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Bush-contempt, Kerry-scorn: Is it 'hate thought'?

Intense anger satisfies a lust for absolute certainty, but it erodes the possibility of political compromise

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'Mommy why do you hate the president?" Such questions from the mouths of babes should torment progressives who find themselves angered at the very sight of our commander in chief.

How does one respond?

Some weeks ago I wrote a commentary in a major newspaper that asked Americans to consider their hatred for political leaders, a column addressed both to conservatives and liberals. I received numerous responses, justifying the writers' own particular and well-considered animosity, embracing their distaste while dismissing that of opponents.

George Bush, I was told, is an ignorant sadist; Bill Clinton is a congenital liar and rapist. Lately we have been informed that John Kerry is a war criminal, a coward, and a traitor. My correspondents cited chapter and verse to support their tough claims. In a society in which "hate crimes" are considered deserving of opprobrium, many partisans were pleased to admit their own hate-thought crimes. It became clear that many of these writers never discussed politics with anyone on "the other side."

As I read these screeds, I began to wonder what these aggressively articulate people tell their children about American politics. Are Bush-hatred, Clinton-disgust, and Kerry-scorn dinner-table conversation? Are children inculcated into political loathing at an early age - or are they shielded until they come of age? What effects will this roiling political emotion have on the next generation?

When I was young, my parents insisted that I show respect for the president, whomever he was and whichever party he represented. He was the president of all Americans, and we collectively selected him. My parents were not alone.

The hatred that has spewed across the land - first in conservative "red" territory under Mr. Clinton, then in liberal "blue" regions under Mr. Bush - has the potential, if allowed to continue, to erode the very possibility of political compromise. With the attacks on Senator Kerry's war service and antiwar activism, we can see the ground being plowed for a new crop of distemper should the Democrats win the White House.

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