Wayne O’Leary

Goodbye to All That

Historian Niall Ferguson calls him Lame W. Duck. Comedian Jon Stewart calls him Still President Bush. His family may continue to refer to him as George, but to most Americans and almost all of the civilized world, his name is mud.

After eight long, agonizing years, “years the cuckoo claimed,” to borrow the trenchant phrase of W.J. Cash in describing the insanities and inanities of the postbellum South, we have reached, if not the promised land, then a promised land. America’s protagonist-in-chief, George W. (“God made me do it”) Bush, has gathered his Old Testament, his filial hang-ups, his fraternity pins, and his Saddam Hussein dartboard, and is about to depart for Dallas, Texas. Dallas is welcome to him.

The most unpopular president in US history, as far as opinion polls can determine, has left enough wreckage behind him to keep several administrations busy sorting and removing it. Worst of all, he seems unperturbed. This is a man who fiddled daily while his country and the world burned, then slept soundly at night as the embers flew about igniting new fires.

The catalogue of Bush’s sins of commission and omission is truly impressive. For starters, he’s trapped us in Iraq for the foreseeable future, having declared preemptive war (his sole contribution to national policy) on a tinhorn dictator whose megalomania was easily controllable by other means and whose bluster was no direct threat to the US. In the process, he devastated a country, created the conditions for a sectarian civil war, and bogged America’s military down in an enervating foreign occupation. This he has passed on to his successor, having put the nation’s treasure, manpower, and prestige on the line for no good reason.

Meanwhile, real problem areas in foreign policy (Palestine, Pakistan, et al.) have been allowed to fester, while the “war on terror,” the justification for Bush’s Middle-East interventionism, is no further along towards a successful resolution than it was immediately after 9/11. The departing president takes credit for the absence of additional domestic terrorist incidents, but it’s not at all clear that his heavy-handed tactics—the intrusive bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, the abrogation of the civil rights of Americans, the open-ended incarceration and unprecedented torture of prisoners at Gitmo—have had anything to do with it.

Be that as it may, the 43rd president has succeeded brilliantly in two areas: trashing the Constitution and destroying his country’s international reputation. The founding document now carries as much moral weight as a roll of toilet tissue, and America, the figurative shining city on a hill, ranks with Sodom and Gomorrah as an uplifting exemplar for the world. Americans have been routinely lied to and spied upon by their government, while their president has cavalierly obeyed the laws that suit him and ignored the rest. The shining city Bush has built features K Street as its thoroughfare; it’s the city of Abramoff and DeLay, of lobbyists as legislators, of monied interests first, last, and always. And it fits the classic nineteenth-century description of political adroitness combined with utter corruption: It “shines and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight.”

Farther south, another city, a monument to blasé presidential negligence and ineptitude, sinks slowly into the primordial ooze. New Orleans remains, three years after Katrina, an open wound that refuses to heal. A Democratic city peopled with minorities, it has clearly ranked, despite its unique historical and cultural cachet, at the bottom of the Current Occupant’s priority list. Would the Netherlands allow Amsterdam to disappear under water? Would Great Britain let London wash away? Would the French kiss off Marseilles or the Italians Venice? Of course not, but then they believe in public infrastructure.

Money is the focal point. For eight years, there have been ample funds for war, but little else. Anything but war, the president’s obsession, his claim on history as he sees it, has been deemed a waste of precious taxpayers’ money, as well as a waste of the president’s time. Lately, however, it’s become apparent there is an exception to the rule. Wall Street, wellspring of the fortunes of America’s privileged aristocracy, has become a victim of its own excesses. In the words of the nation’s chief executive, who never provided a sobriety test during his tenure, its denizens “got drunk.” Nevertheless, casting off his usual torpor concerning things domestic, the president of all the people has determined his class must be saved at all costs from its greed and stupidity. Money in the billions has suddenly appeared as if by magic to be distributed by the good fairies at the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, no questions asked.

That’s the story of the last eight years. When it comes to war or Wall Street, George W. Bush can be counted upon to lend a hand and open the purse strings. Turns out the self- described “market-oriented guy,” who deregulated the economy into disaster, is a closet Keynesian willing to pursue deficit financing to unheard of heights and go in hock to central bankers everywhere. But it has to be for the right cause and the right people. Generals and financiers are greeted warmly at the cashier’s window. Ordinary folks—flood victims, distressed homeowners, besieged autoworkers, the medically uninsured—need not apply; for them it’s the rigors of the marketplace and the Decider’s thousand-yard stare.

In his waning days, as the walls close in about him, our peerless leader has assumed a detached, almost bemused appearance. His preoccupation with nation-building overseas, it must be obvious by now even to him, has led to a collapsing, virtually bankrupt nation at home. The faith-based belief that the country could fend for itself, that the unfettered market would solve any arising problems, has proven disastrously wrong.

Bush, who thought of himself as the new Churchill, facing down armed threats from abroad, has turned out to be the new Hoover, undone by economic threats in his own backyard. As he leaves for more cordial climes feigning unconcern (or perhaps still believing blindly in his righteousness), the philosophy of governing he represents—internal laissez-faire, external interventionism—is departing with him, gone in all likelihood for a generation or, perhaps, if we’re blessed, forever.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine.

From The Progressive Populist, Jan. 1-15, 2009

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2008 The Progressive Populist.