As our nation readies itself to celebrate the end of the Bush presidency, discussion of his legacy fills the airwaves. The usual suspects – the pro-Bush pundits, the PNACers, the air-headed teleprompter readers passed off as journalists – now gather together on the political talk shows, ready and more than willing to tackle the formidable task of rewriting history.
Bush’s legacy, according to those still reluctant to embrace reality, will be a presidency replete with incredible foresight and heroism, all recognized by the historians who, at some later date yet to be announced, will at last recognize the extraordinary vision of one George W. Bush in the fullness of time.
However, what the dead-ender cheerleaders fail to take into account is that Bush’s legacy, like that of all presidents, will be based on the facts and not the quickly cobbled-together fictions spun by his still adoring fans.
Perhaps the most glaring reality of Bush’s presidency will be the fact that it was never a true presidency at all. The result of selection rather than election, it was marked not by sound strategy, but by stagecraft; not by purposeful action, but an endless array of photo-ops meant to capture merely an image of leadership in a constant attempt to obscure the truth that no such leadership ever existed.
While the smoke-and-mirrors experts continue to proffer their own creation – the man with the bullhorn in the wreckage of the Twin Towers, the man landing on an aircraft carrier declaring that the mission had been accomplished, the man sharing Thanksgiving dinner with his troops – the reality lurking behind the curtain is less than heroic or honorable: a lackadaisical fool reading a children’s book in the midst of mayhem, a smirking coward parading around in a flight-suit, a mindless, uncaring clown offering a plastic turkey to the men and women he was about to send to their deaths.
From the beginning, Bush surrounded himself with incompetent cronies, yes-men, and sycophants with a lust for influence, and handed out positions of power to people whose blind loyalty was the only measure of their suitability. Qualities like honesty and strength of character were never assessed, and were in fact an obvious hindrance for those who aspired to the inner circle.
Once foisted on the world stage, Bush invariably chose the role of the mindless puppet, a buffoon prone to inappropriate laughter, absurd remarks, displays of childish petulance, all washed in a thin veneer of down-home charm meant to hide the underlying ignorance, the lack of awareness, the inability to conduct himself as anything more than an over-indulged frat-boy who had no more respect for his office than qualification to hold it.
In the wake of the events of 9-11, the Bush administration touted itself as the protectorate of our national security, yet another meaningless slogan behind which to hide the already-in-place machinations of war, the suspension of citizen’s rights and freedoms, and the lining of those pockets deemed deserving by those in control of the purse-strings.
Despite the fact that Bush’s policies have made us infinitely more vulnerable, the Protecting the Homeland banner still waves as though having some actual meaning behind it, another empty gesture in place of reality – like flag-pins meant to convey true patriotism, or Support the Troops bumper-stickers meant to convince the masses that our military is actually treated fairly and honorably.
Americans are a forgiving people, and had the disastrous results of Bush’s policies been due to a mistaken anticipation of their end result, or lofty ideals that ultimately proved to be misguided in their application, the absolution of his countrymen would have been offered without question.
But as we have all sadly seen, the suffering that we as a country, and the world at large, now endure is not the result of things gone inexplicably awry, but the single-minded pursuit of a political ideology whose sole purpose was to enrich the few at the expense of the many, and to place power into the hands of those who would stop at nothing to maintain it, all to be achieved while blithely ignoring the ensuing consequences; irreparable damage, escalating violence, economic instability, and the deaths of millions.
A large part of Bush’s legacy will undoubtedly be his administration’s ability to spin the worst behavior into something noble, the most blatant lies into something too truthful to be questioned, the most heinous crimes into something heroic, all couched in language meant to divert the mind from reality, and the soul from guilt.
Terms like “executive privilege”, once used to protect the presidency from sharing sensitive information that could place us in jeopardy, have been twisted into poltically-convenient catch-all phrases behind which crimes can be covered-up and its perpetrators shielded from justice. The term “torture” has been replaced with “enhanced interrogation techniques”, a newly-coined soundbyte intended to mask the barbarism in which we now wallow with impunity.
Even the once respected term moral Christian has been forever tarnished, having now been attributed to a torturer, a warmonger, a widow-maker, a non-repentant creator of orphans, of limbless soldiers, of multitudes of homeless, hungry, sick and dying people whose fate is of no concern to he who is not ignorant of, but blatantly dismissive of the very teachings he pretends to follow and revere.
Perhaps the most enduring part of any president’s legacy is the remembrance of their most obvious personal quality. In this instance, surely Bush will be best remembered for his arrogance – an arrogance born not of an overly-exuberant recognition of his own abilities or record of accomplishment, but merely reflective of a sense of entitlement to be praised for that which he never achieved, and rewarded with adulation and respect that was clearly never earned.
Ultimately, history is not written by scholars assessing the past from afar. It is passed down to children and grandchildren by those who experienced the events firsthand, an oral history that lives and breathes long after the pages of even the most well-researched tomes are reduced to dust.
And the tales that will be told of Bush’s presidency will be rife with tragedy; tales of soldiers who died fighting not for freedom but profit, of cities left to drown amid apathy and incompetence, of corporations given free rein to exploit the vulnerabilities of a nation’s people, of an administration that plundered our treasury, saddled us with unconscionable debt, circumvented the rule of law, and left our Constitution in tatters.
Despite the best efforts of the revisionists, the spinmeisters, the propagandists, and those simply unwilling to admit that they were hoodwinked by an inept scoundrel and his attendant snake-oil salesmen, it is the truths of George W. Bush’s failed presidency that will be the basis of his legacy.
In light of that fact, Worst President Ever might be the kindest title that history eventually confers.