Man Without Qualities

Monday, October 27, 2003

Confessing to Love to Hate

The New York Times confesses - on its own behalf and on behalf of many agitated liberals - that for these people (to use Paul Krugman's dreadful and unintentionally hilarious term, but with a different referent):

Hatred is delicious.

There. It was at least forthright of the Times to admit to that.

The Times (through its avatar and writer, James Traub), goes on to ask:

Why are so many liberals, including sane and sober ones, granting themselves permission to hate the president? And this in turn is related to a political question: How is it that Howard Dean has built a (so far) wildly successful campaign for the Democratic nomination for president on ressentiment?

The proffered answer: Liberals don't like President Bush's policies, the things Newt Gingrich once said, or what Bill Clinton's more heated critics said. The "He started it, mom!" excuse. Of course, I had thought that Dr. Dean was running on resentment, where Mr. Traub points out that ressentiment is what's really at stake. So what do I know? It is interesting that afflicted liberals have progressed from characterizing their policy differences with Mr. Bush as lies on his part to characterizing their policy differences with Mr. Bush as justification for hating him. Perhaps in some therapeutic sense that progression represents progress.

Mr. Traub circles far out into the liberal ozone layer - including offering what must be one of the most bizarre dismissals ever of decades of Ted Kennedy's venom and the entire Robert Bork affair, an affair that all by itself clearly deflates his entire apology and causal nexus. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Traub's description of one Bush "outrage" that, to Mr. Traub's mind, justifies hating the President of the United States:

I had forgotten, for example, until David Corn reminded me, that President Bush contemptuously dismissed his own E.P.A.'s 268-page study admitting that global warming posed a grave threat to this country by saying, ''I read the report put out by the bureaucracy.''

And one must certainly admire the cheek, or question the self-insight and perhaps the reason, of somebody who could write such a thing and also describe himself as being of hopelessly moderate temperament. Nabokov couldn't have committed to paper anything more droll.

Everybody feels hatred from time to time. For example, no doubt Mother Theresa felt it more than most. She saw a lot of outrageous injustice - and no doubt regularly expressed remorse and asked God through her confessor to foregive her resulting hatred of the perpetrators and their acts. But Mr. Traub does not ask to be forgiven. His is a confession without remorse - the kind that makes the judge impose an exceptionally severe sentence. Similarly, Mr. Traub's closing observations resemble the thoughts of one watching an approaching train from a car that straddles the tracks:

It's satisfying; but I don't see how it can be a good thing, either for public debate or ultimately for the electoral prospects of the Democrats ...

Mr. Traub gets that right. The inability to contain, control, conceal and repudiate one's hatred is generally considered to be highly inconsistent with suitability for public office - unless the justification for the hatred is vastly more serious than anything described by Mr. Traub.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, on the question of provocation, there is also the issue of whether Democrats and liberals are often hearing things that weren't said and seeing things that weren't there.

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