The Politics of Hate

November 3rd, 2008

I’ve been thinking about how often the word “hate” is used in a political context. It most frequently comes from the left, directed at George W. Bush, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and other conservatives or even moderates. More often than not, it’s an expression of hatred for the person, not the politician or his party. Sometimes it’s so extreme as to result in comparisons of Republicans with Adolph Hitler. Since the people making or approving such comparisons are presumably intelligent enough to understand what Hitler represents, I have difficulty understanding how they see equivalent evil in virtually any American.

Of course, it would be inaccurate and unfair to say that all liberals express this kind of hatred. But enough do that it makes me wonder if hate has been elevated to the status of a moral value in our political discourse. Is it necessary to say you hate Republicans in order to be accepted among liberals of a certain stripe? Howard Dean, head of the Democratic Party, once implied as much.

I have a good friend, an intelligent and informed liberal, whom I respect. Before the election in 2004, this friend closed an e-mail discussion about Bush and politics with the line, “God, how I hate that man!” That was something of a shock because I’d never before heard this person talk about hating another human being. Worse, I’m not even sure this person is a friend any longer. 

Some liberals are not willing even to discuss points that might indicate Bush could be anything less than pure evil. There are no shades of gray, no nuance. They cling doggedly to every argument that supports their fixed opinions, no matter how tenuous or unreasonable it may be. A good example from 2004 is the Swift Boat Veterans. I don’t know the extent to which they were right about Kerry, and neither do liberals. However, instead of admitting that some 260 honorable veterans who stirred themselves to enter the political arena might be worth listening to, they simply dismissed them as liars, sleaze, and so on. Why?

It’s hard to discuss this without being labeled as an ultra-conservative, a right-winger, or even a dreaded “neocon,” the left’s new corporate antichrist. The truth is I’m not a Republican or much of a Bush supporter. I disagree with his policies about as often as I agree with them. But in this new climate of highly personal hatred of Bush, it’s very difficult to take any position short of outright hatred without being peremptorily assigned to the Republican camp. That’s one of the things that worries me about hate having become a political value–it leaves no room for moderate views or compromise.

I realize that Republicans and conservatives in general are also capable of strong dislike for people and ideas they disagree with. Sometimes these feelings are expressed in highly partisan, intemperate ways. However, it isn’t the same emotion, in either depth or intensity, that I see in the hatred some liberals direct at conservatives. I remember the Clinton presidency well, and I understand that many conservatives neither liked him nor respected him. Those feelings are still there, for him and his wife both. But still, they’re qualitatively different from today’s intense personal hatred.

As one who always considered himself a slightly left-of-center Democrat, I believed that the most positive characteristics of liberalism in American were tolerance, respect for every individual, and intelligent open-mindedness. Sadly, those values seem quaint in this atmosphere of hate, and liberals have diminished themselves by letting it happen.

The politics of hate has no place in America, and I have no respect for those who embrace it. Ultimately we have only one president, and no matter how much we disagree with him we must respect and support him. Any American who feels otherwise has seriously lost his or her way.

Recommended:  David Reinhard, The Oregonian, “Days of Rage”

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