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Who divided America?

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, September 2, 2004

A number of Democrats allege that during the past four years, President Bush has polarized the country through his rhetoric, his policies and even his personality. In turbulent times when America faces foes bent on its destruction, the argument goes, Bush has managed to shift the post-Sept. 11 wave of patriotism and unity into a state of bitter ideological battle.

On a superficial level, this argument has merit. Bush indeed oversaw a wave of national unity through his leadership after radical Islamists bombed the World Trade Center, healing the rifts that were already forming as Democrats, still bitter about the 2000 Election outcome, displayed their true patriotism.

Only a marginalized portion of the “blame America first” fringe resisted the tide, cringing at the sight of flags proudly waving in windows across the country. Barring these few exceptions, the country was largely united as the War on Terror dwarfed partisan bickering about whether the most productive Americans were being adequately punished by the tax code.

Bush’s responsibility for re-polarizing the country lay in his uncanny ability to pursue an ideological basis for foreign policy that was not motivated by opinion polls, the New York Times or Washington bureaucrats whose social utopia is the status quo.

Indeed, Bush’s rhetoric intoned that “those who aren’t with us are against us,” sending his opponents into fits of rage. Worse yet, the implication by his polarizing speech was that those who are “against” him would still owe him for his wartime leadership.

The complaints of American liberals mirrored those of effete European Cold War allies who benefit from the American security umbrella, yet still squirm when America flexes its muscle. Bush merely revealed that America can no longer stand to be the “feel-good” hegemonic power.

Bush has earned many detractors via a preemptive foreign policy, his “compassionate conservatism” experiment and various misspeaks have embraced a pathological hatred, attempting to legitimize their self-righteous indignation.

For all intents and purposes, hatred is the product of a purely irrational mind. Objectifying a conscious effort to reject any form of understanding hate breeds the same bed of intolerance so many liberals claim the exclusive property of modern-day conservatives. As Allan Bloom’s words ring true, the self-appointed prophets of compassion and understanding have unwittingly closed their own minds.

During the Clinton administration, those with the biggest axe to grind against the hapless president often bordered on or even crossed into the territory of hate, yet their partisan anger never spread the ranks like it has across countless American circles in the past three years.

The mainstream media was dubiously quick to brand supporters of Clinton’s impeachment hearings “far-right-wingers” and successfully marginalized those holding him accountable for perjury. Today, on the other hand, the media only sparingly calls Bush’s strongest critics “liberal” and coddles every Bush-bashing screed with a “60 Minutes” feature story.

Less influential news sources that still serve to shape party politics carry the torch for those who know in their hearts that Bush lied, even when appeals to the mind successfully disarm their only arguments. Jonathan Chait, editor of The New Republic, a moderate-liberal magazine, helped bring Bush-hatred out of the closet with his column “Mad About You,” which vibrantly depicts his own intellectual shortcomings as he explains that “just hearing his face or seeing his voice causes a physical reaction.”

Should one visit the local bookstore and browse the current events section, one will find the modern liberal’s self-help section for coping with those smirking Bush-supporters with enough references to “lies” that one can barely sort the Riefenstahl-esque propaganda from the substantive arguments.

Most interesting about the literary armada against Bush is how many otherwise respectable liberal figures have descended into furiously unintelligent rants. Professor and columnist Paul Krugman now trumpets the vast right-wing conspiracy claim, billionaire George Soros makes an egregiously spotty parallel between Bush’s quest to exert American power and financial bubbles – both subverting their intellectual gifts to the pressing ideology of hatred.

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” an ingenious and disturbing glance at how semi-truths, distortions and outright falsifications can vilify anyone constantly followed by camera, is best described by Andrew Sullivan as “beneath contempt.” Despite the preponderance of factual evidence that tears his documentary to shreds, the true wonder lies in how strongly viewers want to believe his half-witted conclusions for verbatim.

While the readers of the Bush-bashing book blitz and viewers of Moore’s documentary are relatively few, the ideas contained within seep into the mainstream with barely a fraction of the skepticism reserved for such groups as, say, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Fueled and coddled by those who believe that Bush should be removed from office is paramount and reasoned analysis of facts is secondary, a sizable portion of the electorate has descended into socially acceptable hatred. If Bush deserves flak for creating partisan rifts amongst Americans, the punditry boom must bear responsibility for widening them into gaping holes.

Bill Rinner is a senior majoring in economics. He always welcomes criticism, particularly from professors. He can be reached at wrinner@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.