My relationship with Bush.

January 20, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More

Instead of taking this day to reflect on the Inauguration and the eminent change facing us,  how oh-so different everything is going to be, and every other overstated bit of hopeful drivel with which the internet is still a-buzzing, I’d like to muse on my relationship with the outgoing president. Sure, jabbing at Bush is about as original as rejoicing in Obama- snore, snore, I know- but I don’t intend to focus on Bush’s “thousand of tactical errors”. I want to focus on the personal element of Bush’s presidency, namely how his many foibles have shaped my own political maturity. I hope others will follow suit and engage in this exercise.

I was an apolitical little preteen- weren’t we all?- at the dawn of the Bush years. From 2000, I have this fuzzy, vague memory of a hard-fought campaign and a lengthy legal scuffle that eventually culminated in the naming of a President. I come from a family of tacitly Republican people, so I recall their mumblings that Al Gore needed to “stop whining” and let Bush have the presidency that he clearly deserved. The extensive election coverage bored my preadolescence brain, so I was inclined to agree. Let’s get this thing over with.

I think most young adults have a natural hatred of politicians- preteens are so brazenly authentic about their abundant, silly feelings that they hate any glimmer of fakeness, and politicians positively shimmer with the stuff. So while I did agree that Gore needed to “stop whining”, I didn’t exactly gush with Bush-love either. I was apathetic, like most of my peers, and I wanted politics to be subdued and relatively unimportant, so that it would stay out of my way. I had Pokemons to catch, for Christ’s sake.

The first few Bush years proved personally uneventful. 9/11 did not carry much political weight for me. I remember the freakout at school, the parents who rushed to collect their kids and take them away to some semblance of safety, and the kids who wept and worried. But I was 13 when this happened, which for me was a pretty heartless age. For me and for many people my age, 9/11 is an event experienced and remembered in only a very declarative sense.

Perhaps if 9/11 had truly rocked me the way that it had rocked others, I would have developed some form of Bush appreciation. Maybe I would have found him comforting or resilient, because maybe I would have needed some comfort and resilience. Instead, I saw him as another goofy faker, a politician playing the day’s current events for his advantage. 9/11 had only one powerful political effect on me: the day inspired my mother’s habit of watching Fox New Channel for hours, every day of the week.

At this point I felt like a political outsider, but one without any context. I found Bush and the other super-patriotic Republicans absolutely obnoxious, but I didn’t really possess any opinions of my own. My distaste was totally impotent. It could have remained that way- I know plenty of cynical people my age, who hate the political game without being able to name any of the players or explain the rules. Bush changed this.

My first real political revelation came during one of Bush’s State of the Union addresses. My mom probably watched the speech on Fox News, with a scrolling ticker of misinformation chugging away all the while. I probably sat before the television, half-listening while playing Legend of Zelda– I don’t remember. I just recall shooting up with outrage as Bush mentioned a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage.

For whatever reason, I had the opinions of a social liberal from the very start. It tore me apart to think that the sexual preferences of some innocent people were made out to be disgusting and menacing. I saw no logic in banning gay marriage, or in failing to protect gay Americans from hate crimes and discrimination. The lack of a rational explanation for homophobia made me burn with fury- no one says hateful things about foot fetishists, or swingers, or anyone else; why are gays so attacked? I had formed my first passionate, explicable political opinion. Eureka.

For quite a while, I could define my politics by everything that I hated about conservative Republicans. I hated their religiosity, their homophobia, their contempt for science, their disregard for the first amendment. That meant that I cared about free thought, LGBT rights, science and civil liberties enough to become enraged. This was before I started thinking about economics- it still went over my head at the time, but I had found a pretty easy political compass- if religious republicans feel a certain way, I probably feel the opposite.

In that vein, I probably owe Bush for my foreign policy preferences, too. Foreign policy probably would have been a boring issue worthy only of teenage apathy if Bush and company hadn’t decided to wage two massive wars. Through the observation of war’s failings, I learned my own dislike for the thing. Disapproval of Bush’s foreign policy also made his presidency a much more dire issue, no longer the small potatoes of domestic social issues. The man and his cronies toyed with life and death, and vast amounts of money.

I turned 16 in 2004; far too young to vote. But I was inflamed with an anyone-but-Bush mentality, and I tried to put the energy to good use. I registered voters at malls and at school, I blabbed on and on about my thin grasp of politics. I even volunteered for Kerry’s campaign.

I didn’t think about Kerry much as a candidate- it satisfied me that he was not Bush. I supported the practical not-Bush candidate, rather than betting on a candidate I actually liked. I mocked Ralph Nader supporters- don’t they know he doesn’t have a chance? I missed the point entirely.

I remember sitting in the Kerry campaign’s local office on election night, watching the results seep in. The exit poll numbers had assured everyone in the room that Kerry would take Ohio. The room bustled with anticipation, and I felt real excitement at the possibility of ousting Bush. As we all know, this fantasy unraveled pretty quickly. Inaccurate numbers, broken voting machines, and general Ohio-bred election tomfoolery triumphed over our intentions.

As it turned out, both parties had taken part in some serious tomfoolery: the Republicans quashed Libertarian efforts, while the Ohio Democrats went after the Greens. The election was not just, and both parties deserve blame for the mess. Retrospect tells us that even if Kerry had won, he would have made an underwhelming president. I’ve regretted my foolhardy support of the two-party system ever since that election.

I dragged my feet for the remaining Bush term. That brings us to today. It’s over now! Woo! Sorry, but my feelings on the matter are not that simple. The damage of the Bush presidency still lies before us. Obama will not necessarily bring us all puppies and kittens and confetti and cupcakes. It’s serious-business time.

Bush’s presidential service alienated me from Republicans, but the 2004 election aftermath alienated me from politics-at-large. I feel relief that the scouring pain of the Bush years have ended, but I still await the sting of the antiseptic. Infection could still set in. We now have a president that is decidedly not-Bush, but hopefully the Bush years have taught us to hold our President to a higher standard than that alone. Hopefully the Bush years have taught us to all express our political qualms loudly and often, no matter who the source of the qualms is.

Embarrassing as they were, the Bush years molded me as a politically aware person. Without Bush’s lengthy first election, I might have not recognized politicians as obnoxious and pandering. Without Bush’s homophobia, I might not have discovered my own socially liberal leanings. If Bush hadn’t flubbed Iraq so poorly, I might have remained utterly bored with foreign policy. If Bush hadn’t defeated Kerry, I might still consider myself a sort of Democrat.

I owe Bush, oddly, for almost all of my political awareness. The Bush presidency helped spark the Christian conservatism that made me an embittered heathen. The Bush presidency made me the kind of person who didn’t vote for either Obama or McCain, but for the person I really wanted (even if they could not win). The Bush Presidency has made me tentatively pleased with Obama’s election anyway.  The Bush Presidency made me a cynical observer of politics and a critic of mainstream media, almost out of necessity. While I have no gratitude for the journey, and I take relish in the perspective it has given me. So…thanks for that, W?

Has the Bush Presidency taught us all something or another, in a perverse way? I’d love to hear from anyone who has walked away from the trainwreck of the last eight years with something meaningful.

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Category: American Culture, Corruption, Current Events, Religion, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (2)

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    The Bush presidency has taught me much about human nature. I've seen an excuse for government that used fear, coercion, and disinformation to pit the common people against each other, while they went about the work of fighting democracy at home and abroad. I've seen neighbors arrested, peoples opinions censored, hate crimes encouraged against individuals by political leaders, and through this smoke screen, I've seen wholesale transference of government into the control of the private sector. All for the massive benefit of a few people at great expense to the public.

    The national "Psyche" is severely damaged. It will take a very long time to undo the damages done over the last eight years. We may never be completely healed.

    However, in spite of all of the lies, fear , and distrust that the Bush administration nurtured so well, it became apparent that a majority of the people decided to see with their own eyes and not through the jaded filter of FOX news. They decided to think for themselves rather than accept what the conservatives told them to think.

    It is comforting to think that we do have a chance at a future as a democracy.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika: Just like Bush defined you in various ways, he defined me. It was my frustration with the many things that irk you about Bush that provoked me to create this blog. But also like you, I have tempered my anger and decided that being anti-SOMETHING is not a dependable program. Hence, there is much work to do in the coming years, nationally and individually, and choosing the not-the-way-Bush-would-have-done-it path will not be productive. Bush was a terrible president in many ways, so, yes, we want to avoid doing things the way he did them (or the way he failed to do them). But once we set aside the Bush version of dysfunction, we are faced with numerous productive (and semi-productive) approaches to dealing with every major issue facing this country.

    So, yes, out with the old! Out with bigotry, xenophobia, corruption, narrow-mindedness, proud ignorance, elitism, and all versions of fundamentalism.

    In with a new day and a chance to redefine the problems we are facing, which will, hopefully, trigger new real-life solutions to those problems.

    You have also raised a deep question of how many of us allow ourselves to be defined by what we see as dysfunctional humans. That has happened in a major way several times in my life. Perhaps it's the work of a negative availability heuristic . . .

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