Pols Worth Hating: Scott Walker Is 'Really Sinister,' While 'Blithering Fool' Palin 'Luxuriates in Her Nincompoopery'

When last seen in these parts, the American Prospect's Paul Waldman was forecasting that if Hillary Clinton runs for president, "[s]ome Tea Party congressman is going to indulge his fantasies about torturing and killing her."

Waldman posted a somewhat more temperate item on Friday (titled Who Do You Hate?) in which he offered a few thoughts about why political activists loathe certain figures from the other side but merely dislike others. His bottom line: a politician's image and persona tend to evoke more intense hatred from opponents than specific things he says or does, though words and deeds are hugely important as well.

From Waldman's Friday post (emphasis added):

Think fast: Which politicians from the other side do you merely dislike, and which do you absolutely despise? Can you say why?

I was thinking about this because of Harry Reid, who really, really gets on conservatives' nerves, and seems to be constantly trying to figure out new ways to make them mad. Unlike Nancy Pelosi, who generates contempt from the right mostly for who she is (a San Francisco liberal, a woman with power), with Reid it's about what he does, specifically his propensity for saying things about conservatives that are over the top...

After hearing him make a few of those extreme statements and unsubstantiated charges, it has gotten to the point where conservatives see Reid and just boil with rage...At this point, it's safe to say folks on the right hate Reid more than Pelosi, which wasn't the case a few years ago.

...I don't know any [liberals] who despise John Boehner, because he's mostly a pathetic figure, constantly besieged by people in his own party whom he doesn't have the courage to stand up to. Mitch McConnell doesn't generate much hate either. He may be bad for America, but you have to acknowledge that he's probably the most politically shrewd Republican in Washington, and there isn't anything about his manner or habits that are particularly grating.

So there has to be something unusual about a figure on the other side to produce the real emotional reaction. Take Sarah Palin. Democrats find her exasperating not just because she's a blithering fool who nearly came a heartbeat away from the presidency, but because she luxuriates in her nincompoopery. And importantly, she expresses her own limitless contempt at liberals—not only them as people, but the places they live and the things they do. It's hard not to hate somebody who so clearly hates you. And she's important enough (or at least was) to care about; no liberal can muster up hatred for an inconsequential buffoon like Louie Gohmert, no matter what crazy things he says.


And then there's Hillary Clinton. For some reason, back in 1992 conservatives decided that she and her husband were the living embodiment of their antagonists in the 1960s culture war...

If Clinton is a proxy for that decades-old conflict and you were one of the ones looking with a combination of anger and jealousy at those kids who were taking drugs and having sex—in other words, having all the fun—then the reaction you have against her is so deep-seated and beyond rationality that nothing she does or doesn't do will ever change it...[F]or conservatives and Clinton, the dislike is still about who she is and not what she does.

That's a much more powerful feeling than the kind of hate conservatives now feel for Reid, because just like with liberals and Palin, it's not only about her, it's also about them. It reaches down to where identity lies.  

So take a look at the potential GOP candidates for 2016. Which ones have the potential to really make you crazy with loathing? The only one who comes across as really sinister is Scott Walker, and that's because of things he did. Rick Perry hits the anti-intellectualism that raises liberal hackles. Ted Cruz is acknowledged by pretty much everyone he's ever encountered to be a smarmy jerk. Something tells me Bobby Jindal has some appalling behavior in him, but that's just a guess. The idea of Rand Paul as president may be alarming, but he doesn't push the emotional buttons. Rick Santorum? He's got the extremism, but he's kind of a joke. Jeb Bush? Please. Chris Christie? Now hold on—there's a guy you could grow to hate.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters