Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Is Herr Doktorprofessor A Good Hater?

Keith Burgess-Jackson, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Arlington, scribes an interesting article on "Bush hating" for Tech Central Station. I'm not completely convinced that I agree with his definition of "hate." It may be too broad, although he obtains it reasonably enough from a dictionary. But "hate" is used allusively, suggestively and broadly ("I hate chocolate ice cream," says the four year old) - and that's reflected in dictionary definitions. In any event, it's not an unreasonable definition. This is some of what he writes:

The most hated person in the United States today (dare I say the world?) may be our president, George W. Bush. I did not vote for President Bush -- I voted for Ralph Nader the past two times -- and hold no brief for him. On some issues I agree with him and on others I disagree. I like to think that I am a fair-minded and honest critic. How do I know that he is hated? I read newspapers and magazines (see, e.g., Jonathan Chait, "The Case for Bush Hatred," in a recent issue of The New Republic); I watch public-affairs programs on television (cable as well as network); I visit Internet websites (including blogs); and I talk to people (friends, colleagues, students, neighbors). The depth and breadth of animosity toward President Bush astounds me. It is also dismaying, for it distracts attention from matters of principle and policy in which all of us have a stake. ....

Paul Krugman writes a semiweekly column for The New York Times. I know little about Krugman except that he is an economist. I have been reading his columns (online) for about a year. At first I thought he was a run-of-the-mill liberal critic of a conservative administration. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with that. Indeed, such criticism (loyal opposition) is vital to our democracy. Politics at its best is about policy and principle: about collective goals and constraints on their pursuit. Reasonable, well-informed, well-meaning people can and should disagree about such things. But as the weeks and months went by, I began to detect a certain meanness and unfairness, even a touch of pathology, in Krugman's columns. I now think that he hates President Bush.

The signs of Krugman's hatred are there for all to see. First, he is obsessed. Nearly every column for the past year has been about the Bush administration, and often about the president personally. I assume that Krugman has free rein as far as column topics go (just as I do at TCS), so why he focuses almost exclusively on President Bush requires explanation. Hatred explains it. Second, I have never seen Krugman make a favorable comment, even grudgingly, about President Bush. Someone might say that there is nothing favorable to be said, but that is disingenuous. Nobody is perfectly bad (omnimalevolent) and nobody performs only evil deeds (omnimaleficence). Krugman could prove me wrong by writing an occasional favorable column about the president or his administration. I will not hold my breath waiting for it.

Third, he systematically questions President Bush's motives. If the president says he did X for reason Y, Krugman says it was really for reason Z. Awarding a contract to Halliburton cannot possibly be legitimate; it must be a case of cronyism. Reducing taxes cannot be based on principle (e.g., that people are entitled to the fruits of their labor; that self-sufficiency is intrinsically good); it is calculated to "secure a key part of the Republican party's base," namely, the wealthy. To read Krugman is to see only corruption and deceit on the part of the president and his staff. It's not that the president's good intentions go awry, mind you. That would be a legitimate criticism. The president has bad intentions. Fourth, Krugman gives every indication of wanting the Bush administration's policies to fail, even if this redounds to the detriment of the American people. Krugman's incessantly negative and increasingly shrill and virulent columns about the war in Iraq, for example, come across as positively gleeful. One senses a hope, on his part, that the American reconstruction of Iraq fails.

The entire article is worth reading.

POSTSCRIPT: All of this public professed animosity towards it threatens to give "hate" a bad name, which would certainly sell the human spirit short. "Hate" is no loner fashionable in the West, and now plays a role in polite discourse similar to that once occupied by "sex." Although any sophisticated modern person in the West will abjure hate in public, no intelligent person can be a general hate hater. Walt Whitman on John Burroughs, writing of Thoreau: “The world likes a good hater and refuser almost as well as it likes a good lover and accepter—only it likes him farther off.”

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