“Throughout the nineties I heard mainstream Republicans describe the president as a shameless womanizer and a closeted homosexual, a cokehead and a drunk, a wife beater and a wimp, a hick and a Machiavel, a committed pacifist and a reckless militarist who launched unnecessary airstrikes in faraway lands to distract the public’s attention from all of the above.
How did the left-wing, coke-snorting Manchurian candidate become the fondly remembered Democrat-you-could-do-business-with—“good old Bill,” in Sean Hannity’s phrase?
Barack Obama is what happened. The partisan mind—left-wing or right-wing, Republican or Democrat—is incapable of maintaining more than one oversized object of irrational contempt at a time….
We should probably be grateful for this psychological limitation. Without it the negativity of our politics would be relentless. Like Ronald Reagan before him, George W. Bush was reviled for eight years by Democrats driven mad by a sputtering rage—the “most right-wing president in history”!—but it’s only a matter of time until they rediscover him…”
It’s worth reading his review in full, but this passage is the most illuminating.
I do have to disagree with his assertion that “we should be grateful for this”, though. The phenomenon makes it incredibly difficult to tell what the hell the actual truth is.
I am sure that some liberals have experienced a little bit of nostalgia for George W. Bush and his crew, not as President, of course, but as leader of the Republican party. I myself feel that Bush was much less hostile to liberal values than, say, Sarah Palin. And I can recall Bush making many statements which the current GOP leaders would no doubt condemn in a heartbeat were they uttered by President Obama. So, I don’t think it’s entirely partisan rage.
I would also argue, therefore, that this is, at least partially, strategically sound thinking. Bush is retired; he’s not going to screw things up any more for liberals. Similarly, Clinton may make a few speeches, but he’s not going to do anything substantive to fight the Republicans agenda again. (Some would argue that he never did)
Nevertheless, Ferguson has touched on a disturbing truth in modern politics.
One of the most fascinating ideas in George Orwell’s novel 1984 was the Two Minutes’ Hate, which is an activity where all the Party members go every day to vent their fury at the enemies of the Party. Orwell describes it as “a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness…turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”
In 1984, when the Two Minutes’ Hate is over, everyone goes back to their duties. The fact that it is so readily turned on and off, and so easily transfered, is what is really insidious about it; it demonstrates the way that people are manipulated by the totalitarian government of Orwell’s novel.
Therefore, I think that the temporary nature of this fury that Ferguson describes is what is most disturbing about it–it suggests that people are being manipulated to feel it.