Just when most Americans had forgotten the traumatic Bush era, along came the George W. Bush library to reopen old wounds. After the April 25th library dedication, the MSM began to speculate about Dubya’s legacy. A few suggestions:
1. Hail to the thief. Dubya was the first President since Benjamin Harrison to be elected even though he lost the popular vote. Most Democrats believe the Florida election results were mishandled and feel that an unbiased recount would have tilted the state to Al Gore. Florida was only the beginning; Republicans have continued their campaign of vote suppression.
2. “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy” [Vice President Dick Cheney] Dubya was a hands-off President who delegated key issues to his inner circle. Dick Cheney was charged with developing a national energy policy. Not surprisingly, Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, produced a pro-fossil-fuel plan that minimized the specter of global climate change. (The Cheney loophole exempted Fracking companies from water and air regulations.)
3. “Here we have the haves and the have mores. Some call you the elite; I call you my base.” In a 2009 essay Kurt Andersen described baby boomers as the Grasshopper Generation who “ate through a staggering amount of our national wealth and our natural world in a very short period of time, leaving the next generation a massive economic and ecological deficit.” Dubya was their champion, opting for immediate gratification and ignoring the long-term consequences of critical policy decisions. His Administration took a budget surplus and turned it into a massive deficit. Not surprisingly, the “have mores” flourished and America suffered near-record income inequality.
4. “Wall Street got drunk.” Beginning with the Reagan administration, Republicans were guided by three malignant notions: helping the rich get richer would inevitably help everyone else; markets were inherently self correcting and therefore there was no need for government regulation; and the US did not need an economic strategy because that was a natural consequence of the free market. As a true believer, Dubya supported Reaganomics and ignored both the housing bubble and widespread Wall Street malfeasance. This produced the 2008 economic collapse.
5. “If the [Supreme court] decision is wrong, it should be overruled. That's not activism. That's applying the law correctly” [Chief Justice John Roberts] Dubya nominated two Supreme Court Justices, Samuel Alito and John Roberts. Even though Bush and Roberts decried “judicial activism” the Roberts court initiated unprecedented conservative activism. On January 29, 2010, the Supremes Citizens United decision affirmed corporate “personhood” and gave corporations the right to spend unlimited funds in political contests.
6. “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina rolled across the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into New Orleans, devastating the city and surrounding parishes (counties). Although there were governmental failures at all levels, most observers specifically fault the Federal government, in particular the inadequate FEMA effort directed by Michael Brown – a political appointee with scant managerial experience.
7. “I don’t know where Bin Laden is. I have no idea and I really don’t care.” Most observers lay the blame for the September 11th terrorist attacks on the Bush Administration. Dubya failed to read critical security memos and the White House underestimated the capabilities of Al Qaeda. The initial foray of the “War on Terror,” the invasion of Afghanistan, was poorly organized and Al Qaeda leaders managed to elude capture.
8. “From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.'' [Andrew Card, Bush White House Chief of Staff] Faced with the failure of their efforts in Afghanistan, and the 2002 mid-term elections, the Bush Administration shifted focus to Iraq. They began their war-promotion campaign after Labor Day in 2002 and Republicans gained a congressional majority. On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq on the pretext that the government of Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to the US because of alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. This war cost thousands of Iraqi and American lives and more than $2 trillion.
9. “Democracy is messy.” [Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld] Due to weak administration leadership, both the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions were disasters. The US abandoned use of the Geneva Conventions, resulting in torture, illegal detention, and unprecedented eavesdropping on average Americans. The Iraq War angered Arabs and aided Al Qaeda recruiting.
10. You’re on your own. After 9/11, Dubya answered the question “What can the average American do” by first suggesting, “hug your kids” and then, “go shopping.” Dubya saw no need for collective sacrifice. His perspective infantilized Americans and produced the conservative version of the “nanny state.”
Americans began to mistrust government, lost faith in the future, and felt powerless to enact meaningful change. That’s Dubya’s legacy.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org