Small World: The bitter harvest of hate

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Let us give thought to the attitudes of some people toward their leaders. These attitudes, we know from news, history and experience, range across the gamut of emotions.

On the extreme positive side these days might be the apparent love and reverence that the North Korean people show for their “dear Leader.” What else could motivate them to twirl their parasols and chant praise in unison to honor him? If fear of force were responsible, there would surely be one or two off-key and twirling in the opposite direction. Still, fear is also likely, but overcome by the pangs of hunger.

I could go on about various loved queens and kings of England and assorted demagogic autocrats in modern times. My purpose, however, is to examine American attitudes. Without scratching too deeply into history, I think we can agree that George Washington was our first and only totally loved leader. Others have garnered huge followings — think both Roosevelts and Eisenhower — but they have also had potent critics in opposition.

Let us now move to the other end of the political/emotional spectrum toward rulers who are/were universally, or nearly so, despised. Richard III, Hitler, Mussolini, the Shah of Iran come to mind. The curious commonality is that the negative attitudes about them developed most strongly after they were gone. When still in power they were not to be messed with.

Not a few American presidents have had their reputations sink with time: Grant and Harding, Jimmy Carter (unjustly so, in my view), Ronald Reagan, G.W. Bush (both on my list if not that of others) and, of course, almost everybody’s most hated, Richard Nixon.

To the extent they were successful, two qualities united these rulers — loved and unloved — and their people: loyalty toward the nation and willingness to compromise ideals for it.

The question for today is where will Barack Obama end up on the spectrum? In the view of some he is a well-meaning, if disappointing, liberal.

For others, however, he is the archfiend. These haters are mainly in the ranks of Tea Partyers. They can’t abide the president. Some of their bile gives off fumes of racism. Much of their attitude is pure conservative doctrine. They are obsessed with the national deficit, demanding that government spending be cut and that no new income be drawn from higher taxes. A particular target is Obamacare, the president’s signature achievement.

For that reason in good part, radicals of the Tea Party condemn it. These mainly white, mainly older Americans loathe the twice-elected president. In their eyes he can make no right move. That means opposition to his [almost] every initiative on the federal level as well as in state capitals where they have achieved great influence.

These folks are determined to roll back the clock to a time without the social evolution of recent decades — abortion rights, gay marriage, gun controls. Any mildly progressive move is to be resisted. Originally a grassroots citizens’ movement, the Tea Party quickly came under the influence of wealthy and conservative donors and organizers who have their own agenda: Opposing higher taxes on the wealthy, limiting the activities of unions and maintaining high defense expenditures override the original aims of ordinary Tea Partyers.

Blind hatred of our president is the most debilitating product of this populist movement because it weakens the nation. While there were many and varied reasons to oppose Obama’s request to Congress 
for authority to strike Syria, Tea Partyers did so because they refuse any action with a White House label. Trying to force Obama to pull back his health bill or blocking an essential rise in the debt ceiling, the Tea Partyers may end up shutting down the government and wrecking the world’s credit system. Their unyielding rejection of the president means the nation will regularly risk disasters before, inevitably, saner heads agree to compromise.

Compromise between opponents is, after all, the foundation of a democracy. Those who lose an election have a right and duty to oppose, but not to bring down the structure or to harm the nation’s well-being and progress.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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