I'm not talking about mere disagreement with Bush. I'm referring to the sort of visceral demonization of the man that clearly seems out of touch with any reality, and which has gripped so many people I personally know and turned them into something unrecognizable and ferocious when they even mention his name--which they do with some regularity.
I know what neo-neocon means. I have seen BDS in action; a friend of mine, a once-rational person and a New Republic-type Cold War liberal, quite seriously assured me in 2004 that if it looked like Bush was going to lose the election, he and his minions would find some pretext to declare a state of emergency -- perhaps by staging another major terrorist attack -- and call off the election. And I think neo-neocon is right that part of the reason for this loathing is a purely stylistic distaste for Bush:
The way he talks, the way he smirks, the frat-boy persona--he represents the kind of person they simply detested in high school and college (particularly if they were the intellectual or literary sort). They distrust and dislike him in a very visceral way.
I wish, however, that neo-neocon had paid more attention to Clinton Derangement Syndrome, a.k.a. Clintonophobia. Not just for the sake of being "fair and balanced," but because there are some genuinely interesting parallels there.
And please, don't tell me that Clinton hatred wasn't as extreme. Have we forgotten so soon that some conservatives including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Rush Limbaugh were trying to connect Bill and Hillary Clinton to a string of murders? There is simply no question that for large numbers of conservatives, the Clintons were not just wrong but Evil.
I explored some of the parallels in a 2003 column:
Why the hatred? Partly, it's the change in the political climate, which has become nastier and more polarized over the past decade. Partly, it's that the Internet and talk radio have made it easier for marginal and extreme voices to be heard (and to affect mainstream discourse). But the phenomenon also has to do with the personalities of Clinton and Bush, and with the circumstances of their rise to power.
Both presidents are widely perceived by their political opponents as illegitimate. Clinton got only 43 percent of the popular vote in the 1992 election but nonetheless won the presidency in a three-way race between himself, the first President Bush, and H. Ross Perot. Bush, of course, not only lost the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000 but won the electoral vote after a protracted, bitter election dispute in Florida. Many Democrats, including some who cannot in any way be classified as right-wing extremists, sincerely believe that the election was "stolen" by Bush and his cronies.
Another element is the kinship between the two presidents' political strategies. Both have borrowed liberally from the other side's issues and agendas. Clinton ran as a centrist, pro-business, law-and-order Democrat; Bush, as a "compassionate conservative." To the haters, that makes them wolves in sheep's clothing.
The hatred is personal as well as political. Clinton was (and still is) seen as "Slick Willie," the artful dodger who gets away with everything, from draft evasion to sexual shenanigans, thanks to his cleverness and lack of scruples. Bush is perceived as the ultimate rich kid who has everything handed to him on a silver platter and gets away with everything because of his privileged status.
Finally, on both a personal and political level, the conservatives' revulsion against Clinton and the liberals' revulsion against Bush has to do with the "culture wars." To the conservatives, Bill and Hilary Clinton embodied the ethos of the '60s with its emphasis on personal liberation and its rejection of traditional gender norms, which the right regards as permissive and destructive. To the liberals, Bush embodies the cultural conservatism of "middle America" with its traditional religious and social norms, which the left regards as oppressive and hidebound.
Thinking about it now, there is another parallel as well. Bush and Clinton have both been perceived by their opponents as uniquely power-hungry, and imbued with a virtually unprecedented arrogance of power.
To some extent, Clinton-hatred paved the way for Bush-hatred. In the 1990s, wild and vitriolic accusations against the President became a regular feature of public discourse. The Republicans now have to live with that.