Blogs > Cliopatria > Demonizing George Bush

Jun 30, 2004 8:00 am

Demonizing George Bush

Nicholas Kristof, writing in the NYT, is upset that the Left is now demonizing George W. Bush as a liar the way the Right used to demonize Bill Clinton. He does not suggest where this circle of viciousness began. He should have. It's instructive.

No, I am not going all the way back to the election of 1800 when Federalists charged that Jefferson planned to confiscate every American's bible. The more immediate roots of political jujitsu in Washington DC began in the 1960s and emerged from the deep divisions over Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement and feminism. Somewhat paradoxically, while Americans have reconciled themselves to the changes that took place in the 1960s--most think Vietnam was a mistake, the Civil Rights demonstrators deserve sainthood, and women should be treated the same as men--the polity has never recovered.It's been slash and burn politics ever since as if the Weather underground was still blowing up buildings.

For a time Washington politics remained insulated from the culture wars taking place across the country. Think back to the leaders of the Congress in the 1960s. Mike Mansfield, Gerald Ford, Carl Albert. There wasn't a single barnburner among them. But it was inevitable that the conflicts in American society would eventually surface in Washington despite the institutions then in place which tended to weaken the proclivity to engage in hand-to-hand combat.

Any number of turning points could be selected. One that stands out was the 1968 fight to stop LBJ from naming Abe Fortas chief justice of the Supreme Court. Nothing like it had ever been seen in American history by one measure. For the first time ever opponents staged a filibuster to block a president's nomination to the Supreme Court.

Fortas was already on the court so it was a little surprising to the country that his nomination provoked a wildfire in Congress. Part of the explanation of course was that LBJ was trying to move Fortas over to the top position during a heated political campaign and as the administration was in its final months in office.

But the real reason the nomination led to blistering attacks and extreme tactics had to do with the identity of the man Fortas was intended to replace: Earl Warren. Warren was at the center of many of the hottest political debates then dividing the country. Although he had been nominated by Dwight Eisenhower, by the 1960s Warren had become the number one political target of Republicans, attracting far more Republican abuse than LBJ or Hubert Humphrey, the putative leaders of the opposition party.

What particularly outraged Republicans was Warren's sly attempt to give LBJ a chance to fill his seat with a liberal Democrat before the election, an election that seemed likely to install a Republican in the White House. Rather than waiting to retire after the November elections, Warren submitted his resignation in time for Johnson to select his replacement.

Thus began the unfolding of a drama that was to lead eventually in Nixon's term to the resignation of Fortas, the call for the impeachment of William O. Douglas, and the double rejections of Harold G. Carswell and Clement Haynesworth. Washington never recovered from those imbroglios.

In the 1980s and 1990s as the political parties declined, and television soundbite politics took hold, the forces of division became more and more powerful, ending eventually in the election of Newt Gingrich, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and now the cries that George W. Bush is a liar.

Where it all ends ... good question. I don't have any idea.

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Jeffrey Peck - 6/30/2004

"... political parties declined..."

The bitterness between the 2 parties is real. But I don't know what a Republican is, much less a Democratic.

We have a Republican president 1) that petititioned the Supreme Court to preserve Affirmative Action in the Grutter case, 2) is offering amnesties to illegal aliens, 3) signed the Ted Kennedy's education bill, 4) throws millions of dollars into the African AIDs problem, 5) and presided over the largest expansion of Medicare in the form of the prescription drug bill.

And despite all ths the Democrats want him out of office. Incredible.

In the 1990s Bill Clinton signed the NAFTA free trade bill, betraying big labor and finally signing a welfare reform bill, he's hardly a liberal!

I make this prediction: if Kerry is elected he will be even a greater war hawk then Bush.

We know the competition between Coke and Pepsi is often fierce, just like the competition between Democrats and Republicans. Still, many of us can't tell the difference between a Coke or a Pepsi, or a Democrat and a Republican.