 16, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    As you may (or may not) recall, I was pro-Bush in the 2000 election, though it was admittedly a short honeymoon.

  • 3 Steven Maloney // Aug 16, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    I think Julian makes the wrong move in his comments to defend his “Bush-liking” cred in response to Mr. O’Reilly’s comments.

    Ascribing motive to statements and proscribing them tainted because they come from a biased source undercuts the value of democratic deliberation in ways that, well, no one really wants to go there.

    Let me give an example: I know that Julian and I differ in opinion on smoking bans. Now, as one who disagrees with Julian, I could simply dismiss his view and say, “He’s a libertarian and a smoker”. But this is not a particularly charitable way to engage in argument, either to Julian or to myself (provided I’m concerned with getting the right answers on questions to the public good) One either makes a compelling good faith effort to convince that smoking is a serious health risk for those and others, and that the ideas about market forces solving the problem on their own rests on a creative, yet flawed logic, or one does not.

    Julian’s own bias, one way or another, need not color the content of the debate. Notice how in my telling of the story, I have selectively not revealed anything about my own potential biases on smoking while reminding you of Julian’s on multiple occasions. Which, if this were an actual debate over smoking bans, would make my narrative, which is intentionally omitting empirical content and overexaggerating other content much less scrupulous than Julian arguing, “I smoke cigarettes, I prefer markets to state institutions, I think smoking bans are wrong and here’s why…”

    The rules of fair democratic exchange are both simple and generic. Two of them include, “you don’t argue believing you cannot be convinced you are wrong if shown the right arguments and evidence” and “you don’t exclude people who want to try to convince you they are right that are playing by the rules.” Julian points out that defenders of the President are increasingly undercutting these very general, and seemingly uncontroversial rules, and it seems to me that he is responded to with more of the same. One wonders what such supporters will say when they disfavor the policies of leaders in some future time and are dismissed out of hand.

  • 4 Julian Sanchez // Aug 17, 2006 at 12:05 am

    I should probably note that I’ve known Kevin for some years, so I was actually taking his comment as largely facetious. And for what it’s worth, I don’t know that it’s always, per se irrelevant to bring up motives. If I tried to argue that tobacco smoke is in fact totally harmless in our imaginary debate here (I don’t believe this, of course) and you pointed out that the studies tending to show this were uniformly tobacco-funded, while those showing the contrary were by independent groups without a vested interest, I think that’s a perfectly legit move to make. Sometimes debates involve technical disputes where laypersons can only rely on appeals to authority, and so the motives of the authorities do become relevant.

  • 5 Steven Maloney // Aug 17, 2006 at 1:39 am

    Darn! I hate it when I don’t get the facetiousness in posts by other people. I’m really bad at that, I wonder if that means I have no sense of humor…

    Turning to Julian’s response, I’d say that the friend of delberation can still defend itself in the instance you mention by saying that it is not the motives that make the tobacco study wrong, but that the methodology is terrible. If, being friends of delibeartion and committed to falliblism, we wanted to try to falsify our claims that the tobacco industries studies that say smoking is not harmful to our health are really bad studies, which would be more convincing: an independent person conducting a really badly done replication of the findings or a person who works for the tobacco companies who could show us with complete transparency that their study is legit?
    I’d say that the latter is more convincing, and the reason that we cannot be convinced is because the tobacco industry cannot produce a transparent study with a legitimate research design that leads to the conclusions that they want to see.

    As for the lay person, I’d say: (1) this ought to motivate us to teach basic methods and truth claims to a broader amount of students in our education system and with a renewed sense of its purpose in preparing people for liberal democratic citizenship in a commercial republic and (2) this is why a broad and open scientific community is important for the hard to understand studies. As long as anyone can review the data, consensus on whether or not a group like the tobacco industry has a case in defending itself will come to the surface as a result of people who will demand acceptable evidence to justify arguments.

    Long story short, the tobacco industries studies are wrong. They are designed in violation of the rules of legitimate democratic inquiry. We could make not too imaginative guesses as to why these well educated, well paid scientists would do this, but given the rules of democratic engagement we don’t have to. Hannah Arendt believed that one of the reasons the French Revolution got so messy was that the French were all about judging motives in politics, and this insertion of motives as someting to be judged became a judgment of the affairs of the human heart that are hidden from view. Robbespierre’s war on hypocrisy was part of a larger movement in France at the time to criminalize acting in motives deemed against the interests of the state as a whole, whic in turn lead to the guillotine for quite a lot of Frenchmen. This mixing of power and motive was a toxic combination in French politics, we’d probably be well advised to leave it alone ourselves.

  • 6 clark // Aug 17, 2006 at 7:18 am

    Maybe you have DRWBSDS.

  • 7 Brian Moore // Aug 17, 2006 at 3:31 pm

    It’s no different than any other divisive political issue. There are people on both (or any of the multiple) sides that are calm, rational people with calm, rational reasons for their beliefs. And then there are people who, while may even be on the right side, are completely deranged.

    “Bush Derangement Syndrome” is just a funny political stereotype. And like all funny jokes, it has some truth. There really are hilariously out of touch people who think that Bush is the font of all evil. And it’s natural for those calm, rational (but deluded people) who think Bush is great to try to tar all anti-Bush people with that sentiment.

    The important thing for each side to do is marginalize their own crazies. It’s important for calm anti-Bush people to tell the “Bush = Hitler!” people to keep it down, if they want to be taken seriously. Just like I laugh at the crazy nut-case extremists who are ideologically oriented closer to me.

    It’s also important for people to realize that just because crazy person A agrees with sane person B, that doesn’t necessarily mean that person B is also wrong or crazy. I think that this may be a realm of sanity beyond our current political environment.

  • 8 Kevin B. O'Reilly // Aug 17, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    Julian’s right. I was being facetious, though no one should feel bad about failing to realize that.

    I was sort of rooting for Dubya back in 2000, too, because I thought he’d be more amusing than Gore. I still do get the the occasional chuckle out of him, but mostly he just makes me sad.

  • 9 deadhippie // Aug 18, 2006 at 2:01 am

    I think we’ll always have partisan chuckleheads.

    If I remember correctly, back in the 90’s, an army of snitches and hall monitors aligned with the Clinton camp emerged to compile lists and dossiers of various political factions and publications deemed insufficiently respectful of a sitting president i.e. in league with the “far right.”

    Fast forward a few years, and Morris Dees has morphed into David Horowitz. The same Clinton haters now malign the Bush haters as sinister “far left extremists” who are in league with Al Qaeda.

    Obviously the Clinton haters didn’t really give a damn about the abuse of Executive power or the ongoing erosion of the Bill of Rights.

    I’m willing to predict that many on the left who have suddenly become outspoken civil libertarians will suddenly cease to care once a democrat is elected POTUS…

    It’s frustrating, but that’s American politics for you…

  • 10 Eric the .5b // Aug 21, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    Well, to be fair, I heard “Bush Derangement Syndrome” remarks way back when Bush was actually popular. And back when Europeans were acting aghast at Bush right after he’d taken office after campaigning as Gore’s right shoulder, there was some truth to it. But it’s a silly sort of defense at this point.

  • 11 Jonathan Goff // Sep 8, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    Yeah, I remember you were pro-Bush back in 2000. I did try to talk some sense into you before I took off for two years in the ‘Pines. How did I put it…darn can’t seem to find the old FMN forums, here’s a paraphrase from my old school website:
    “A good friend of mine, Shannon Medlock, had asked why so many libertarians didn’t seem to like George Bush. My response at the time was basically that Bush was just another slimy politician, likely to get us into stupid wars unrelated to the defense of our Republic, and that his running mate Cheney was a textbook example of graft and corruption on legs. I did say one good thing for Bush, that he was better than Gore, but I stand behind my original conclusion: I’d rather have a trained chimp than either of those monkeys in the White House.”

    Man, a lot of stuff I said back then was really naive, immature, and stupid. But some of it was downright prescient, no?