Politics & Policy

Dismayed, and Dismaying

The Left, defeated.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial appears in the November 29, 2004, issue of National Review.

We do not usually favor expensive domestic-policy initiatives, but the Bush administration should consider emergency spending on mental health. So many of its critics have gone nuts.

A casual tourist of the op-eds and the Internet can catalogue all the symptoms. The Bush haters begin with random abuse. “The president got reelected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule” (Maureen Dowd). She left out receiving stolen goods. “I grew up in Missouri and most of my family voted for Bush, so I am going to be the one to say it: The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry. . . . My relatives are not ignorant, they are just greedy and full of classic Republican feelings of superiority” (Jane Smiley). That will be an awkward Thanksgiving dinner.

They predict disaster and conflict, or welcome it. “I don’t hope for more and worse scandals and failures during Mr. Bush’s second term, but I do expect them” (Paul Krugman). How freude is your schaden? “An administration given to hubris will have to be checked by institutions outside what is likely to be a compliant Congress. This is no time for the independent media to be intimidated by trumped-up charges of liberal bias” (E. J. Dionne). Unleash Dan Rather!

They say the country has been kidnapped. “We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is” (Thomas L. Friedman). We hold these truths to be not so self-evident after all. “Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? . . . We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists” (Garry Wills). Stop the presses–Garry Wills criticizes Saddam’s loyalists.

The wrath of the losers is more than pique over a hotly contested election, even one contested in wartime. Bush haters feel affronted by America’s failure to defer to their wisdom. Pundits, novelists, historians, movie stars, eminentoes, and glitterati of every kind told us that Bush was dumb, crooked, bigoted, bloodthirsty, incompetent, and unpopular the world over, yet 51 percent of the electorate ignored them. The election was worse than a defeat; it was a diss. All was lost, including honor.

America has had many frantic elections, some far worse: The election of 1860 led to the Civil War. But perhaps the closest analogue to the wrath of the Bush haters is the mentality of the Federalist party during the War of 1812. The Federalists had had great leaders (Washington, Hamilton) and great achievements (ratifying the Constitution). They thought of themselves as, and to a large extent were, the nation’s elite. But as the 19th century dawned, this elite lost power, and lost its way. They could not accept defeat as a turn of the wheel, or a possible lesson to themselves. The nation, they thought, had become base (America was “infamous and contented,” wrote Fisher Ames, prefiguring Jane Smiley). War maddened them, causing Federalist diehards to pray for defeat.

When peace returned, the Federalists collapsed–the first major American party to disappear. Democrats and liberals won’t disappear. But they will prolong their stay in the wilderness if they give themselves over to frothing.

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