Bush backlash is stronger than Clinton criticism

Posted: Aug 22, 2003 12:00 AM

Have you noticed how we don't hear much about Bush-haters? It's odd since not long ago "Clinton-hatred" was a national epidemic. The New York Times, Washington Post, Time magazine and others devoted dozens, if not hundreds, of articles to "Clintonophobia" and other maladies stemming from "right-wing paranoia" and "irrational Clinton hatred."

But first, I should admit: I was both a "Clinton hater" and a Clinton hater. The quotation marks offer an important distinction because you could be labeled a "Clinton hater" even if you didn't actually dislike the man.

According to then-President Clinton's supporters and staff, "Clinton haters" - with quotation marks - referred to just about anybody who dared to criticize the man they considered to be the greatest president in the history of carbon-based life.

If you thought, for example, that Whitewater or TravelGate were worth investigating, you were therefore "obsessed" with Bill Clinton. If you questioned Bill Clinton's decision to bomb terrorists immediately after his grand jury testimony, you were letting your paranoia drive you to the wacky and unpatriotic fringe.

If you weren't seduced by Bill's lip-biting assurance that he was "working so hard" to purge meanness and bigotry from our shores, you were a force for meanness and bigotry.

Even today, I can't mention the man's name without someone e-mailing me to say that I should just get over my "hang-ups" about Bill Clinton - as if there were no rational reason in the world to have a problem with the tackiest president in American history.

Of course, this was all a new twist on an old tactic. Liberals and leftists have been dismissing inconvenient facts by attacking motives for generations. In the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, Soviet spies and abettors attacked the motives of their accusers because the fact of their guilt was undeniable. In the 1960s, over a thousand psychiatrists who'd never even met Barry Goldwater signed a petition saying the GOP candidate was too mentally unstable to be president.

In the 1990s the merits and/or popularity of the Contract With America were largely unassailable, so Democrats told us that Gingrich & Co. were "mean-spirited" and therefore their agenda was illegitimate, as if it's better for nice people to do wrong than for "mean" people to do right. Even now, Gov. Gray Davis is trying to change the recall debate in California to the "issue" of his opponents' motives.

But the Clinton White House made this sort of thing official policy at the highest level of our government. He and his wife milked - and often manufactured - their victim status for all it was worth.

They produced reports culling anecdotes from fringe videos and Web sites and claimed such stuff represented the conventional wisdom on the right. Bill Clinton bragged about how no American president had faced the sort of orchestrated "hate" he'd had to endure (this would have been uproariously funny to Richard Nixon).

Then-Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos told The Washington Post that Clinton's foes were "accusing him of murder. . That's unheard of." The Post reported that Stephanopoulos "senses a conspiracy of sorts - a campaign of 'manufactured hate.'" There was no shortage of sympathetic media outlets for this manufactured martyrdom.

Well, today the campaign of "manufactured hate" against George Bush in many respects dwarfs the campaign against Bill Clinton. As my colleague Byron York notes in the Sept. 1 issue of National Review, the most outrageous accusations against Bush are commonplace on the left and in liberal circles today, but we don't get articles in the mainstream press ridiculing "Bushophobia."

Web sites dedicated to the Bush family's "Nazi past" are all over the place. Articles comparing Bush to Adolph Hitler abound on the Internet and in countless elite newspapers and magazines in Europe and the Middle East.

Counterpunch.org, edited by respected leftist journalist Alexander Cockburn, has run more than one article detailing how Bush and Hitler use "the same playbook" and how "the Fuhrer would be proud that an American president is emulating him in so many ways." T-shirts and posters with Bush and Cheney in Gestapo gear and Hitler mustaches are staples at every leftwing rally today.

And it's not just on the fringe or overseas. Accusations and insinuations that Bush launched an entire war for base political reasons are commonplace on cable TV debates and by many leading Democrats, including Al Gore. This charge is vastly more outrageous than the one leveled at Bill Clinton's conveniently timed cruise missile strikes during impeachment, but no one seems to mind.

Indeed, start watching the Democratic presidential candidate forums on C-SPAN. If the contenders don't say Bush is a murderer, the Democratic activists often do - and the candidates almost never correct them.

The activist base of the Democratic Party today strikes me as demonstrably more paranoid and irrational about George Bush than even the most "obsessed" of my conservative brethren ever were. And to Bush's credit, he's not biting his lip and whining about it.