Sorting through the aisles of my local Best Buy, same time as the outgoing President of the United States was delivering his farewell speech to the nation: it appeared no one cared. Everyone went about their businesses, and this is Texas – so called Bush country. In fact, after a few minutes someone in the back office must have clicked away from the network station carrying the speech on the numerously and exquisitely displayed, but hard to sell (due to Bushnomics) flat screen TVs that were displayed in the entertainment session for would be buyers: long unemployed or homeless. Even news reports indicated no one was listening – it was as if no one could wait to get him out of there, but this bad dream is definitely not in a hurry to leave town. I reminisced on those early days after 9-11, when even his greatest enemies stood glued to their TV screen as the Presidency was revitalized as the central rallying figure for national unity and outcry for retribution. Alas today, no one cared. How did George Bush fall so fast? More importantly, why?
The Bush years are a tale of missed opportunities aggravated more so by arrogance, unquestionable obstinacy and gross incompetence. Crisis is a two edged sword, and no doubt these past eight years have been one dodged with more than its fair share of crisis. From beating back an early tech bust, to the security situation aggravated by 9-11, to two wars: one necessary, the other by choice with its’ summers of bloodshed abroad and insurgency in Iraq, to Katrina and an appalling dismal response, to the brief immigration and social security distraction between ideologues domestically, and finally the global economic crisis first precipitated by a domestic real estate market crash: the Bush years have been years of lurching from one crisis to the other.
But this is not unique. US Presidents since the advent of America’s global leadership confront crisis: that is why they have a job. Every president has his fair share of crisis. FDR had the great depression and the World war; Truman had the onset of the cold war and a key decision whether to end WW2 with an atomic bomb; Eisenhower had to deal with the Korean War; JFK had the Cuban missile crisis and LBJ had Vietnam on his hot plate. Nixon’s crisis was by his own making; and Ford picked up from where he left off. Carter faced off with the Iranians, as did Reagan with Soviets, and Bush 42 with Saddam and a painful economy at home. Clinton had domestic terror and Asian financial crisis to deal with it- and well, some responded, others failed to. We judge them. My point is, what mattered was not the crisis, but how the presidents’ responded to them. So to those trying to excuse Mr. Bush because of one bad omen or the other, I say try again.
Post 9-11, GWB had the sympathy of the world that was to put it mildly: ambivalent to his leadership given his contentious election. Be it as it may, that goodwill was squandered at home and abroad by leadership with an ideological bent ruined by a sense of arrogance, and unbridled power. Cannot get the UN resolution to back the war in Iraq? Well, create your own “coalition of the willing” and bandy the term: “Old Europe”. Think your old allies are moving slowly on terrorism, well castigate them or even imprison their citizens in secret CIA inquisition camps located in third world countries like Egypt. Perceive your are encumbered by the framework of international law as related to Geneva Convention, well seek the legal opinion of your personal lawyer and insist habeas corpus means nothing and water boarding is not torture (even though US prosecuted Japanese officials at war crimes tribunals for using water boarding during World War 2). Think your domestic opponents are “Bush-haters”, well call them bitter and unpatriotic, and bar them from the governing process as did Karl Rove.
The arrogance was seething and the pride was unmistakable. Bush always talked about being loathed by the elite; well perhaps what they hated most was his lack of intellectual curiosity, and his ability to frame such as some kind of wellspring of strength. In him, we all recognized the rich kid in high school who never worked for anything but felt entitled to everything. Well, as our parents reminded us: they blamed everyone else for their own errors, never took responsibility even while they talked big, and walked tall and crashed mightily. While he is at it, where is Osama Bin Laden and what happened to the “decider” that had that huge political capital he was going to spend after the November, 2004 election? What I saw yesterday was a man with a million excuses, not the decider.
The “buck stops at my desk” famously said President Truman, when he was leaving office as a truly unpopular leader. Today, President Truman is revered not only because of his great strides in foreign policy, or his sensible domestic policies: but because he took responsibility for his own unpopularity as he exited. Bush is doing the reverse: he is blaming crisis, he is blaming the so called “bush-haters” – same crowd he claims never to pay attention to; in fact, he is blaming everyone but Laura Bush! Looks familiar: those spoilt rich kids I was sentenced to endure back when I was in elementary school.
If arrogance was an albatross of the Bush years, well try obstinacy. In fact, George Bush made a trademark of being stubborn. His Texan cowboy root was hugely played up for the media. He built a reelection campaign on saying “we won’t cut and run”; but “staying the course”. These were all epithets for being stubborn even in the face of dynamic facts. Obstinacy would make sense if prior judgment was subject to logical reasoning and cogent analysis. George Bush was not capable of either, with his decisions always nearly distilled through the ideological neo-conservative framework fed him by his subordinates (read Dick Cheney). Ideology mattered more than facts. Even as the world crashed, his sole answer to the economic crisis has always been (and will always be) more tax cuts even when economists have repeatedly proven its long term ineffectiveness. Never mind, in George Bush’s world he took orders from the right wing nuts, and made a mess of selling those bad ideas to the public while completely bungling the implementation.
Well in this case, incompetence is priceless. When you combine an arrogant mammal, with a stubborn instinct- the worst fuel in that mix could be gross incompetence. Foreign policy, UN reform, FEMA, Katrina, economy, Iraq war execution, catching Osama in Tora-Bora, immigration promise, social security fix, reducing dependence on oil, revitalizing the auto industry, responding to global warming, regulating the financial industry, administering the bail out fund: well, all are hallmarks of Bush administration incompetence. Some will try to deflect Katrina blame on FEMA, and on the state or city officials: well, keep on trying. The first act of competence of any manager is choosing competent advisers and subordinates. FEMA under George Bush was a mirror image of DG Brown chosen by GWB (and widely praised by the same for his Katrina response) more so for his ideological familiarity than for competence, and this practice was widespread in the Bush administration. In the Justice department, racists were appointed to head the Civil Rights division, and the office of Public Integrity was decimated with political hacks and associates of now disgraced corrupt congressman: Tom DeLay.
That is George Bush’s America. Good riddance to bad rubbish. We are happy to miss you. To my liberal friends, don’t count your chickens just yet; I will hate to succeed George Bush. Bad thing I have to be stuck with him here in Texas. Sorry we gave him to you, now we have to keep him.