Frustrated by the campus climate and skeptical of anti-Bush claims that struck me as outlandish, I did a foolish thing: I let my preference for who would win the presidency be influenced—though not wholly determined—by the emotional satisfaction I’d get from seeing people who annoyed me lose the election.
Of course, the candidate I preferred on the issues did win. But my behavior as a voter sent the message that an unimpressive man, drafted by the party apparatus, could help his chances at being elected by provoking hyperbolic criticism and cannily taking umbrage. The Bush Administration exploited that tactic to such spectacular, damaging effect later on that I am loath to admit my complicity in the schadenfreude, even all these years later. ~Conor Friedersdorf
Conor makes several interesting points in this article, but this is the most important one. Even though I was not a Bush voter and voted for Buchanan, I have to admit that my contempt for Clinton and Gore was so strong in 2000 that I was quite pleased when Gore finally conceded defeat. I was no Bush partisan, but even then I could see that he was somewhat preferable to McCain, who promises once again to be much worse than Bush once in power, so Bush seemed the least awful of the lot of them. What many conservatives would prefer to forget now is how much worse by virtually every measure Bush has been compared to Clinton, and Clinton was certainly no prize, which should be a humbling realization for anyone who thinks visceral reactions should guide political behavior. The desire to see Clinton and Gore suppporters disappointed and outraged combined with a politics of contempt for these politicians, fueled by my distaste for the leading Democrats, worked to distort my assessment of Bush in at least the first few months of his administration. That he launched an airstrike on Iraq within weeks of assuming office should have told me something about the obsession with that country that would cost us so much, but at that point I was still in thrall to my contempt for Gore. If there is one last thing for which I blame Clinton, it is how easy he made it to despise him and his backers and how he helped pave the way for the appalling joke of a President we currently have.
Delighting in lamentations is a strong temptation, and it is one the selection of Palin was designed to provoke, as there is a powerful urge to cheer on Palin if it turns the likes of Mark “Obama is a Lightworker” Morford into more of an incoherent, sputtering buffoon than he already was. Even so, we all know that this is a ridiculous way to respond. It makes your loyalties hostage to the most idiotic of your opponents, and it compels you to ignore your interests and any semblance of independent thought. I would add another point–even those who seem to break from the herd and back a candidate from “the other side” to repudiate all the worst elements on your own “side” are falling prey to what Conor calls the politics of Schadenfreude, as an important part of the rationale for conservatives backing Obama or conservative Democrats backing McCain is not that these candidates better represent them but that they function as scourges for elements in their own party that they find appalling. We hear it all the time–an Obama victory would be a judgement on the neocons, or Democratic defections would be a repudiation of Obama’s progressivism–and somehow we do not see it as part of the same moral blackmail that keeps the two-party system functioning. If we voted our interests and paid no mind to the kinds of people who would be outraged by the victory of one candidate or another, we would quickly realize that neither party represents us and serves mainly as a rallying point for our undefined grievances against other people, most of whom we have never met.