Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Nightmare Ends: Assessing Eight Years of Bush

On Tuesday, George W. Bush will ride off into the long sunset after eight years in the White House. He’ll retire to his stately Texas manor and live out the remainder of his days with Laura and his trusted dog, Barney. His daddy’s oil money has ensured that he and all future generations of Bushes won’t have to worry about seven percent unemployment or whether they’ll have to fight some other president’s needless war.

I’ve thought for years about what I’d write when the George W. Bush presidency came to a close. I had not yet entered high school when Bush first assumed office. His last day in the White House will the same day I start my last semester of college. The Bush Years have occupied the most important years of my development from teenager to adult, spanning my schooling in Bartlett, Conway and Durham.

So now that it’s here, I’m struggling to sum up these Bush Years. Maybe I’m having difficulty because all these things—all this—is just so much bigger than me, and so hard to understand in totality.

The depth and breadth of the treachery, dishonesty and shamefulness of his administration has left me spellbound. The sheer number of atrocities committed under Bush’s watch is impossible to calculate at this time, and won’t be known in full for potentially decades to come. What I do know is this: Bush was so bad that for a period of time he made me not care about politics, something I never thought would happen after falling in love with it at the age of six. Worse yet, he made me feel embarrassed to be an American by cheapening everything we hold dear about it.

Let me begin by saying I’ve never really thought George W. Bush was that bad of a guy. He was reelected in 2004 based on the premise that voters would rather “have a beer” with Bush than John Kerry (a moot point considering Bush hasn’t had a drink in over 20 years). I’m sure, based on my observations of him over most of the last decade, that Bush is probably a fun guy, a nice guy, and a respectful guy. You’d like to hang out with him just because he might say something hilarious.

I have plenty of problems with Bush the President, but my problems with Bush the Man have to do with his lack of curiosity and inability to move off his stubborn beliefs (like the ludicrous assumption that terrorists want to kill us because they “hate freedom” when the truth lies in our unwelcome militaristic presence in their part of the world). I also don’t think Bush is a strong judge of character, and most of the reason why we’re in this mess is because of the people with whom he surrounded himself.

I’ll get to that later. There’s a lot of other disappointment and anger we need to get through first.

Bush, his minions, and his supporters have clamored for years about how the administration has kept us safe from a domestic terror attack since 9/11. They never mention how Bush had intelligence at his desk five weeks before the attacks in the form of a CIA briefing entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.” Bush brushed aside the intelligence, doing nothing while a plot to invade Iraq had already been hatched.

9/11 stopped the world, and everyone’s eyes turned to the new president. In the weeks following the most horrific world event of my lifetime, Bush helped bring the nation together. That four-to-six week period after the attacks was the only time in eight years that I actually liked President Bush.

With overwhelming public goodwill, his administration devised the USA-PATRIOT Act, the ill-named legislation that cut down civil liberties and smacked of the Alien and Sedition Acts of the Adams administration. Between this, warrentless wiretapping, and the suspension of habeas corpus for “enemy combatants” at Gitmo, I find it amazing that Bush could launch two wars in the name of our freedom while trampling on our Constitution and freedoms so many times at home.

(A fascinating aspect of Bush’s presidency is the initiatives, projects and actions with names that actually accomplished the opposite of what they were to nominally set out to do. The USA-PATRIOT Act restricted freedoms; the Clear Skies Act hoped to reduce air pollution controls; the No Child Left Behind Act has left millions upon millions of children behind; and Operation Iraqi Freedom has not created much freedom for thousands of Iraqis, not to mention the thousands of other Iraqis dead as a result of the conflict).

Despite there being no connection whatsoever between Iraq and al-Qaeda, Bush and his lackeys never believed it. Well, maybe they believed it, but they didn’t bother to tell us. Bush left Colin Powell, the most respected member of his Cabinet, out to dry by forcing him to spew mountains of bullshit in front of the international community about Iraq. We were going to war, and I was along for the ride. I believed what the administration told me, partially because they put the trusted Powell out front and because I had faith their intelligence was right.

Within a few months, I would know better than to put faith in any aspect of the administration ever again.

I watched from a hotel room in Concord in March 2003 has the Shock and Awe campaign destroyed Baghdad. We marched to “victory,” and in May our fearless leader proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” from an aircraft carrier. In case you didn’t believe him, there was a huge banner on the carrier emblazoned with just those words. Yet over 98 percent of overall casualties from this war have occurred since Bush spoke on the aircraft carrier.

The more important war, that one in Afghanistan, was forgotten in many ways. We allowed the people who really attacked us to hide in the mountains, and the Taliban has now returned stronger than ever.

Osama Bin Laden still walks free seven years after 9/11.

Bush handed out no-bid contracts to his buddies in the business world when it came to rebuilding the country he destroyed (that’s Iraq I’m referring to, not the U.S., although there’s still time). There was never a plan to win the peace. Servicemen and women were asked to stay for long tours while the government they pledged allegiance to cut their health benefits. The Bush administration has failed to live up to many (if not most) of the mistakes committed in our most important military action since Vietnam. All the public faith Bush had surrounding the war at its start disappeared by the end of 2003.

Our nation developed a reckless foreign policy that alienated us from the rest of the world. “You’re either with us, or against us” just doesn’t win you a lot of friends in the international community. Similarly, the Bush Doctrine (listen up, Governor Palin) of preemptive war went against every American militaristic principle handed down through the ages. Of course, it was never like Bush to examine, or care, about history, so there’s little reason to be surprised.

Bush put hacks like Paul Bremer in important decision-making roles following the invasion. You may recall Bremer as the genius who unilaterally dissolved Saddam Hussein’s army without disarming them, a move that ensured the years-long Iraqi insurgency. But Bremer is only one of probably hundreds of Bush administration officials so incompetent, corrupt, or just plain evil that, once again, my mind reels.

A about a year ago Bill Maher proclaimed on his show that our country was so screwed up because Bush put mediocre people in important positions to make himself feel better about his own inadequacy.

His second attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, had no business occupying such an important office. He apparently suffered from amnesia during Senate testimony about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. In case you’d forgotten that scandal (so many to keep track of, I know), the Justice Department fired these eight attorneys in 2006 so they could put in lawyers more loyal to Bush, a grievous breach of the line between politics and the justice system.

Bush tried to nominate Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court in 2005. Miers had never even been a judge before, but because she was part of Bush’s Texas inner circle, that qualified her to be a Supreme Court justice. The nomination was such an embarrassment that Miers herself begged Bush to withdraw her from consideration.

The list goes on. Mike “you’re doin’ a heckuva job, Brownie” Brown’s name has become synonymous with government incompetence. Bush probably never figured Brownie would manage any serious emergencies as the head of FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Oops.

Condoleezza Rice, for all her pre-2001 hype, proved to be nothing more than a Bush enabler as National Security Adviser and one of the most unremarkable Secretaries of State in U.S. history.

Scott McClellan was only good at looking sweaty and uncomfortable as press secretary, and his tell-all book begged the question, “Why didn’t he speak up sooner?”

Tom Ridge seems like a nice guy, and a good public servant, but why Bush thought he was qualified to be the first Homeland Security Secretary is beyond comprehension. Then again, I’m sure people eventually found good use for all that duct tape and plastic sheeting.

It’s hard to imagine history being kind to the three men who, in my opinion, were the true brains behind the Bush presidency: Don Rumsfeld, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

As I wrote upon learning of his resignation following the mid-term 2006 elections, Rumsfeld “will be written about in American history books for posterity to learn how government leaders should not conduct themselves. Not only did this man create a war plan to be remembered for generations as senseless and terrible, he came across at all times as being uncooperative, insensitive, agitating, and, for all intents and purposes, a complete asshole.” Rumsfeld was the face of the Iraq War, and what a face that was. One of his lasting indiscretions will be the endorsement of torture techniques against prisoners at Abu Ghraib, stating it was OK to make prisoners stand four hours at a time as an interrogation method when he himself stood for “eight to ten hours a day.” Unbelievable.

Karl Rove once spoke in frightening terms about creating a “permanent Republican majority.” Thankfully, that didn’t work out so well. Rove was the mad political genius who shaped Bush’s rise and was personally responsible for the endless cycle of bullshit emanating from the White House during his tenure there.

Whenever something shifty or underhanded happened involving this administration, it always seemed Rove had something to do with it. The most egregious of these actions, in my opinion, came in the form of the Plame Affair.

When Joe Wilson, an American diplomat and retired ambassador, publicly called BS on Bush’s claims that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger, the White House leaked the covert identity of Wilson’s CIA-operative wife, Valerie Plame, to Bob Novak. It was Dick Armitage who told Novak, and eventually Scooter Libby took the fall (until Bush commuted his sentence, of course). But Rove’s fingerprints were all over this, and I’m still angry he was never truly held accountable. By blowing Plame’s cover as revenge for Wilson’s dismissal of part of the argument for the Iraq War, Rove and the other officials involved committed an act tantamount to treason. Yet only Libby was (kind of) punished for lying under oath. Somehow, Rove came away unscathed.

Mention of Libby, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff, brings us inevitably to Richard Bruce Cheney, who’ll always be a Dick to everyone who observed him.

I can’t think of a worse example of a major public official than Dick Cheney. He lurked in the shadows, appeared smug and unforgiving in interviews, never laughed or smiled (except in the most satanic way possible), gave little regard to the Constitution, and never seemed to care what anyone thought about him. He even became the first VP since Aaron Burr to shoot a guy in office and get away with it.

I’m most scared about what’s happened with Cheney because he set precedents for his office that could have detrimental effects. The Vice President is not supposed to set policy for an entire administration. The Vice President is not supposed to cut backroom deals with energy companies over environmental legislation. The Vice President is not supposed to have the final say on issues where, you know, the President needs to have final say. I’m afraid of how a young, ambitious future Vice President could use Cheney’s precedents for vile purposes.

I'll be happy these people will soon be out of our lives. They are mostly going to be footnotes in history, with Bush as the central figure to be remembered. I’ll certainly remember how Bush is leaving office, beginning with the fabled shoe-throwing incident. I thought his indifference to what happened (“So what if a guy threw his shoe at me?”) wound up being the perfect precursor to the futility of his final public appearances. Not finding WMD’s in Iraq was characterized as a “disappointment” and nothing else. His last press conference was a delusional, shameful, un-presidential event highlighted by mock whining. His last address to the nation made Dick Cheney briefly fall asleep, and the term “grasping for straws” came to mind when listening to Bush’s attempts at championing whatever good things he’d done in eight years.

Truth be told, we deserve the government we get. Sure, Bush stole the election the first time, but 51% of Americans apparently thought very, VERY little of John Kerry. The strategy to keep Bush in office, as primarily concocted by Rove, can be summed up in one word: fear. If we don’t keep Bush in office, we’re all gonna die. The “you’re either with us or against us” foreign policy strategy was flown into the campaign with devastating results. People (a lot of people) actually bought it. I’ll never understand how it worked, or how my party could let it happen.

Less than a year after the election came the tragic mishandling of the Katrina disaster, and I wrote that we “desperately need new leadership in this country.” Short of a California-style recall (no way would the ball-less Democratic Congress bring impeachment charges despite numerous opportunities), I’d never get my wish.

For the remainder of his presidency, Bush’s approval ratings hovered somewhere from the mid-20s to the mid-30s, among the lowest in history. No wonder the 2008 election really started in 2006.

I resolved following Katrina that I would not let Bush bring me down anymore. I couldn’t get so upset every time something bad happened because otherwise I’d give myself a heart attack before I could legally drink. I stopped caring. I stopped following politics. It just wasn’t worth it.

The President of the United States was no longer worth my time.

Of course, I couldn’t stay away for long. How else would I have been able to write all this?

And even though I’ve already written over 2,500 words, there’s so much I can’t and won’t get into in the depth it deserves. Bush completely sold out the environment in the name of big business, ignoring scientific truths about global warming and placing profit before planet. Speaking of ignoring science, his administration put the brakes on stem cell research that could have saved many lives. Bush endorsed the deregulation of the financial system that led to our current economic malaise, not to mention the deregulation of oil speculation that drove up gas prices. Bush’s tax cuts only benefited the very wealthy, and we’ve perhaps seen the end of the absurd “trickle-down” theory of economics. Bush vetoed few spending bills in eight years and caused members of his own party to pull their hair out as a result. There’s so much more I could say on these and so many more topics, but I think my point is clear.

The biggest lesson that I hope we can learn from Bush is “never again.” Never again can we allow this to happen. My generation needs to lead the charge in never again letting someone become president who is too incompetent to lead and too idiotic to care what we think. We can never again go down this road. For my generation, we can never forget these eight years and the dangers associated with poor national leadership.

But it’s still too much, and too soon, to fully make sense of it all. I suppose I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering what could have happened, how much progress as a nation we could have made but missed out on because of one man. It’s amazing to think with all the things we have at our disposal, as the greatest nation on earth, that in the first decade of the new millennium we took such a huge step backward.

As a nation, and a people, “George W. Bush” is a name that will haunt us forever. But the great thing about America is that every four or eight years we can start over. On Tuesday, we’ll start over. It will take a long time to heal from the maelstrom of negativity that we’ve experienced.

But we’re Americans. We survive. But we can never forget.

3 comments:

Cameron Kittle said...

Great work. An entertaining and horrifyingly true assessment of Bush's presidency. As for your comment on my recent Wings post, here is my response:

100% correct. All of what you said is entirely true. The Bruins' goaltending has been superior and probably will stay superior to both the Sharks and Wings come playoff time.

But, I won't back away from my point because I realize I did not choose my words carefully enough. I meant that after having watched that game, there was no doubt in my mind that the Sharks or Wings would be able to manhandle the best in the East, which I assume right now to be the Bruins, and I still feel that way. But it is my mind and my opinion and I realize that.

And I'm not responding just to shove my thoughts down your throat, because the evidence right now points to the exact opposite judging by head-to-head meetings, which I well know. I respond because I was glad to see that you stood up for your team...it's nice to see that hockey intensity coming out of someone in the Boston area other than Kyle. And that's the beauty of sports...it's all speculation until a champion is crowned.

Nice stats too. See ya tomorrow...I'll be there around 2 or 3.

andy_campbell said...

Jake, that was an awesome summation that I couldn't have written better myself. Thanks for wrapping it all up like that.

BartronBB said...

Hey, Jake - great job! I agree whole-heartedly with your comment about never knowing the depths of the treachery of the Bush administration...sad, isn't it? However, I must take acception to your charge to YOUR generation to lead the charge...it's the duty of all Americans, regardless of age, to make sure they are truly informed before walking into a voting booth. Unfortunately, too many are ignorant of the fact that along with the RIGHT to vote come the RESPONSIBILITY of knowing what you're voting for. But thank you for a wonderful summation...just as an aside, I've read your sports pieces, and your news articles...political commentary seems to be your forte - have you ever heard that before??? lol