January 19, 2009

George W. Bush: A Man Who Must Never Be Forgotten

Tuesday marks the end of the administration of President George Walker Bush. As has become traditional, during the closing weeks of his final term, Mr. Bush has sat for a number of interviews, given a farewell press conference, and even assembled a document entitled "100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration Record" (*.pdf) devoted to the topic of his legacy. The press, so often cowed and ineffective during the last 8 years, has been either indifferent or - continuing the pathetic fiction that "balance" means giving equal weight to both sides of an argument, no matter how clearly counter-factual one side may be - inclined to ask, in all seriousness no less, if George Bush will be remembered as a good president or a bad one.

President Bush's defenders note that he targeted aid to Africa, that he acted to conserve vast swaths of ocean territory, and that he "kept us safe" after the attacks of September 11, 2001. At first blush, these claims do indeed seem positive, but of these arguments for our outgoing chief executive, only marine conservation withstands more than the briefest scrutiny, especially when balanced against the genuinely staggering record of failure, venality, stupidity, arrogance and corruption that has been assembled by the White House since 2000.

While Mr. Bush poured money into African nations, he did so in a manner that supported all manner of despots and dictators and made programs to combat AIDS dependent on ineffective and ideologically-driven abstinence education. With regard to 9/11, one need only reflect that, not only has no link between the Bush Administration's policies and actions ever been established in preventing further terrorist attacks on the United States, but the anthrax mailings took place after September 11th and have never been solved.

More importantly still, the Clinton White House left clear warnings about al-Qaeda as they turned over the reins of power, and Mr. Bush's then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice ignored a presidential daily briefing called Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S. just weeks before aircraft were flown into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. It is no stretch to say that Mr. Bush completely failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the first attack by foreign terrorists on American soil, and he should be remembered more for that than any alleged successful defense of the homeland in the wake of 9/11.

President Bush's Approval Rating

Chart showing George Bush approval data from 2001 to the end of 2008

The simple fact is that George W. Bush is leaving office with the lowest approval rating of any president - including Nixon - ever recorded, and with very, very good reason. In this article at Salon, for instance, experts in seven fields quantify the toll in terms of dollars lost, lives forfeit, damage that will need to be undone, and ground that will have to be made up across the economy, infrastructure, Iraq, human rights, health care, Hurricane Katrina and climate change. On balance - even considering his best efforts in certain areas - Mr. Bush has cut a path of unprecedented destruction across the United States and the world.

In an effort to address attempts to put a shine on Mr. Bush's resume - and perhaps taking a cue from the presidential daily briefing fiasco - the excellent Jon Swift eviscerates arguments that President Bush has been a positive force for much of anything, summing up the 43rd president's record thus:
But of all the reviews of the Bush legacy that I have read, none has come close to nailing the historical importance of George W. Bush in the way that William Rivers Pitt does in a truly outstanding column entitled The Greatest Greatness of George W. Bush. (Please read the whole thing - I recommend it highly.) Mr. Pitt makes a compelling case for the way in which we must remember this president:
We the people are going to save you from ignominious oblivion. We will remember. You could be the president who doomed America, the worst president of all time, but we must not, will not let that happen. You will be remembered differently, because we will hold the memory of you high, and behold you, and say, "Never, never, never again." We have tasted the soot and smelled the blood on the wind; we have seen how fragile our way of government is when placed in the hands of low men such as you, and because of that, you will be remembered for all time.

Your greatness will be defined by how we rise to overcome and undo what you have done. Your greatness will stand forever if we never, ever forget the hard, bitter lessons you taught us. We are responsible for this republic, for our Constitution, and for each other. We are our brother's keeper. You taught us that by becoming our Cain. You nearly slew us, but here we stand, and we defy the place in history you would relegate us to. We defy you, and by doing so, we rise.

Something like you must never again be allowed to happen to this country, and if we save ourselves by preventing you from ever happening again, your greatness is assured. You are the tallest of all possible warnings, and a promise all of us must solemnly and stalwartly keep. If we can damn you to the past, we will save our own future.

May you live forever, you son of a bitch.
From where I sit, that could not be more on target. For at some point down the road - just as occurred with Richard Nixon - there will be an effort to rehabilitate the image, the actions - and yes, the legacy - of George W. Bush, and that must not be allowed to happen. Not out of feelings of anger or resentment - though they be entirely justified - but because America cannot withstand another president like him.

President-elect Obama is on a whistle-stop journey to his inauguration, and in Baltimore, he had this to say:

And yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not. What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that those first patriots displayed. What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives - from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry - an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.
If it took the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush to remind us of what is really important, and to forge the circumstances that have brought us the opportunity for a truly promising leader like Barack Obama, then some good will indeed have come from the last eight years. Because as my father often says, no man is total failure; he can always be held up as a bad example.

Still not convinced that the country has suffered mightily at the hands of George W. Bush? Keith Olbermann runs through the last eight years in eight minutes, below.


amy * stem * said...

Did you send this to the other ABI...Albert?

PBI said...

No, I never do...

lokywoky said...

How can we forget? The wingnuts will never let us!!

SCOTUS Chief John Roberts completely screwed up the oath of office and left half of it out. The trolls are already out in force claiming that since he (Obama) didn't say the thing right, that in addition to being a 'non-citizen' he has not really taken the oath of office and therefore, is not the President.

Never mind that the Oath is a completely ceremonial affair, and even if he never said it at all, he would still be the President - effective at noon today.

Oh well, something to keep us busy I suppose.

Happy Obama Inauguration Day!

PBI said...


I know -it's utterly ridiculous. I see myself resorting to a new catch-all phrase for addressing this behavior: "Quiet please. Adults are talking."

Unfortunately, I'll probably end up using it a lot!