Americans get stereotyped as stupid, but I think it's unfair to call us ignorant, exactly—the problem is that we, as a nation, have a short memory. Sometimes this constant state of collective amnesia serves us well, allowing the country to move on from tragedy and put out of our minds the failures and injustices of the past, but sometimes it results in 47 percent of Americans saying that they approve of George W. Bush. That's according to a poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC in advance of the opening of his new presidential library, which opened today and seems devoted to telling visitors, "Sure, Dubya started wars, condoned torture, dug the country deeper into debt, and watched as terrorists launched the most successful attack on US soil ever, but it was really, really hard to be president, you guys. Would you have done any better? Thought not, asshole." Even if that 47 percent number is too high, it's clear that a majority of Republicans still think he did a pretty good job.
That's a fucking disgrace, y'all.
I guess we have to issue a disclaimer: any look back on an ex-president's record is going to be tinged with ideology and personal beliefs—conservatives really hate Woodrow Wilson, for reasons Glenn Beck can explain to you; liberals despise Ronald Reagan, who's practically a saint in Republican circles. And parts of Dubya's legacy are open for debate. You can have wonkish arguments over the pros and cons of Medicare Part D, the prescription-drug benefit he signed into law; you can scoff, as Ron Paul has, at Bush's expansion of foreign aid or you can note how much good he did in Africa. But the big-ticket stuff, the important things he did and didn't do when he was the most powerful elected official in the world, were all pretty much uniformly awful.
Start with the Bush tax cuts, which were enacted thanks to the GOP's pathological hatred for taxes and the surplus the government was running at the time. They jacked up the deficit while mostly giving money back to rich people, but the real trick was setting them up to expire in 2010—when, the people pushing the cuts must have known, allowing them to do so would have been the same as raising taxes, which is political poison in America. (Sure enough, after a hideous fight on the edge of the "fiscal cliff," most of the cuts are permanent.)
You could excuse the cuts if Bush was a "small-government conservative," which is something that I've heard exists. Except along with the massive tax cuts, he also expanded government spending to an incredible degree: he created a whole new department to look after "homeland security," enacted the test-centric reforms of No Child Left Behind—which increased federal oversight of schools and basically encouraged teachers to cheat or at least teach to the test—and, oh yeah, started a couple of wars, the most expensive government programs of all.
Even if you don't blame Bush for 9/11 (either in a "his administration ignored clear warning signs" way or a "HOW DID STEEL MELT AT THAT TEMPERATURE? ALEX JONES ALEX JONES AELC JNE" way), you have to admit that the response to those terrorist attacks was horrendous. Dubya ordered the invasion of the wrong country. He started a war with Iraq based on bad intelligence that was subsequently bungled to the tune of $2.2 trillion and 190,000 lives, not to mention untold human misery inflicted on both Iraqis and US soldiers. Today, American officials and the Iraqis who were supposed to welcome our troops with rose petals or some such bullshit regard the reconstruction effort as an abject, expensive failure. Bush indirectly caused the destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives, and all for basically nothing—today Iraq is on the brink of civil war (again) and is an ally of Iran, one of the other nations on Bush's "axis of evil" (which, by the way, he did very little about after the Iraq disaster.)
Then there's torture. Fucking TORTURE. Bush let people under his command torture prisoners in attempts to gain information from them. His administration locked up "enemy combatants" indefinitely without charging them with crimes, because they didn't think that the American justice system was capable of giving them justice—or that there wasn't enough evidence to convict them of any crime. Do we need to say that no matter your reasons for depriving someone of his humanity, it's an act of evil? I guess we fucking do, because this week Jennifer Rubin, in a Bush-praising Washington Post piece that's awful even by her rock-bottom standards, excused "the dreaded enhanced interrogation" (what a fucking weasel-word term) on the grounds that it "contributed to our locating and assassinating Osama bin Laden," while simultaneously praising Bush's "clear moral compass." Rubin goes on to mock Obama—who's kept Guantanamo Bay open, where prisoners on hunger strikes are force-fed through tubes, and who's expanded Bush's use of deadly drones—for being "robotic," in contrast to Bush's "tender, tearful love for country" and "steely anger directed at our enemies." Rubin's main problem with Obama, apparently, is that he doesn't have the right attitude as he orders people to be killed and imprisoned indefinitely without trial.
That nonsense about Bush being a patriot reminds me of how he supposedly won an election because Americans would rather have a beer with him than John Kerry. It brings back those memories of liberals turning his malapropisms and misstatements into books, and the more recent goofy obsession with his paintings, which resemble the kind of outsider art usually made by mentally handicapped men who also knit hideous sweaters for feral cats. All of those things point to him being likable, or at the very least, a goofball who's fun to laugh at, which is a far cry from what he actually is: a man responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people and the weakening, in almost every imaginable way, of the country he was supposed to be running. If you need any evidence that democracy is a fatally flawed system that results in the election of smiling sociopaths who don't care if they burn down the world in a fit of arrogance, just consider that George W. Bush got elected president, twice.
You can blame Vice President Dick Cheney and the other officials who were probably doing most of administration's shitty, evil work, but that doesn't let Dubya off the hook—his dumb, smirking, faux-Texan charisma allowed those people to run the country into the ground, and he did nothing to stop them if he disagreed. And if you think he's keeping a low profile out of shame, read this interview with the Dallas News, in which he speaks in nothing but vague platitudes and brushes off criticism with a simple, "I'm comfortable with what I did… I'm comfortable with who I am." That he's able to keep a clear conscience about everything, that he claims to have no regrets after an eight-year presidency filled with wars and disasters and can spend his days mountain-biking and taking lucrative speaking engagements is maybe the most inexcusable thing of all.
Bush's library gives him a chance to tell "his side of the story" about his "controversial decisions," according to CBS, but CBS is an old-media organization that has to abide by certain rules about decorum and "objectivity." What the library will be is a monument to failure, excuses, and unearned arrogance—all the worst qualities of modern America that Dubya embodied while ruling the country. He had a chance to change the world in a real way and he made it demonstrably worse. Fuck him. The only way the people of the future will think fondly of Bush is if they forget everything he did.
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