Hating Bush vs. Hating Obama

During the administration of George W. Bush, I remember feeling a more or less chronic sense of despair and incredulity at the state my country was in. Lots of my friends felt the same way. And many others in this nation and in the world felt similarly. The distinguished historian Eric Foner wrote a Washington Post piece about W’s Presidency. It was called “He’s the Worst Ever.” Greg Brown, one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters, began performing a song in concert called “I Want My Country Back,” an anguished cry of despair about Bush’s America.

Why did we feel this way?

Thinking back, I can name several reasons I personally despised Bush as a president:

• the farces of the recount in Florida and the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore

• war in Iraq

• surrender of environmental policy to industry

• torture

• tax breaks for the wealthy

• Bush’s blithe, dismissive personal manner, and his ineptitude with language

Today, three and a half years into the administration of Barack Obama, I think it’s obvious that some people feel the same level of disgust for him that I and others did for Bush. (Although I haven’t heard any distinguished historians call him the worst ever, nor any august singer-songwriters pouring out their despair in song.)

What I honestly want to think about here, though, is what specific reasons the Obama despisers could possibly have for despising Obama as a president.

* * *

Let’s think about the signature events in Obama’s time in the Oval Office:

• The Affordable Care Act? I can’t believe that anyone could hate Obama with a blazing passion over this one. For Pete’s sake, it started as an idea from a conservative think tank.

• The killing of Osama bin Laden? Only Noam Chomsky hates Obama for this one.

• The appointments of Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court? Too wonky to inspire much hate.

• The end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Nah. Polls indicated that almost 8 of 10 Americans favored ending this discriminatory policy.

• The economic stimulus? The bailout of the auto industry? Besides those who were actually helped by these, I don’t think most people even know what these measures really consisted of.

• The recession in general? I guess some people probably resent Obama for not catapulting the economy into high gear somehow and generating full employment, but I think people mostly realize that the President really doesn’t have the power to control something as massive and multifarious as the US economy.

• The growth of the deficit? This is certainly one that you hear from critics of Obama—that he has presided over an unprecedented expansion of government spending that is driving us into economic ruin. But, as this Washington Post graphic makes clear, the argument has serious problems. I doubt that much hatred of Obama is sincerely based on the deficit.

• His personal style and manner? Seems highly unlikely, given Obama’s winning personality, friendly smile, and facility with language.

* * *

I’ve given it my best shot, and I really cannot come up with any fact-based reasons to hate Obama.

You might have disagreements with him. You might be dissatisfied with some of the things that have happened on his watch. But it seems objectively true that nothing that has happened in Obama’s term of office could legitimately prompt the level of disgust and anger that numerous events during Bush’s presidency did.

It should be acknowledged that Obama does not inspire intense dislike as widespread as that inspired by Bush. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll indicated that 2 out 3 Americans say they like Obama.

I’m forced to conclude—as I have thought before and as many others have also concluded—that the high level of antipathy and derision that Obama inspires in a minority of Americans people is connected with his race: the facts that his father was African, his wife is African American, and he identifies himself as black.

Obama hatred is a thin stew—a few morsels of policy disagreement floating in a gravy of racial resentment, paranoiac birther fantasy, and simple prejudice. The good news is that, at this point in history, America’s appetite for such a stew seems relatively weak.