The participants agreed that it is a singular hatred, greater by far than what was felt by dissenters against Ronald Reagan in 1984, and rivaling what was felt for Nixon in 1973-'74. It supplies a useful context here to recall that hatred of Nixon was very much alive in 1972, but he carried 49 states in his re-election bid. The decapitation of Nixon was in due course effected, but required his cooperation.
Bush, by contrast, is not ever going to engage in suicidal activity of an extra-political character. Does this mean that the animosity toward him will wash away in the flood tide of a re-election victory? An examination of this point needs of course to acknowledge that you don't have to do a Watergate to end your career. George H.W. Bush ended his without any brush with felony.
The inquiry continues: Why the feelings toward Bush? The answer, as agreed upon in this improvised study, was: 1) He is not legitimately president of the United States. The other guy got more votes. Bush slipped in because of capricious conduct by the courts. 2) Bush is a Christer. He takes every opportunity to inform the American people that he is in touch with the Lord and therefore that, by deduction, what he does is the Lord's work.
3) He gravely miscalculated the onus of what he set out to do in Iraq. The consequences of that miscalculation are deaths unending, and more money spent than King Solomon dreamed of. 4) The economy lacks the kind of resiliency it might have shown if more resourcefully tended. 5) His truckling to the rich in his tax cuts shows a callous disregard of civil adjudications between America's poor and America's rich.
The question then was: How will the opposition communicate this animosity? When Democratic Candidate X faces President Bush in the televised debate, how will he express, or capitalize on, the odium? One participant recalled the deep, histrionic sighs of Al Gore when confronting Bush in debate. But of course the consensus was that Gore was hurt, not helped, by the body language.
Will the average voter wish to hear about the evil of Bush? What is the good of hating Bush if you can't interest your neighbor, and his neighbor, in hating Bush? That, after all, is the point of this exercise -- to send Bush back to his ranch, permanently.
Probably the first person who will need to explore these questions is Howard Dean. Dean is campaigning against Bush using language that would be appropriate in campaigning against a public enemy. One assumes the sincerity of Dean's passion, which is doing yeoman work for him with Internet ideologues and with Manichaean Democrats drawn to the proposition that the only way to understand Bush is to know that he is evil.
Is it predictable that after Dean sews up the nomination, winning in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he will confront a body of previously inert Democrats who will be reluctant to endorse an anti-Bush campaign based on the incumbent's venality?
If that happened, how quickly would it happen? The nomination might well be sewn up by early March of 2004. How soon after that would Candidate Dean discover that the drumbeat which has been propelling him isn't resonating over hill and vale into the body of voters needed to proceed with the election of a new president, which is something different from the excommunication of a sinner?
That test could come before Dean is anointed. It is entirely possible that the people who go to the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire will be wondering whether they are being co-opted by the moral absolutes of Candidate Dean, who is asking them to dispatch him to kill the dragon in the White House.
George Bush could ease that problem for Dean by simply becoming evil. But that is not something Howard Dean can safely count upon.