Bill Moyers may have his politics, but his deferential demeanor and almost avuncular television style made him the Mr. Rogers of American politics. So when he leaves his neighborhood to go to a "Take Back America" rally and denounces George W. Bush's "government of, by and for the ruling corporate class," leading a "right-wing wrecking crew" engaged in "a deliberate, intentional destruction of the United States way of governing," you know that something is going on.
That something is the unhinging of the Democratic Party. Democrats are seized with a loathing for President Bush--a contempt and disdain giving way to a hatred that is near pathological--unlike any since they had Richard Nixon to kick around. An otherwise reasonable man, Julian Bond of the N.A.A.C.P., speaks of Bush's staffing his Administration with "the Taliban wing of American politics." Harold Meyerson, editor at large of The American Prospect, devotes a 3,000-word article to explaining why Bush is the most dangerous President in all of American history--his only rival being Jefferson Davis.
The puzzle is where this depth of feeling comes from. Bush's manner is not particularly aggressive. He has been involved in no great scandals, Watergate or otherwise. He is, indeed, not the kind of politician who radiates heat. Yet his every word and gesture generate heat--a fury and bitterness that animate the Democratic primary electorate and explain precisely why Howard Dean has had such an explosive rise. More than any other candidate, Dean has understood the depth of this primal anti-Bush feeling and has tapped into it.
Whence the anger? It begins of course with the "stolen" election of 2000 and the perception of Bush's illegitimacy. But that is only half the story. An illegitimate President winning a stolen election would be tolerable if he were just a figurehead, a placeholder, the kind of weak, moderate Republican that Democrats (and indeed many Republicans) thought George Bush would be, judging from his undistinguished record and tepid 2000 campaign. Bush's great crime is that he is the illegitimate President who became consequential--revolutionizing American foreign policy, reshaping economic policy and dominating the political scene ever since his emergence as the post-9/11 war President.
Before that, Bush could be written off as an accident, a transitional figure, a kind of four-year Gerald Ford. And then came 9/11. Bush took charge, declared war, and sent the country into battle twice, each time bringing down enemy regimes with stunning swiftness. In Afghanistan, Bush rode a popular tide; Iraq, however, was a singular act of presidential will.