Went to a party Tuesday night, thrown by those who wanted to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. Many were died-in-the-wool Democrats.
Felt a little out of place. I’m a political agnostic when it comes to parties, labels and philosophies. I’m a free-market libertarian who owns guns, supports the right of a woman to choose, endorses the death penalty and opposes the legalization of marijuana. I voted for Richard Nixon in 1972, Gerald Ford in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992, Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.
At the party, I encountered two moods: The understandable and overwhelming glee over Obama’s ascension to the Presidency and the outright anger and even hate towards outgoing President Bush.
Like an overwhelming majority of Americans, I disagree strongly with many of Bush’s actions as President. Among his many questionable actions, he undermined the Constitution, destroyed America’s reputation on the world stage and probably broke the law by authorizing torture of prisoners.
But as the party goers cheered and offered toasts to a video replay of Bush’s helicopter ferrying him from the Capitol to Andrews Air Force base I heard one man say "damn, it didn’t crash."
Let’s hope it was the wine talking and not a true indicator of how that person felt. It’s one thing to disagree with an elected official’s policies. It’s another to wish him harm.
I thought back eight years ago, to a similar party in a hotel room in Washington where those from the other side of the political spectrum cheered and offered toasts as the chopper carrying Bill Clinton headed for Andrews. I heard a die-hard Republican also wish the chopper had crashed.
Is this the kind of society we have become? One where political disagreements must be tinged with hopes that the object of scorn is killed?
A lot has been written in recent years about the "politics of personal destruction." Some, with short memories or partisan agendas, lay the blame for such politics and the tactics of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. Others, with more institutional knowledge, understand that the same kind of slash and burn politics were played by Bill Clinton and James Carville. Richard Nixon has an enemies list and used the power of the White House to go after them. So did Lyndon Johnson.
Politics has long been a dirty business but the increase of venom, venality and hatred has increased ten-fold over the last 16 years, driving by the extreme partisanship of Republicans when Clinton was President and the equal extremism of Democrats during the two terms of Bush.
Americans had many good reasons to celebrate a truly historical event last Tuesday.
But there is never a good reason to hate.
(Updated at 11:47 a.m. to add additional thoughts)