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Having Dished it out.....

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Having Dished It Out . . .

By E. J. Dionne Jr.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003; Page A13

Isn't the hatred shown our president just awful, especially when we face such serious challenges to our national security?

One major politician called the administration's policies an "abject national embarrassment."

A former national security official said the president "has squandered American credibility and undermined our preeminence around the world." Another highly respected foreign policy expert said the administration "has not been able to distinguish between professorial concepts and foreign policy."

A key House leader insisted that "the president does not have the divine right of a king." He accused the administration of providing the public with "the spin, the whole spin, and nothing but the spin."

An important senator called the president "a jerk," and a House member said: "He still looks like a small man in a big office and an illegitimate president."

Terrible, terrible stuff. These politicians clearly don't know what the thoughtful conservative writer David Brooks knows: that politics should not take on a "lurid and emotional tone," and that it's self-defeating to indulge "the hypercharged tendency to believe the absolute worst about one's political opponents."

Brooks, writing in the Weekly Standard in June, was trashing Democrats for their intense dislike of President Bush. But every one of the comments I cited above was an attack by a Republican on Bill Clinton when he was president.

The first quotation about the administration being a "national embarrassment" came from Dick Cheney -- he was referring to Clinton's policy toward Haiti. You presume our vice president will now defend the right of all Democrats to dissent from the current administration's foreign policy.

It was James A. Baker III, the first President Bush's secretary of state, who said Clinton had squandered American credibility. The guy who trashed professors was former professor Henry Kissinger. The comments about the king of spin came from the inimitable Tom DeLay, now the House Republican majority leader.

It was Sen. Orrin Hatch who called Clinton a "jerk," and Republican Bob Dornan, then a congressman, who described Clinton as both "small" and "illegitimate." Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) actually called Clinton a "scumbag" -- surely, in Brooks's terms, a "lurid and emotional" way to refer to the commander in chief.

It is thus hilarious that Republicans have been so self-righteous against Democrats who have had the nerve to behave as an opposition and challenge President Bush's credibility. Republicans are telling Democrats: "Don't you dare do what we did." It's equally amusing, but also depressing, that hypocrisy isn't being called by its real name.

This moment's fashionable subject, the California recall, was born out the very sort of political hatred that Republicans condemn when it's directed at Bush. But it certainly doesn't bother Arnold Schwarzenegger that his chance to start a political career has come courtesy of the partisan animosity against California Gov. Gray Davis that forced the recall election.

Nor does the hatred of Davis bother Bush, who has spoken kindly of the Terminator. That's because Bush understands that one force that pushed him into the White House was the partisan loathing created by Cheney, Baker, DeLay and the rest during the Clinton years. The president can't begrudge Arnold his opportunity. But Bush also hopes his apologists will intimidate Democrats from attacking him. That's why the Bush camp keeps pretending that raising questions about the president's stewardship is counterproductive and even unpatriotic.

"I am dismayed that so many feel free to engage in partisan attacks on the commander in chief in the midst of war," Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) wrote in The Post [op-ed, Aug. 3].

This view did not stop the same John Ensign from challenging Clinton in February 1998 over the prospect of airstrikes against Iraq. Clinton, Ensign said then, "has not made the case to Congress to get our support and we are not in a crisis situation." Don't Ensign's comments sound awfully close to what Howard Dean has said about the war against Iraq in 2003?

In fairness, when Clinton's airstrikes against Iraq eventually came in the midst of the impeachment fight in December 1998, Ensign called them "a necessary action," not something every Republican said at the time. But Ensign could not resist adding: "You certainly have to question the timing." Democrats who asked why the buildup to the war in Iraq was so widely advertised before the 2002 elections were, one presumes, equally justified in questioning "the timing."

It is not at all astonishing that partisans would claim that their own political attacks are morally justified while the opposition's assaults are wretched exercises in partisanship. What is astonishing is that anyone would take such claims seriously.


© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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