What will be the legacy of George Bush?
Is it that he has borrowed half a trillion dollars from our children, with no intention of paying it back? No, we’re OK with borrowing money in America.
Is it that he has undertaken the biggest civics experiment in the history of the cosmos—building a democracy within a dictatorship amidst a thousand-year tribal hatefest? This, from the man and party that have naysay-ed nation building lo these many years. No, we’re OK with hypocrisy in America. That’s why wach of us is given a mouth with two sides.
Is it that he has blasphemed the election process, accusing his opponents of cowardice when it is he who evaded service, let alone combat? No, we’re OK with hideous deceit in America, as long as you wrap it in a macho voice. (On a side note, this neocon skill of accusing your opponents of your own greatest weaknesses has set the bar for political strategy to a record height that will not be bettered for a long, long time. This will indeed be part of the Bush legacy, but not the object of this essay.)
Is it that he decimated 40 years of environmental protection progress? No, Mother Nature is resilient in the extreme, the very definition of resilience. Even if we swamp the continents, the cockroaches and sharks will survive to merrily continue the cycle of evolution—I mean intelligent design—over again. At least there’s intelligence somewhere.
Is it that he alienated us from the community of nations, laughing at international treaties and finding no reason to at least act like a united nation?
Is it that he made it much more discouraging for Americans to travel freely, by his preemption doctrine, rather than enlisting the support and adulation of the world with more inclusive and justifiable strategies? No, we hired him as our PR guy. We get what we paid for. Those who didn’t vote for him must accept the cards that were dealt.
Is it that he dishonored—and commensurately endangered for the next two generations—the American military to an extent like never before, with the torture in Iraqi prisons? Well, yes, that’s a legacy but only within the secret community of the military. And they’re conscripted, not by draft, but by healthy adjustment of mind to ignore any monumental blunders of the Commander in Chief. So he gets a Get-Out-of-Abu-Girab-Free card on this count.
Is it that he nurtured our addiction to oil by refusing to be a leader and press for legislation such as higher fuel economy? Puh-lease. Would you people stop it with this global warming crap? We can always use nucular.
Is it that he talks about improving education…with butchered grammar and diction? Not legacy-worthy, just funny.
Is it that he failed to protect our soldiers adequately, in many ways? I think this might be one of his gravest failings, but only a couple of thousand families will long remember this.
Is it that he blundered miserably at disaster preparedness and response? Pshaw! He didn’t cause that hurricane.
Is it that he has undone decades of social progress, and attempted to erase words 26 through 29 of the Constitution, “promote the general Welfare”? No, “those people” are sucking the life out of this great country.
Is it that he was “at the wheel” when our country had perhaps its most substantial attack ever? No… many, many Americans failed to prevent this. I was once told a wonderful aphorism that applies here: mistakes of omission are generally shared.
Or was it that he failed to punish the attacker? Hmmm. In the future light of “popular history,” perhaps this will be his legacy. Cartoonists will draw him searching in the night, with a candle against the wind and rain, looking under rocks for WMD and OBL.
Was it lying about WMD to avenge what he perceived to be his father’s unfinished legacy? No, lies are just another name for politics or even diplomacy… take your pick. He thought that the best defense was a good offense. If you thought that he really cared about WMD then the only lying was the lying done between your own ears and your brain. Sorry, but he wasn’t a liar so much as you were a fool.
Was it completely ignoring his father’s advice not to unseat a dictator and create an untenable situation (AKA quagmire). No, who doesn’t struggle with his own father’s advice. Now, if Barbara had told him to be nice and not fight, the world would be a different place today, eh?
Was it that he skirted one of our most sacred rights and wiretapped without asking permission? Well, that’s pretty bad, but he stayed one quarter-inch away from being indictable on this one because of the “foreigner” component. We’ll award one special dispensation here (and a gold star for technique).
Was it that he outed a CIA agent? Naaah. Technicality. Too many unprovables here, despite the fact that they knew exactly what they were doing and did it. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Another gold star, but definitely not history book… not even an asterisk.
Is it that he’s catered to peoples’ basest motivations, selfishness and greed, by continually promising tax cuts? Or fomented hatred and divisiveness by appealing to moralistic “wedge” issues? That’s not a legacy, that’s a craft. I call it “the seeds of fascism.” To appreciate those seeds in full flower, listen to talk radio, where you can hear “moderates” derided as those who “can’t decide.” By providing leadership that itself stoops to such a level, he has legitimized this sort of ignorance. Legacy, definitely, but too subtle for textbooks.
When you look at this laundry list of blunders, bombast, and bombs, I’m reminded of that phrase often attributed to the Hippocratic oath, “Do no harm.” Mr. Bush would not make a good doctor. But damn, does he have good bedside manner. (Let me give you this nice, leather “Mission Accomplished” jacket with that prosthetic, young man!)
So, which one is it? The answer: none of the above. George Bush’s legacy and principal crime against the heritage and people of America is the trashing of due process. No special dispensation for national security, or doing it offshore at Gitmo, or even the phantom CIA jails in Europe, though that’s pretty slick. And no slack for invoking the “enemy combatant” rule.
In fact, if you read very, very carefully the Bill of Rights (that’s the first ten amendments to the Constitution, George), you’ll notice a fascinating and subtle difference between the fourth and fifth amendments. The fourth (against unreasonable searches) begins with the phrase, “The right of the people…” whereas the fifth begins, “No person…” The fifth is where it goes on to promise due process, and the founders specifically avoided narrowing the matter to “the people.” Now constitutional scholars might argue that it says the right of due process is only for “criminal” cases, but at this point we move from interpretation to intention. If you think the founders would allow anyone to be locked up and deprived of due process simply by saying it’s not a criminal matter, then we’re all subject to incarceration… we’re no better than Argentina where thousands of citizens were called “the disappeared.”
To clarify, even the disgusting scum, José Padilla and Zacharia Moussaoui, must be given due process. If you and I don’t fight for their right to due process, what right do we have to protect that right for ourselves? If they did something suspicious or wrong, there must be some evidence or justification, however meager, for rounding them up. If we simply swept up people in the midst of a conflict, and that’s the only basis for confinement, then a lawyer has a right to obtain that sole fact and argue its merits to a court of the people. If the evidence was collected in an illegal fashion or is so vague as to be inadmissible, well, that’s the cost we pay for liberty.
A recent letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, from Vincent Mallardi of the Canadian-American Chamber of Commerce used a great expression to characterize this wealth of Bush foibles… “crude indispositions.” Well, many of them could be generously labeled indispositions, but stealing from us due process is more. It is an outrageous affront to the very essence of our nation. That is not liberalism. That is liberty, the very word that George Bush waves like a flag, yet undermines as no president has done before. And that is his sad and dangerous legacy.