Saturday, December 8, 2007

Bush in History

In 408 days, the Bush presidency will end. (That is, barring some wild Cheney/Rove spasm of historical exceptionalism, on a scale beyond even the Supreme Court appointment that marked the beginning of the regime.) And, we will blink in the dawn of a new era, wondering what in the hell that was about. And the Bush regime will begin to be placed into historical context.

Ironically, the proverb "History is written by the victors" has many attributions, reflecting the uncertainty and even falsity of much we accept as "history". A few more colossal military screw-ups, and our greatest President may have been recorded as the final and most inept President of the formerly United States. "What if" games can lead to all kinds of altered visions, with history's villains triumphant, and history's heroes vilified.

But the process of assessing presidents in the popular mind is far less binary. Nixon has become a paranoid, flawed master of foreign policy. Reagan is widely viewed as a dim-witted simpleton with a sunny smile who surrounded himself with corrupt thugs (though a few hold-outs still remember him as "morning in America"). Kennedy, well, heck, you can't even mention him in some circles without genuflecting, though serious study reveals a far less saintly Jack.

A common theme in presidential assessments is that truly negative views cannot hold. As Americans, we cannot stomach the thought that one of our leaders was actually a bad person. As noted above, even Nixon, who resigned when he hit the depths of disapproval to which Bush has sunk, has gained a more generous stature than anyone thought possible when he left office. At the time, he was a slimy, despicable crook, but now he has risen to a competent president with a flair for talking with the Chinese, whose fatal flaw was too much concern about being reelected.

The truth is that W needs an upgrade in reputation. The truth is, grade school students in 2050 aren't going to look at the large sheet of oval portraits, focus on Bush (he may attract attention for being the last in that consecutive string of white males) and learn what really happened. No teacher is going to stand there and say "At the turn of the Century, Democrats fell under the control of a bunch of incompetent, gutless party leaders, and the Republicans fell under the spell of the Christian right, and the voters elected Gore, but the Supreme Court preferred Bush, the war-criminal, who soon launched one understandable war and then one inexcusable, evil debacle that destroyed our country's standing in the world."

America in 2050 will not believe how bad Bush has been. We, as a country, need to believe that our path has been righteous, and always toward the light. We even gloss over the Spanish-American War these days, as a 6 month adventure in helping other countries gain their independence from Old Europe. In a few more years, the Bay of Pigs will either drop entirely out of mainstream history books, or be upgraded to a valiant effort that inspired the Cubans to hold on for another 50 years until Castro died.

My imagination fails me as to how we can remake W, though. He launched a brutal, bloody war against a country that had not attacked us and posed no threat to us, reprising the role of Hirohito. He gave us secret prisons and people "disappearing", ripping a page out of what we had thought was Stalin's playbook. He made us torturers, and rendered the Geneva Conventions "quaint", drawing from the Pol Pot genre. He accepted a presidency that wasn't his to accept, in the best tradition of tin-horn third-world "presidents". He played guitar while New Orleans drowned, like a modern-era Nero. How do we cobble together an acceptable portrait out of this historical Frankenstein of ill-chosen parts?

My suspicion and hope is that Bush will be remembered in the manner of Lyndon Johnson - a kind of forgotten war-time president whose focus was on a war he couldn't win or end. We'll have to forget that, unlike Johnson, Bush started his war, and chose it with an eagerness that led him to skew intelligence. We'll have to forget a whole lot about Bush.

It's going to be a slow, painful process to forget about Bush. Forgiveness of the person, of course, is going to be beyond the ability of many of us, but fixing what he has done to us will be difficult enough that it will provide plenty of distractions.

Some will read this and complain that it's not fair that Bush will get off lightly for his misdeeds. I agree - he's a war-criminal and an uncaring leader serving the interests of the wealthy. But history has never been a fair and just narrative. It's about creating a story we can live with. America will not be able to live with the truth of George W. Bush. In 408 days, we must begin to reinvent him.

8 comments:

Sphere of Ions said...

Since Dan Ryan found it necessary to duplicate this post from Gone Mild, it would seem appropriate to duplicate the associated commentary.

Ahhh. Dan’s assessment of the G.W. Presidency, as seen through liberal colored glasses from the 8th floor. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

1. The U.S. Supreme Court determined the 2000 elections results. If you have a problem with that, I suggest you place the blame appropriately on the Supreme Court. George W. Bush did not appoint any of the Justices that rendered the decision.

2. Less than two months after taking the oath of office, Robert Philip Hanssen was charged and later convicted of espionage. This has been considered the largest security breach in U.S. History. – Welcome to the Presidency George W.

3. Less than 8 months later, 9/11/2001. More people died that day than in the attack on Pearl Harbor. – G.W., are we having fun yet?

G.W. may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he never stood a chance. Post 9/11, the blogs created a whole new attack on U.S. soil; the attack on the Presidency. Anyone with a computer now had easy access to voice their opinion. Ask any marketing expert and they will tell you; “make one person happy, and they will tell one person, make one person mad, and they will tell ten.”

It is very easy to decide how someone else should do their job when your opinion does not include responsibility for the outcome. Dan stated that Iraq “posed no threat to us”. Really Dan? “No threat to us”? Maybe they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, but your claim of no threat, in any way, shape, or form, cannot be supported.

Did the President or Congress have the luxury of hindsight? No.

When we entered the Iraq war, was the nation behind the President. Yes, even the Democrats.

Even without the possibility that WMDs existed, the U.S. would have likely supported attacking Iraq. The nation was wounded and would have been willing to do just about anything to avoid future attacks on U.S. soil. Would we do it again? Probably not.


Dan, are you running for public office anytime in the near future? It would be nice to see someone who constantly judges others put themselves into a position of being constantly judged. Do you really want such blind, mindless attacks on a sitting President to be associated with your name?

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