Monday, January 19, 2009

A Farewell to Bush: He Did a "Heckuva Job"

Today marks the last day of George W. Bush's presidency. I've been waiting a long time to write this post celebrating this occasion. Even though I do think the man will go down as one of our worst presidents in history, I found that I had sort of just stopped blogging about him. It wasn't a conscious thing. Perhaps like some of you, in a twisted Stockholm Syndrome sort of way, I slowly became accustomed to political ineptness. When I've heard his voice on the news lately, the best I've been able to do is wonder what "funny" thing he'll say next. 8 years in, after all, was there really much more he could do to offend, surprise, or scare us? What's that you say? The lame duck is pushing through some last-minute anti-environment initiatives? *Shrug* What can we really do about it?

In general, I think much of the problem with Bush's presidency comes from the fact that while the type of guy who might be fun to grab a beer with serves a purpose, he's not necessarily the same guy who's going to lead the nation in understanding the world on anything other than an immature "you're either with us or against us" level. That's probably "elitist" of me to say, but I just don't think it's wrong or stupid to wish for a more nuanced, thoughtful person for president.

While George W. Bush was not an intellectually "elite" president, I do wonder if his supporters forget that his elite family and upbringing played a large role in his life's accomplishments. Like many men of privilege, George W. Bush was born on third base but he seems to think he hit a triple to get there. And so, with his cocky, entitled swagger he sauntered into the 2000 election perhaps unaware that someone with his intellect and ability, on anyone other than the son of the much-more competent George H.W. Bush, would have been mired in middle-management anonymity somewhere.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, in 2000 we found ourselves gripped in a constitutional crisis involving him and a man named Al Gore. I think that many of us have been unable to forget how Bush's presidency all started mostly because we are left wondering what could have been. In general, I think that the 2000 election has been best summed up by Jack Balkin of Yale University Law School:

"As the new century began, the Supreme Court of the United States settled a disputed presidential election in Bush v. Gore by inventing a novel legal theory which did not even justify its remedy of stopping all recounts, and which, the Court suggested, it would be unlikely to apply to any future decisions. The reasoning was so weak and ad hoc by professional standards of legal argument that it appeared that the majority simply wanted to end the contested election in favor of the Republican candidate, George W. Bush."

The irony that many of us did not miss was that George W. Bush ran a campaign largely opposed to "activist" judges, yet was placed into office by activist judges who invented a new legal theory to stop the recount of our most democratic of all democratic processes. Not surprisingly, we don't hear much about this instance of judicial activism from today's anti-homosexualist opponents of activist judges.

The notorious Bush v. Gore decision succeeded mostly in eroding a large chunk of the legitimacy of the US Supreme Court and what we generally refer to as the rule of law. Many liberals and democrats were bitter about accepting a man as president who lost the popular vote and who, they believed, was placed into office by 4 conservative justices. This enduring bitterness, I believe, partly explains why, prior to September 11, 2001, President Bush enjoyed some of the lowest approval ratings of any president. The percentage of Americans approving of his job during this time hovered around 50-55%.

That, of course, changed one tuesday morning.

After doing little more than swaggering onto Ground Zero in a jumpsuit and declaring war on an abstract noun, President Bush immediately enjoyed some of the highest approval ratings of any president. Showing ourselves willing to rally around this "uniter not divider," immediately post-9/11 the percentage of Americans approving of his job hovered around 85-90%. September 11, 2001 was a tragic moment in our nation's history. It was a time for us to come together as a nation and figure out why something so horrible could happen here so it would never happen again. Unfortunately, many could not foresee how dangerous it would be to lend this mediocre man our uncritical "patriotic" support.

The post-9/11 Bush Administration "made repeated assaults, some subtle, some not so subtle on key rule of law values of transparency, accountability and constraints on arbitrary power, particularly executive power."
The USA Patriot Act, for instance, was quickly rushed through Congress and signed by President Bush. While a nation fighting
terrorismterrorists needs to have flexibility to act quickly and decisively, the rule of law should not be compromised. With great power comes the power to abuse; and a law enacted for the purpose of fighting terrorism should be narrowly tailored for that purpose only.

After 9/11, the US began detaining (mostly) Muslim men, holding them incommunicado and without charges in Guantanamo Bay, and utilizing special tribunals to try these detainees. Following the advice of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the Bush Administration labeled these detainees "illegal enemy combatants," enabling them to argue that the humanitarian protections of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to this category of persons. And, in another blow to the rule of law, Congress passed a law taking away the right for these human beings to access US federal courts for purposes of even challenging their detentions. Countering a rubber-stamp Congress and apathetic public, the US Supreme Court ruled that even foreign suspects of terrorism have the right to challenge their detentions in US courts. The writ of habeas corpus, after all is one of the most important protections of individual liberty in existence.

In 2005, the Bush Administration acknowledged that detainees at GTMO, Iraq, and Afghanistan "have been tortured." Even when disgusting and highly embarrassing pictures at that one prison surfaced for the rest of the world to see, Bush twice refused to accept the resignation of the man with whom the buck would have stopped if bucks stopped in the Bush Administration.

During these humiliating post-9/11 events that may or may not have had something to do with stopping terrorism and/or making the world safer, a little lady named Katrina came along. In a profoundly out-of-touch "let them eat cake" moment, George W. Bush declared that "Brownie," his cutely-named head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, did a "heckuva job" with respect to his handling of the Katrina situation. Even though dealing with disasters is generally a responsibility of local government, this federal agency which exists for purposes of disaster response and mitigation began preparations before the disaster hit and quickly federalized the response. Despite Bush's praise of "Brownie," FEMA's response has been criticized seen as a ginormous, mis-managed embarrassment of a governmental response to a natural disaster.

Most recently, of course, we find ourselves in the midst of two wars. Well, three wars if you count the perpetual war against that abstract noun. The war in Afghanistan began as a response to 9/11. The general purpose of this war was to capture Osama bin Laden and to topple Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We don't hear much about these goals or even this war these days, even though bin Laden is still at large.

In 2003, the Bush Administration initiated the Iraq War by infamously claiming that Iraq possessed "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (WMDs) and posed an "imminent threat" to us. United Nations' weapons inspectors later found that Iraq did not, actually, possess these WMDs. The Bush Administration then claimed that it never actually claimed any such thing about Iraq posing an "imminent threat," contrary to many produced quotations showing otherwise. A few months into this war, Bush declared our Mission to have been Accomplished in Iraq and major combat operations to have ended. 5 years later, however, history has shown that 98% of casualties from this accomplished-yet-paradoxically-ongoing war have occurred after Bush's premature Mission Accomplished ejaculation. Meanwhile, the tours of duty of more than 50,000 of our brave men and women in uniform have been "involuntarily extended," sometimes up to 18 months longer than their service was supposed to end, since the Iraq War began.

Throughout the years of the Iraq War, the Bush Administration has carefully filtered information about the war. Photographs of soldiers returning from war in coffins were prohibited, for instance. And, it was later learned that the Army staged the iconic image of the toppling statue of Saddam Hussein and of Iraqi citizens "celebrating." At least 935 times, Bush or one of his top officials made false statements about the threat that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed and, especially these days, more than a few Americans wonder what exactly was our purpose there.

Most currently, even though the "haves and the have mores" might not be tightening their belts right now, our nation has been in a recession these days. Bush came into office padded with low unemployment and a national surplus. Almost immediately upon entering office, Bush implemented trillion dollar tax cuts because "the surplus is the people's money" yet also increased domestic and foreign spending. In 2008, he leaves us with unemployment at a 15-year high and a 100% increase of the national debt.

Of the few people left who remain unabashed Bush loyalists, I don't think many understand why so many people feel disdain for his presidency. Perhaps they think we're "just being mean" to him or that we just woke up one day and decided not to like him. Yet, you'll notice that this post does not hinge on Bush's socially conservative ideology. Volumes could be written, and probably will be, on these matters. As a lesbian, I can say that I didn't always feel that I had a place in George W. Bush's America. It's a joke to me that he considered himself to be a "compassionate conservative" while simultaneously pandering to his bigoted base, making few efforts to bridge cultural divides. This man supported the Federal Marriage Amendment, an asinine usurpation of state's rights, and his administration actually paid profe$$ional "marriage defenders" like Maggie Gallagher boatloads of taxpayer dollars to write columns supporting his anti-gay agenda. (Who knew that professional "marriage defense" could be so lucrative?)

Yet, while I vehemently disagree with the man on social issues like homosexuality, abortion, and stem-cell research, it's quite possible to argue that his presidency was an epic failure without mentioning such "hot-button" issues. With this post, I hope I've made it clear that it really is about much more than not liking him as a person. He may indeed be a fun, nice guy. However, while I can tolerate spoiled, incompetent frat-boys in small doses, the end of their monopoly on the office of US Presidency has been long overdue. We've learned the hard way that perhaps the entitled are not as competent as they believe themselves to be.

In the post-9/11 world, by electing Barack Obama, I think in our own American way we've chosen to grow up a little.

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