Legacy

January 14, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

I watched a good portion of Bush’s last press conference and couldn’t help thinking it was an audition for the part of a recovering junkie recently fallen off the wagon.  It wasn’t the words so much as the body language and facial expressions that held my attention.  Surreal?  Hasn’t the whole sad thing been surreal?

The question is, does any of it make sense?  You can disagree with presidents all through history, but in the end almost all of them served their presumed constituency.  Even Reagan.  Which is one reason so few of them end up with terrible legacies.  It was those who could not seem to define either their constituency or how to serve that constituency who have been relegated to the sidelines with bad notices.  Buchanan, who could seem to do nothing constructive even when faced with clear choices, and ended up leaving office with a divided nation on the brink of civil war, serving no one.  Millard Fillmore, who set the stage for Buchanan’s disastrous fence-sitting with the Compromise of 1850, a package of slave state laws that, rather than smoothing out sectional differences, exaccerbated them by not taking a uniform stand.  Hayes, whose entire administration was haunted by the finagling by which he gained the White House.  Nixon, who, although doing many positive things during his tenure, ended by nearly destroying the very democracy he had sworn to serve.

Many of these presidents could be said to have ruled by the maxim of “It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.”  But surely, one could say, they had to have some idea that they weren’t doing a particularly good job.   Watching Bush defend himself in his last press conference sort of denies that.  He doesn’t seem to get it.

In response to a question about his actions with Katrina, he wondered aloud if he could have done something different, like maybe land Air Force One in New Orleans or Baton Rouge.  Does he really not understand that his appointment of a subpar administrator to FEMA and the gutting of FEMA’s budget over the previous several years led to the Federal Government’s inability to effectively respond?  Once the levies broke, what could he have done differently?

He brags about his AIDS effort, but said nothing about his continual subversion of anykind of sensible prophylaxis policy regarding either Africa or the United States—where the distribution, education of use, and implimentation of rational clinical practices might have gone toward stemming the spread of AIDS (condoms among other things) he boasts that he has helped close the barn door after the horses have fled.

(I don’t want to minimize the benefit of his increased funding for drug programs in Africa—it is a very big deal.  An especially big deal for a president whose base oncludes people who exhibit retrogade thinking about matters of sexuality, some of whom see AIDS as divine punishment.  But it’s still after the fact.)

His eyes drifted around the room as if searching for something.  Then abruptly he would focus on a reporter and get aggressive about “What would you have done?”

It is clear that he can’t wait to go home.  He’s all but moved out of the White House and Obama is all but actually running the country.

I did not feel pleased that Bush is leaving.  Relieved, maybe.  Mainly I felt sad.  About the whole thing.  That he’s out of office is all to the good at this point—he’s made himself effectively useless—but I can find no space to gloat.  In my opinion he ought not to have been re-elected in ’04.   I am sad for the country.  And by extension for the world.  Bush has left a huge mess.  No matter how hard Obama works, we ought not to expect more from him than that he stop the plummet.  Recovery is another matter.

Bush’s presidency is marked by bully politicking.  He badgered people, bullied them, threatened them, fired them when they got in his way (if he could), allowed his subordinates to practice the most vicious form of “not invented here, it’s not welcome” ideological triage I have ever seen.  Many of the people who stood up to him over 8 years are finding places in the Obama administration (the former general who told them all that they were underestimating the troop levels that Iraq would require is about to be head of the Veteran’s Administration—he was forced to resign after Rumsfeld complained about him and his “defeatism”) and these are quite a roster of competent men and women.  It was as if Bush couldn’t stand anyone in his administration who could do their job better than he could.  The Valarie Plame affair, which has yet to be satisfactorily resolved in my mind, was the most blatant form of this mindset in recent memory.

And we have on record his vice president declaring that he approved water boarding as an interrogating method, claiming that they had a memo from the OLA that it was not a violation of international law.

Bullies.  Small minded people.  Narrow in scope, broad in prejudice, with a notion about what the world ought to be like and be damned what it actually is.

And George stands before all, vacillating, uncertain, at times clearly wishing he was somewhere else, other times on the offensive, beligerant, cracking bad jokes, and making excuses for policy decisions the problems with which he seems not to grasp.

I cannot imagine the dinner table conversation in the Bush household once he’s home.

And there are Republicans out there who believe he has done well, that they can regain their dominance (not Newt Gingrich—for all that I find his politics the polar opposite of mine, I do not underestimate his intelligence or perception—who says the Republicans threw their success away with both hands), that they are simply misunderstood and this current rise in Democratic fortunes is an abberation.

They must believe that Americans like war, like tax system that favors the wealthy and provides no services or relief for the poor, that an educational system that basically discounts schools and children who don’t come up to their standards and then refuses to acknowledge that they exist is a good system, that people who know how to increase a bottomline by shipping jobs and money offshore are somehow patriotic, that….

And that health care is only for those who can afford it directly out of their own pocket.

We should ask if we are collectively that stupid.

The Bush Administration played a shell game over 8 years, one that played on the public fear of labels (it’s Socialism!) and class resentments, that played on an inability to separate truth from facade, that banked on the general lack of understanding about the difference between morality and ideology, that frightened us into turning blind eyes to the most basic abuses of our national values (torture is torture, I don’t care how many towers They knock down),  that relied on our inability to count.  At the end, what did they leave us with?

A trillion dollar deficit (the Iraq War was supposed to be over in a few months and cost around 50 billion dollars, after which the Iraqis would pay for their own security); a collapsed financial system (the plunder was abetted by lack of oversight, a further underfunding of the SEC, and a Free Market trade policy that saw foreign pillage of American industry); an educational system that teaches less and tests more, leaving many kids out in the cold in terms of what they actually know (those states or districts which have turned this around, many of them have dropped out of No Child Left Behind); and an energy policy that is playing catch-up, spurred not by governmental leadership but by those entrepreneurs who, here and there, actually have a conscience; the United States of America’s lowest moral standing in global politics since Vietnam.

It may be that Bush wanted to be president to show Daddy that he was all growed up, but that only explains so much.  It may well be that his only mission was to reseal the archives that might have told us Bush Senior’s role in Iran Contra, which W did almost immediately after his first inauguration.  But then what?

I think Bush found a love of campaigning.  That’s what his tenure has been marked by.  Constant campaigning.  Adminstrating, not so much.  Bush loved winning and to win you have to campaign.  Actually running things, he’s never been very good at.  But making the touchdown…he could do that.  And he gloried in it.  Better than anything else, and he fell into doing it naturally.  He was a better campaigner than Kerry.  Better than McCain.  Better than anybody.

But the campaign is over now and he has to explain the trail of destruction he’s left behind.

One last note about voters.  We have suffered enough from a misplaced Common Man syndrome.  Americans seem to disdain intellectuals, especially politicians who display some sophistication.  George W. Bush possessed all the common touch one could hope for.  Obama is clearly an intellectual.  Bush read 40 books last year.  Obama has written two of his own, and everywhere he goes a book is not far away.  I’m not sure if the signifcance can be measured, but I for one am weary of ignorance in power.  I hope we never get seduced by the image of being able to have a beer and brat with a presidential hopeful again.

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Culture, Current Events, Economy, Education, Energy, History, ignorance, Iraq, Law, law and order, Military, Noteworthy, Politics, Religion, Reproductive Rights, The Middle East, War

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (5)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    I agree 100%. Especially the part about the emotions connected with Bush leaving. It's truly sad. Hopefully the end of a debacle, though Obama will have to be superb to stop this country's spiral. To draw on another metaphor, the U.S. like a big ocean liner going fast in reverse.

    And yes, we need intelligence to turn this thing around. Let's start valuing smart people, not crafty people or cunning people or clever people, but smart people: People who can recognize the important tasks to be done and then to somehow get them done.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    The damage caused by the U.S. invasion of Iraq: the 1 Million Killed, 4.5 Million Displaced, 1-2 Million Widows and 5 Million Orphans. These are estimates by the U.N. These statistics appear in an article by John Tirman in Alternet. Tirman writes: "Now that Bush is gone, perhaps the United States can honestly face the damage we have wrought and the responsibilities we must accept from it."

  3. Hank says:

    Couldn't agree more. Bush trumpeting his AIDS credentials while at the same time pouring cash into "faith-based" initiatives at home, aimed at preventing teachers from even talking about sex except to say "don't do it and you won't have any problems" was particularly grating. The fact that his administration couldn't even look after his own people after Katrina spoke volumes as to the priorities and expertise of the people he put in charge.

    Sadness is also what I felt when he finally left. The last 8 years have just been a tragedy for the entire planet. My country got dragged into his wars. My countrymen have been killed and are still more at risk than they've ever been because of his witless de facto encouragement of terrorists across the globe. The world had been calling for his head for 8 years, but at the end of it I wasn't cheering. We all knew it had to end some time and it was almost anticlimactic when it happened. "OK, your 8 years are up, bye"…but that final press conference just rammed home what a clueless hick he truly is and what a total lack of appreciation he had for the magnitude of his role and his incompetence in it. He may well be the nicest feller you could ever sit down to a beer with, but running a superpower of over 300 million people isn't a job for George the AWOL National Guard cheerleading cokehead.

    The frightening thing is that someone even stupider than Bush almost made it to the Whitehouse this year, and you know I'm not talking about John McCain. Makes me wonder what the hell American voters are thinking. Is that film "Idiocracy" really so implausible?

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Hank, well said. It's like we were all frenzied and delusional for eight years. Now we've (many of us) woken up after the big crazy party and we have no one to be angry at other than ourselves. So we're not angry. We're clueless. In fact, we're rudderless. That "War on Terror" was very much defining us as a Nation. That's who we were: we fought those Islamic terrorists (and overindulged in 500 ways). Now we see that we greatly magnified the terrorism problem and we made it worse, not better.

    To make things worse, the recent hit on the economy was like the iceberg scraping through our hull. There's many days that it seems as though we're slowly going down while the band plays on the deck. There is so very much to do to save what is admirable about America yet there is no sense of urgency, except here and there.

  5. Hank says:

    Yep, the economic collapse was a clusterbomb a lot of people saw coming all over the world, even before the money-lenders started to implode. Probably a lot of people in the Whitehouse too, but it seems like the attitude was "by the time it hits we'll be long gone with nice pensions". The spiralling war costs, then joined by the housing bubble, sub-prime madness, deregulation of financial markets etc all made this perfect storm of financial recklessness which could only ever have had one outcome – the outcome now bequeathed to the Obama team, who'll be battling uphill for the next four years. And not just team Obama but the rest of the world! The US isn't the only place bailing out billionaire bankers who perhaps should have known better than to gorge themselves at a rapidly emptying trough. The US isn't the only economy looking down the barrel of deep, deep recession. Australian banks are still doing ok though and not asking for handouts from the government – some have often said that our system is way too conservative, but I think our history of fiscal conservatism proven itself this time around. I'm glad our government currently has a surplus to throw around!

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