Why Do Some People Hate Clinton/Bush/Nixon?

Ann Althouse has an interesting thread going on this topic, to which I posted the following comment:

There was a lot about Clinton to hate. He was routinely dishonest, personally corrupt and treated political opponents (e.g., gun owners, small-business people) as class enemies. He had a history of abusing individuals, both to advance his political goals and to avoid responsibility for his reckless personal behavior, and he showed indifference toward civil liberties. His intellectual MO was to avoid open discussion of issues and instead to make personal attacks on his critics. He appeared to value his personal interests over the good of the country. He got some things right (NAFTA, part of our intervention against Serbia), but squandered much of his early presidency trying to implement unpopular far-left schemes and his later presidency in dealing with the fallout from his personal behavior. And he was asleep at the wheel WRT the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. But for the Left and many Democrats, Clinton was and remains the great hope, because despite his flaws he was the national Democrat who could best compete with the Republicans.

Bush II is a mixed bag. IMO the people who liked Clinton hate W because W is effective in countering their political agenda. If W were a leftist Democrat and had the same political skills as he has now, they would love him. The accusations against W for having supposed personal flaws are therefore really coded political disagreements. That’s a different pattern of hatred from the one shown to Clinton, as many of Clinton’s haters would have accepted his policies if he weren’t such a scoundrel. The Bush haters and Clinton haters appear to be distinct populations with different values.

I think that Nixon haters share some of the values of both Clinton and Bush haters, since a lot of people disliked Nixon’s corruption as well as his policies. But other presidents, notably LBJ, were at least as corrupt as Nixon, so on balance I think it’s the policy disagreements that principally animate Nixon haters to this day. Nixon was a staunch anti-communist from the time of the Hiss prosecution, for which the Left will never forgive him. And the Right’s concerns about communist imperialism were vindicated by the SE Asian bloodbath after our withdrawal from Vietnam (mainly on Nixon’s watch, though he rarely receives credit), and the Left doesn’t like to be reminded about this outcome.

I was too young to be a Nixon hater, though I might have been one if I had been older. But in retrospect Nixon, though a lousy president in many ways (e.g., wage & price controls!), was better than most of the realistic alternatives. Certainly he had the country’s best interests at heart, and unlike some of his successors, particularly Clinton, he had a realistic idea about what we were up against in the world. I think that’s a large part of why the Left still hates Nixon with such vehemence.

Ann’s post and the other comments to it are worth reading.

26 thoughts on “Why Do Some People Hate Clinton/Bush/Nixon?”

  1. A gauge of the “hate” (and perhaps its irrationality) can be the way Nixon is used to tar anything with which he can be remotely associated – even to this day. The gratuitous comments can be irritating even to those of us who didn’t like him much. He may not have been pleasant, but he was clearly complicated & could take a bigger picture than most of his opponents. The simple haters do not see that; they are now left with the dilemma of coming to terms with Felt’s loyalty to Hoover – a simple bad guy in their reckoning. Like the McCarthy hearings, this can be an obsession that blocks out references to these haters more unattractive positions in the past. (Ah, but at least I wasn’t Nixon; let’s talk about him.)

    Bush is used in similar, irrelevant ways, to represent the “bad.” I don’t remember that being done to Clinton. Clinton haters were not so much self-righteous (though they were portrayed that way)than struck by hypocrisy. I could have taken Clinton’s abuse of women better if it hadn’t been preceded first by the Clarence Thomas hearings and then by the self-righteous naming of a cabinet that “looked like America.” (There are a lot of jerks like Clinton out there & some probably haven’t been bad presidents). Sure, Tammy Wynette’s approach to wifely behavior leaves a lot to be desired; it was clear, however, that when Hilary said she wasn’t a Tammy Wynette she was making a class claim and not a moral one. What she was saying was that she wasn’t a bimbo like Wynette – and like her husband’s extramarital choices. That is hypocrisy – and when it is followed by charges that their opposition is hypocritical and Puritanical, it becomes maddening. But it is hard to hate people so superficial.

    By the way, I’d always heard another not so successful president, John Quincy Adams, was the “brightest” by whatever standards people assess such things.

  2. Bubba and Evita are the epitome(?) of 60s boomers. Self-serving commies. Ok, Ok, socialists.

    The flame passed from the Greatest Generation to the selfish prats and the 60s boomers have too much legacy riding on them to give up.

    Most boomers will go to their graves believing Bubba was a great pres – or could have lived up to his potential if only…. the 60s boomer legacy. It’s never their fault.

    But our kids and grandkids will know what scum they were when the impeachment files are opened in about 45 years.

    I have told my younger friends that if I’m dead, to come to my grave and yell “You were right, they were scum.”

  3. Ann cited the absolutely demented book review in the Sunday NYTimes.

    The reviewer said:

    “The passion of the Clinton haters is a phenomenon without equal in recent American politics. … In its persistence and intensity, it goes far beyond anything that comparable numbers of people have felt about Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan or either of the presidents Bush. It surpasses even the liberals’ longstanding detestation of Richard Nixon. The only political obsession comparable to it in the past century is the hatred that a significant minority of Americans felt for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

    I was trying to think real hard about the depravity of the Clinton haters. I remember a novel that called for his assasination, all of the people who compared him to Hitler, a magazine cover that pictured him as a vampire sucking the blood out of the Statue of Liberty, …

    Oh I was confused I was thinking of the wrong president. Sorry.

  4. People absolutely need someone to hate. Nixon is the default “hated” president. I’ve found that even people who know absolutely nothing about Nixon hate him. Just the media pulling the strings of the lazy mindless masses. Nothing to see, move along.

    Not a bad intelligence test, actually. If a person has a “nuanced” approach to Nixon, even if they generally dislike him, they are brighter than most. If they absolutely love him or absolutely hate him, they’re probably not too bright.

  5. How soon they forget. By the time Nixon ran for the presidency and lost the first time around he had already been hated by the Left in this country for many years for his activities in the House Unamerican Activities Committee against Alger Hiss. Their reasoning was that Alger Hiss had been framed but, as we learned when the Kremlin archives were opened after the collapse of the USSR, every accusation against Hiss was completely true. So Nixon had been vilified by the Left because he had “gone after” some one who was an enemy of this country not for framing an innocent as had been claimed for so many years.

    Is the reason for such hatred the man, his actions, his affect, just a gut reaction, unjust? Probably all of the above.

    We’ll never know how Nixon became the way he finally became. Perhaps if he hadn’t been persecuted for so many years things might have been different. But, in the end, he did behave dishonestly.

    But anyone who believes that the hatred of Clinton was unprecedented (I think he was remarkably lightly treated by the press all things considered) or that Bush-hatred is a new thing just hasn’t been paying attention.

  6. Fell Saint, “Just the media pulling the strings of the lazy mindless masses.”

    I agree. Decades after the original furor, the “story” of Nixon’s supposed sleaziness has the tinny echo of a media myth that has been purposefully retold way too many times. The story’s details are confused and its conclusions muddied by partisan political reportage. It’s become 40 year-old porridge, reheated.

    I was too young to recall Watergate. I don’t trust Oliver Stoned‘s cinematographic fictions and I don’t have the time to hunt the details. So, could someone please tell me, in one sentence, what was SO darn awful about Nixon? What crime did he commit? Did he “lie?”

    Perhaps a concise summary of Nixon’s crimes is deliberately difficult. After all, if one could sum up Nixon’s warts in one phrase, the warts of later Presidents, like those of Bill Clinton, might grow in comparison.

  7. The source of the hatred for Nixon can be summed up in two words: Alger Hiss. The left despised what they saw as the persecution of an innocent man, and Nixon was a major target of that hatred.

    The revelation of Hiss’s guilt, of course, changed nothing.

  8. Hiss, yes. They also hated him for defeating Helen Gahagan Douglas. They also hated him for dodging a bullet with the sentimental Checkers speech. They also hated for being a forthright anti-communist for so long. They also hated him because they thought the 60s were going to culminate in a socialist revolution, and Nixon, by ending the draft, stripped the radicals of their footsoldiers.

    And there is more. They had a lot of reasons to hate him.

  9. How odd, that despite all the anti-Nixon propaganda out there, the Left still can’t people worked up enough about it to vote for them. In the end, Clinton won because he was charming, not because he was a Democrat. Carter was the only guy they ever got into the White House simply by virtue of being “not the Republican” after Watergate.

    Of course, the must infuriating legacy of the scandal is the propensity to append -gate to every single minor scandal.

  10. “Clinton won because he was charming” Gotta disagree. Clinton won because he spent years building up the persona and packaging of a “centrist” Democrat, he spent years working with the Democrat Leadership Council, promotated the idea that the Ds needed to run a centrist Southern governor to win, and then put himself forward as just that man, then he had the sheer balls to get into the race when Bush Sr. had stratospheric approval ratings which no one else saw were a mile wide and an inch deep, and then ran a very skillful campaign, featuring such promises as a middle class tax cut and ending welfare as we know it — he ran to the RIGHT of Bush, Sr. It was not just charm. Not even mainly charm. He found things people were worried about and wanted solved and proposed plausible-sounding things, while the Bush, Sr. presidency was brain-dead as well as tone-deaf. Charm had little to do with it, strategy and preparation had a lot to do with it. Like most things in life, that election went to the team that thought harder and worked harder.

    I strongly dislike Clinton, but we will learn nothing from the past if we don’t see what happened. Bush Sr. lost his base and lost the election. The kid got reelected, but may be losing the base so badly that the GOP will not be able to win in 2008. Could happen. Hillary will be able to run to the right of the GOP guy on immigration, and if the war is still chugging along with an American killed almost every day, the Donks will kick ass, hand us our heads. The public is not going to put up with this kind of thing forever.

  11. Nixon: It was easy to hate Richard Nixon; he seemed all sleeze and ambition. The left certainly hated him for his anti-communism; by the late 1960s, elite opinion considered anti-communism a sign of a warped mind. So Nixon–who came to public notice as a crusading anti-communist–was obviously a sicko. And yet, Nixon often seemed so untrustworthy that many people believed that even his anti-communism was not sincere, that it was merely a way to create a political base for himself. When Watergate happened, it was easy to assume that Nixon knew about the break-in ahead of time (which he probably did not) and that he was trying to cover it up (which he was). The irony is that from the perspective of most traditional liberals, he really was a pretty good president–he followed Keynesian economic policies, instituted wage and price controls, went to China, and presided over expansion of the welfare state. But that didn’t stop the elites (and me, I might add) from hating him; hating Nixon was easy.

    Clinton: I never was much of a Clinton hater. I was too busy marveling at his political skill. I actually think that most Republicans hated him because he was so skillful at turning typical Republican issues to his own advantage. He seemed able to frustrate the Republicans at every turn–and that, I think, was the source of much of the hate, frustration over his ability to twist every political issue to his own advantage. He made the typical Republican feel powerless, and that is a sure way to provoke hatred. People talk about Reagan as a great politician, but I think Clinton was (and still is) in a class by himself. I suspect that he is a nihilist, which affords him complete freedom of action–something that people with basic moral values don’t have. But oh! what a performer! When he left office, my wife and I asked, what are we going to do now for entertainment?!

    Bush Jr.: At least SOME of the hatred of W arises from the same sort of frustration that Republicans felt for Clinton. His “compassionate conservatism” claims for itself many of the same basic concerns that the liberals say are their exclusive property. That, I think, is the basis for the constant claims that “Bush lies!” He HAS TO BE a cynical manipulator of popular concerns about the welfare of the common person. And since THEY KNOW that the only way to solve the people’s problems is through the old liberal nostrums, all of Bush’s policy proposals must be a series of FALSEHOODS put forth for nefarious political purposes. In other words, they feel compelled to believe that Bush is what Clinton really is–an amoral manipulator of popular prejudices. If Bush is both sincere and correct on policy matters, their whole worldview is threatened, and that too is a good stimulus for hatred. And yet–it’s also easy to hate Bush’s smirk–I dislike it myself, even though I voted for him twice. And there’s nothing like a TEXAN to make the intellectual elites believe that the world is unjust for giving political power to an ignoramus when they themselves are SO MUCH MORE QUALIFIED TO RUN THE WORLD!


  12. In analyzing Clinton’s electoral success I think it important to remember he never received a majority vote. In 1993 he got only 43% of the popular vote. In 1996 he got 49%. Clinton was crushingly unpopular in first two years of his first term, in part I believe because 57% of the voters wanted somebody else in office.

    I think it important to remember that intense hatreds of US presidents by their opponents is an American tradition running back to Washington. In the early 19th century, people used to accuse the President du jour of being an agent of France or Spain. The most hated American president ever was Lincoln.

    I believe people who get a serious hate on any politician are overly emotionally identified with political movements. They relate to politics like some people relate to sports teams. When their side loses they are devastated. Seeing the other guy in office makes them feel like society as rejected them as individuals. I think the more important you view the role of politics in everyday life the more threatened you feel when other side loses.

    Fortunately, most people are content to vote for lesser of two evils without turning elections into personal morality plays.

  13. I wasted my first vote on George McGovern, not because I thought he was suited to be president, but because I detested Nixon. I detested Clinton for the same reasons. Neither had more than a nodding acquaintance with the truth, nor did either hold anything higher than his own interests. Clinton with welfare reform, Nixon with the expansion of the welfare state; Clinton letting the Ruandan genocide run its course, Nixon’s secret plan to end the Vietnam War – what did either believe in?

    Clinton was perfect for the ’90’s. He was the Seinfeld president – a presidency about nothing. We can’t afford another one like him.

  14. The book Scorpion Tongues: The Irresistible History of Gossip in American Politics by Gail Collins discusses the various forms used to tar and discredit opponents, many of which were the equal of Bush and Nixon-hatred.

    Gossiping and hatred are a way to release pent-up concerns about the era, its anxiety and fears, all blamed on the president. It’s embellished scapegoating; simple sport and entertainment for some, but operating as an arbiter of identity and truth for others.

    The ability for gossip to spread so quickly and so out of control is certainly techology-based, so hate is easier and faster. It seems no more inventive or scornful than in the past, however. In fact, the current fare is tamer in many ways, less learned and less creative. It is often repetitive, the same memes brought forth agains and again. For example, the Nazi/Hitler trope is now threadbare, rendered ineffective as a device to shock, due to massive overuse.

    So I agree, the article merely exposes the lack of research by its writer.

  15. Bush hatred, which I believe to much more over the top than Nixon hatred– No one wrote a book urging the assassination of Nixon — is easily explained.

    Bush, like F.D. Roosevelt, is a class traitor. He abandoned the upper class liberalism of the northeastern elite, and joined forces with the unwashed masses in flyover country. The lowest circle of hell is reserved for traitors.

  16. One more thing about Clinton: I can’t help but laugh when I hear liberals say that hatred for Clinton is unparalleled. As others have noted, the vilification spued out concerning both Nixon and George W. was/is much worse. And the contempt that was heaped on Reagan was actually much harsher than typical Clinton hatred. But the hatred for W or the contempt for Reagan is the water within which the liberal fish swim, so they simply find it a part of the natural environment. It’s nothing worth commenting on. When one of theirs is despised or hated, only then do they notice the phenomenon. tk

  17. Shannon’s incisive point about emotional investment in symbolic figures quite matches my subjective experience regarding president-hating. Losing an election feels like a loss by my Cleveland Browns, even though I have nothing to do with their success or failure.

    I also think Fell Saint’s observation about emotional maturity and nuanced perception of political figures is accurate. Reagan was the first opposition president that I can see both good and bad in, and I certainly applaud what one writer has called Reagan’s “liberal legacy.” One example would be his fiscal responsibility: one big initial tax cut followed by annual tax raises that he signed off in order to make some progress in reducing the federal budget deficit.

    Nixon got his hand caught in a mouse trap; Clinton got his privates caught in a mouse trap. The both of them lied about it afterward; little boys unable to admit they were doing something wrong. Of course, sexual sins are particularly reprehensible, as swing voters on abortion and gay issues can testify. So I suspect that was probably a factor in the sincere depth of Clinton hating in the talk radio sphere. Both Nixon and Clinton were steam-rolled by truth, much to the glee of partisan cheerleaders.

    Bush II, however, according to the Downing Street memo, lied in order to move us into armed conflict in Iraq. He ignored the lessons of Italy’s “recent” (in European terms) incursion into Yugoslavia, and the wisdom of Bush I and a younger Cheney. For Americans, the Bush II mid-stream switch to the rhetoric of democracy on the march is unassailable and bulletproof, but as Ralf has pointed out, there are other perceptions—and not just on the Arab street. It remains to be seen whether an administration that attacks the veracity of Newsweek, although the Koran abuse charges are now corroborated, will weather their own lies.

    Robert Shetterly’s libertarian call for Bush’s impeachment is based on the truth/trust trope. Shetterly argues: “Democracy, like any sound relationship between people, is built on trust. We trust our leaders to tell the truth so that the consent that we give them is honestly informed. If the consent is won through manipulation, propaganda, fear, or lies, the basis of our democracy has been subverted.”

    Foreign perceptions of American duplicity undermine our efforts at spreading our style of democracy. How long will the sins of Gitmo and Abu haunt us as they make a lie of our democratic rhetoric? Ironically, with or without us, democracy is indeed on the march in the crumbling near-abroads of the Soviet and American primary spheres. Curiously, in Latin America, where we can cheer the people taking to the streets to express their will, it is the social democratic experience of Europe that they seem to be longing for.

  18. The rage engendered in the Left by Richard Nixon does go back to his outing of Alger Hiss at the State Dept.

    In mid-May, I visited the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. I was surprised at the large number of teenagers and 20-year-olds who were touring the place. They were definitely not the un-bathed of the 60’s. Some high school and college academics had failed at inciting “Nixon hatred” in those young people.

  19. On Clinton:

    I’ve noticed that most comments seem to have been made by those both younger than I (age61) and seemingly never to have served in the armed services. As a USAF officer who VOLUNTEERED for two combat tours in Vietnam I am struck by the fact that no one mentioned the fact of Clinton/s draft-dodger status and the well-documented fact that he was on the record, in writing, as stating that he “loathed the military.” My visceral reaction to that aspect of his personae, let alone his policies or the people he surrounded himself with once in office, was enough–not only for me, but for a large number of both mine and my parent’s generation (both male and female) as well–whether in the service or no.

    There is not enough space in the blogosphere to recount the many humilitations, public and private, subtle and hamfisted alike, that he, his imperious wife, and his minions visited upon serving personnel–officer and enlisted alike. The fact that he used uniformed officers at White House functions to serve food and drink on trays like butlers and maids, well, that alone says all anyone needs to know about his mindset and that of those around him.

    As to many of his policies that compromised national security(both intentional and unintentional)and the former anti-war, pacifist dedicated leftist crowd that he populated numerous govt. agencies with–well, dont’t get me started.

  20. “Clinton won because he spent years building up the persona and packaging of a “centrist” Democrat, he spent years working with the Democrat Leadership Council, promotated the idea that the Ds needed to run a centrist Southern governor to win, and then put himself forward as just that man”

    Hillary seems to be following the same play book. Another thing she has going for her is the vitriol being hurled from the left, such as Durbin comparing Gitmo to Nazi death camps. With discourse such as this, she can and will be seen as the moderate Democrat. It wouldn’t surprise me if such vitriol were orchestrated for that purpose. We shall see, but yes I am worried as well.

  21. I’d like to propose an additional hypothesis regarding why he’s remembered with such venom.

    The anti-war movement was rooted in a co-mixture of the civil rights movement in the south and the success of SDS in the midwest and across the northern tier. Its core was a middle class youth movement that due to an unjust and misguided draft policy enjoyed almost complete insulation from any actual risk of being drafted. Viet Nam created a class conflict in the baby boomer generation between those who inherited the means to choose and those who lacked that privledge.

    Then Nixon brought Viet Nam to middle class America, whereas previously it was for volunteers and blue collar or minority draftees. Yet whereas the previous generation of Americans, of all classes, faced a much more horrible war with distinction. The intellectuals of the baby boom faced war and were largely unmanned at the prospect of it. I suspect it’s this that’s behind a lot of Nixon bile.

  22. I’d like to comment on Clinton hatred.

    In part I share the sentiments of RVD. I come from a family that values honorable military service more than wealth or advanced degrees… Clinton was the opposite of most of the traits and qualities that I consider to define virtue.

    The reason I hated Bill Clinton (now I pity him). I didn’t hate him because he lacked self respect, which is his own problem, but rather because he didn’t seem to respect anything. I hated him because he represented all the vices that I dispise in myself and others. He was a liar, a fraud, a coward, a hypocrite, an oath breaker, and a glutton. I probably hated him because he was so obvious and shameless, and ultimately, brilliant. Let’s face it, Clinton was a womans President, or at the very least a metrosexuals President.

    I hated Bush because I misjudged him. I didn’t believe he was sincere, nor that he’d be different from his father (who I hated as a President, but like otherwise). I was wrong about Bush. Today I think he’s actually an honest Christian, which amazes me.

  23. Occasionally I like to go back to the scene of the crime, and thus I could not but be brought up abruptly short by A Scott Crawford’s description of Clinton as being “a woman’s President.” It brought to mind a day during his Presidency (post-Monica revelations) when he was out on the hustings at some event. It took place during the day one afternoon and either CNN or MSNBC was covering it live. The scene was this: Clinton was working the rope line along a city street as adoring woman after woman sought to hug, kiss, touch or shake his hand. Now this was AFTER not only the facts about Monica having been admitted to, but also the charges of groping in the Oval office by Kathleen Wllly and of rape by the RN Director of Nursing in Ark. The two reporters covering the event–both of whom were women–commented how strange it all seemed given what he was charged with “especially as many are there with their young daughters in tow” one stated.

    Reportage/coverage over, I pondered: “Yes indeed, what exactly WAS the psychology involved?” Later that night serendipity came to my rescue in the form of the History Channel. A special was shown about Hitler(of whom all have long agreed that he had impeccable table manners and was unfailingly polite to women and children) centering on his specific appeal to women. The power of the presentation lay in the visuals–as all good use of the visual medium dictates. Various public events during his career were covered. Each event was shown firstly as action film footage, then a cut was made to still close-ups of the same scene. First: Hitler; then a quick shift to adoring faces in the crowd–some straining to touch him here, others rushing up to present him with roses there–others pushing desperately against the human restraining line of police.

    Each and every one of the women featured (and there were literally dozens of shots of individuals and mass crowds) had upon her visage that desperate, anxious, adoring look that one finds in old footage of Beetles fans circa 1964. The presentation being all the more powerful by the spare dialogue and the use of an audible, heavy metallic “click” (as in the shutter of an old Graflex camera) as the picture shifted from still-shot to still-shot; Hitler-to-women, women back-to-Hitler. All of this the better part of an hour. At the end I sat more or less stunned (and I am a pretty fair student of history–especially of that period) in the very same chair that saw me witness the Clinton coverage a few hours earlier, thinking: “It’s all verrrry, verrry–unfortunately all TOO very–clear to me now.” said I to myself……While I was thus spared wading through the psychology texts, I felt that I had really learned more than I (given the implications for how leaders are often picked) had wanted to know.

    Sexist pig I may be, but such scenes makes one think that, for a certain per-cent of the female population, the repeal of the 19th amendment wouldn’t be a bad idea if one could only cull the “groupies” from the more thoughtful ones……there is a reason, after all, why there are no male groupies to speak of. Female hormones are powerfull stuff. And, as Kinssinger has famously remarked: “For women, power is an aphro- desiac.” (He should know if anyone, given his powerful and supple physique.)

    What might be the tone of a Hillery presidency? Visualize in your mind’s eye and ear the audible, crisp “snap” of the fingers.

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