Where Sullivan is absolutely right is to call Bush a liberal. For in repudiating the corrupted values of both the post-moral left and the reactionary appeasers of the right, Bush has indeed exhibited the classic liberal desire to build a better society, along with the characteristic liberal optimism that such a project can and must succeed.
And this is surely why Bush is so hated by the left. For this hatred wildly exceeds the normal dislike of a political opponent. It is as visceral and obsessive as it is irrational. At root, this is surely because Bush has got under the skin of the post-moral left in a way no true conservative ever would. And this is because he has stolen their own clothes and revealed them to be morally naked. He has exposed the falseness of their own claim to be liberal. He has revealed them instead to be reactionaries, who want both to preserve the despotic and terrorist status quo abroad and to go with the flow of social and moral collapse at home, instead of fighting all these deformities and building a better society.
The writer Michael Novak comes close to saying this in an article for National Review. Seeking to explain the ‘orgy of hatred’ for Bush indulged by the left, Novak pinpoints the real target of this hatred which is the ‘neo-conservatives’ with whom Bush is bracketed:
‘Then, too, the Left has developed a tic about neoconservatives. These former leftists (for a former leftist is what a neoconservative is, of the first generation anyway) do have a vision of the future, a bright vision to rival that of the Left. They fight the Left, ideology for ideology, policy proposal for policy proposal, class analysis for class analysis. The neoconservatives side with the conservatives on most issues, but with an attitude, and an aim, and a determination. They are, in the life of the intellect, warriors. Their sharpest weapon is the reality check. That is their comparative advantage over the Left. They have been “mugged by” and won over to reality. The Left has lost argument after argument to the neoconservatives for the past 20 years — has proved to be on the wrong side of reality on issue after issue — and hence reserves for the neoconservatives a special loathing. George W. Bush turns out to have been far closer to the neoconservatives (though he is not one) than Ann Richards and Al Gore ever believed possible. True enough, he is no intellectual, and would not want to be one. Still, his mind is quicker, of a more tempered steel, and honed to a more acute practicality than lazy-minded leftists before 2001 ever allowed themselves to imagine. They “misunderestimated” him then, and still do.’