David Michael Green
George W. Bush
by David Michael Green | October 23, 2010 - 12:35pm
First the Big Reagan Lie, now the Even Bigger Bush Lie.
It was only a matter of time, of course, before conservatives would come out of hiding.
Pummeled over the years for their association with the catastrophe known as the Bush administration, singing its praises had become too great a lie even for those whose every political utterance is an exercise in deceit and hypocrisy.
But I knew they wouldn't wait long before trying to canonize their main man, just as they've already done over the years by building a one-man Mt. Rushmore In The Sky for their patron, Saint Ronald of Hollywood-cum-Washington (and what, really, was the difference between the two in his case, anyhow?).
And now, of course, they are starting to do it for the Caligula Kid as well. Billboards are popping up on the landscape with a picture of the prior president, asking, "Miss me yet?" Regressive commentators on television are beginning to dare mentioning the Bush years again. Recent poll data shows that Bush and Obama are rated as near equals in the public's assessment of the two presidencies. Now the Boy King's memoir is soon to be released, and we can certainly expect a lot more of these attempts at reviving the stinking corpse of his wrecking ball presidency.
But the project of turning Bush into a great president comes with a few, um, issues associated with it, however. Heck, even just rescuing him from the cesspool of the club of failed presidents requires no small miracle.
Most of the presidents amongst these bottom-dwellers are guilty of some singular bungling of large proportion, such as failing to prevent the Civil War, blowing Reconstruction, or doing too little in response to the Great Depression. Those are serious indictments. But what if you were guilty of the equivalent of all of those crimes, plus ten more? All in one presidency?
Meet George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States.
Trying to mythologize the Bush presidency is not going to be easy.
If you manage to turn a record high surplus into a record high deficit, and to double the national debt in the process, history will not hold you in high regard for doing so, just as it indicts Ronald Reagan for tripling the debt on his watch.
If your policies serve the interests of an economic oligarchy rather than the people, history will not approve of that, just as it does not admire Republican presidents from Grant to Hoover for doing the same.
If you populate your administration with corrupt political cronies rather than experts and experienced administrators, history will treat you poorly for it, just as it does Ulysses Grant.
If you completely fail to respond to a catastrophic hurricane that drowns a major city, history will adore you about as much as it does Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned.
If you manage to sell your country a war on the basis of lies, history will not regard you well, as it has not Lyndon Johnson for precisely that reason.
If you succeed in mismanaging a war into protracted failure, history will not be kind to you for that, just as it isn't kind to Harry Truman for the stalemate of Korea.
But if you manage to do that for seven years, rather than three, history will be even less kind to you.
And if you manage to that for not one but two wars, over seven years time, history will be very angry indeed.
If you make your country hated in the world, history will not respect you, just as it admires John Kennedy for doing the opposite.
If you shred the US Constitution in order to facilitate a police state with unlimited government powers, history will cast its aspersions upon you, just as it does on Joe McCarthy.
If you ignore a looming catastrophe like global warming - and indeed if you exacerbate that catastrophe - history will regard you very poorly, just as historians generally agree that James Buchanan is America's worst president for failing to respond to its unfolding Civil War crisis.
If you are warned of a cataclysmic terrorist attack by your staff and do not respond, instead spending the month before on vacation, history will devastate you for this alone, just as one of Stalin's great crimes (among many) was to fantasize that Nazi Germany would not attack the Soviet Union, ultimately at a cost of tens of millions of his people.
Indeed, if you spend more time during your presidency on vacation than any other president ever, history will not admire you, just as it does not admire Warren Harding.
If you run for president as one kind of politician but then completely abandon those politics for something different (and supremely ugly), history will not look kindly upon you, just as it does not upon John Tyler.
If you employ disgusting prejudices to win elections, history will consider you cheap garbage for doing so, just as it does George H. W. Bush.
And if you manage to deeply polarize your country, especially in a time of national crisis, history will admire you about as much as it does Richard Nixon for doing the same thing.
If you did any one of these things, you'd find yourself down at the bottom of the list in the historical ranking of American presidents.
But if you've managed to do every one of these things over the course of a single presidency, you'd not only occupy the very bottom slot on the list, you'd be in a category all your own.
It really is astonishing, isn't it, to think about how thoroughly this perfect storm of a president could wreak havoc on a developed (or is it?) democracy (or is it?) in the 21st century.
But what is even more astonishing is that his mythologized revival is already showing signs of working.
Even today, less than two years out of that nightmare.
Even today, with both of Bush's two wars still endlessly droning on, still dragging down the country as they chew up American, Iraqi and Afghani lives like some sort of industrial-scale human sacrifice machine.
Even today, as Bush's economic depression spreads misery across the land.
It's astonishing that the guy is taken even remotely seriously, let alone that he has not been thrown in jail or met the same fate that the Tsar or Il Duce did.
It's astonishing that he would dare to publish a book less than two years after having wrecked a world so thoroughly.
In just what sort of country can something so shameful happen?
Yep, trying to mythologize the Bush presidency is not going to be easy.
If this were Sweden or Canada, that is.
But this is America.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.