Monday, August 4, 2003

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The trouble with animus

Josh Marshall bats .500 in this post on Democratic animus towards the Bush administration. The key section:

There are more and more articles being written about the intense animus toward president Bush among Democratic partisans....

Here's what's weird about this, though: no one seems to mention how deeply this parallels the situation which prevailed through most of the 1990s between core Republicans and President Clinton. It wasn't simply that hardcore partisans then and now despised the president. But there was perhaps a third of the electorate that believed deeply in the president's illegitimacy (then Clinton, now Bush) and were driven further into that belief by the fact that they could not manage to get the rest of the electorate (say 60% or so) to see the man in the way they did. The difficulty of unmasking him became a sign of his political sins.

This was certainly the case with Bill Clinton. And there are at least hints of that now with Bush. If anything the depth of the enmity against Clinton was far more in-grown and aggrieved. But the parallel is so strong, the dynamics so similar, that the fact that it's gone so little mentioned really points to a blindspot among the folks who think up these ideas in the Washington press corps and commentariat.

Marshall is absolutely correct on the animus parallels. However, he whiffs in failing to mention the logical conclusion of this parallel -- that if the Democrats keep this up, they'll be out of power for the next five years.

Clinton-hating did not serve the Republicans well. Yes, the GOP took both houses of Congress in 1994, but that more to do with the combination of low voter turnout, the Contract with America, and the Clinton administration's early missteps than efforts to make Clinton look illegitimate. In 1996 and 1998, the Republican encouragement of the anti-Clinton hysteria achieved less than zero in terms of electoral results.

Say what you will about Bush's policies -- most of the public has a favorable view of him. A campaign dominated by over-the-top attacks on an incumbent president will likely alienate far more voters than it will attract.

Marshall is correct to point out that the Dems are not the first party to get bent out of shape about the sitting president. He should also have pointed out that Republican critics are neverthelesds correct in saying that this is not a good thing for the Dems' electoral chances.

UPDATE: A lot more on this throughout the blogosphere. Megan McArdle, James Joyner and Pejman Yousefzadeh agree with me. Kevin Drum laughs in my face.

posted by Dan on 08.04.03 at 01:06 PM