Plumbing the anti-Bush sentiment

We could hear talk against the president on almost any street corner. Media voices lashed out at the president every day. It had become an ugly scene, where president-haters seemed to be everywhere.

No, that is not today's America where anti-Bush feeling is intense. It's the Midwest of the 1930s where dislike of President Franklin D. Roosevelt was palpable in that stronghold of conservatism.

That dissent had become personal, much the same as what's heard from liberals today. Those Republicans were almost viscerally opposed to FDR's New Deal effort to lift the country out of the deepening depression. And they let off steam by ridiculing the president for his personal style. They particularly disliked the jauntily tilted cigarette, the supremely confident smile.

Today we have the Democrats, whose strong opposition to President Bush's policies - particularly his methods of involving the US in Iraq, and his tax cuts, which they say favor the rich - is increasingly expressed in angry, personal terms against Mr. Bush.

So for the millions of people who find encouragement in Bush's confident stride, there are growing numbers of Americans - mainly liberal Democrats - who see a cocky president, someone they simply can't abide.

I lived as a boy and young man among many deeply troubled and highly vocal antagonists of Roosevelt - indeed with so many of them around me that I believed, for a while, that they represented a majority of Americans.

But the elections in my state of Illinois and in my Champaign, Ill., county soon told me that what had been a strong Republican majority in that region since the GOP was formed was no more. FDR had captured the hearts and the votes of the multitudes hurt by the Depression and they, in turn, were implanting a Roosevelt political dominance everywhere - in Washington and throughout the United States.

Yes, the grumbling against Roosevelt was still there and widespread, with the influential Chicago Tribune fanning the anti-FDR feeling. But this anger was coming from a minority - from those people who remained well-off enough to be able to deride what they saw as socialistic answers to the economic problems - that did not represent the real voice of most Americans. And that majority - made up of millions of those in need - gave Roosevelt landslide presidential victories four times.

Bush, of course, has none of the hold on America's voters that Roosevelt had. Indeed, in looking at his election, one can say that he holds on only by a slender thread.

But Bush, at least since Sept. 11, has used his presidential authority like a chief executive who has been given a mandate by the voters. Many Americans like this strong expression of leadership. In fact, Bush's performance ratings - although declining lately - are still considered to be respectable for a president in his third year in office.

What's behind the high pitch of opposition to the president is the feeling held by many, if not most, Democrats since the 2000 election that Bush, helped by a GOP-biased Supreme Court, stole the presidency from Al Gore.

Those Democrats were angry then, but Bush's valiant response to Sept. 11 dampened the embers of that fiery dissent. Then the continuing loss of life of our soldiers in Iraq, along with the economy - that, despite the recent surge in growth, is still marked by widespread joblessness - have rekindled the strong feeling among millions of voters that Bush's presidency is illegitimate.

And that anti-Bush feeling has become increasingly personal in the way it's expressed. Comedian Al Franken, one of the president's most brutal critics, is an extreme but pertinent example of the way anti-Bush thinking mutates exponentially from political to personal. He explained his position relating to Bush the other night on TV, saying he didn't "hate" Bush - it's just that he bitterly opposed the president on several issues ... and thinks the president is a liar.

Roosevelt governed with a strong mandate coming from an emotionally loyal majority of Americans who believed his reforms had revitalized the country and, often, even saved their lives. Therefore, his continuing in office always seemed a safe assumption. The angry critics remained, but they were never able to toss FDR out.

Bush, however, has only a slight hold on an American voter majority - if even that. The angry Democrats who, increasingly, bash this president could be the hard core of a Democratic force that overturns Bush in the next election.

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