This is the last weekend of the Bush Presidency. KagroX notes the Politico’s bafflement at people thinking Bush sucked. I recently had an exchange from one of my Republican friends where he said something along the lines of “at least Republicans respect the office of the Presidency even if they disagree with the President.”
This notion of “respecting the Office” has always confused me a bit. (Never mind that I didn’t note a whole lot of ‘respect for the Office’ when the umpteen thousand frivolous Clinton investigations were ongoing.) When I heard “respect the office” during the Bush presidency, it usually seemed to be code for “shut up and take it.” The best I can do is take “respect the office” as the equivalent of “give him the benefit of the doubt.” I respect that — but only to the extent there is doubt.
Now, if Bush had done the usual Republican thing — thrown out some tax cuts for the rich, ballooned the deficit, and doled out pork for defense contractors — I wouldn’t have been happy with his Presidency, but it would have been a low level disgruntlement. But, Bush had to kick it up a notch or two. I won’t pretend I was on board with the Bush presidency at any time. I wasn’t. I opposed his Presidency because I thought tax cuts before paying off the debt was idiocy. (During the 2000 election, my Republican friends told me that we ran the risk of “paying off the debt too fast.” Guess we dodged a bullet there.) I also opposed him because his chief qualification for office seemed to be that he had been born to George H.W. and Barbara Bush. Then he came into office on the strength of a sketchy Supreme Court decision. Then we had a summer of rolling blackouts in California where Enron and other energy suppliers were manipulating the markets but the oil men in the executive branch were telling the Dept. of Energy to look the other way.
But then came 9/11. That didn’t bring me over to the column of Bush supporters, but it certainly dampened my opposition. I even had brief hopes that we could all rally around a great cause, root out the religious extremists ruling Afghanistan, and turn the place into a place that was free and prosperous. I had read that Afghanistan was a much better place in the late 60s, early 70s and thought maybe we could return it to that kind of state as an example of what happens when Americans bend their will, energy, money, and military might to a noble cause. That was probably naive on my part. But, we had the world on our side, and as a country, we were united.
The big elephant in the room when discussing the Bush Presidency and when discussing how we pissed away all of that post-9/11 support and unity is, of course, Iraq. The decision to invade and occupy that country is the defining act of Bush’s presidency. That decision led to the corresponding decisions to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq beyond anything realistic. You had Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice assuring the American people they knew where the WMDs were and scaring the American people with the threat of a nuclear holocaust if we didn’t invade Iraq. This was nonsense, of course. And if the likes of Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice didn’t know it was overhyped nonsense, they were wilfully ignorant. They wanted to go to war with Iraq anyway, of course. The neo-cons had stated their desire to invade Iraq has part of their Project for a New American Century during the Clinton administration. 9/11 and the WMDs were a pretext. In fact, 9/11 wasn’t a very good pretext inasmuch as none of the hijackers were from Iraq, instead they were from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, primarily. Al qaeda and Iraq never had much use for one another. Sadaam Hussein was a megalomaniac concerned first and last about his own secular power. Al qaeda’s religious zeal would only undermine that power. None of which stopped an ongoing effort by the Bush administration to link 9/11 and Iraq together in the public mind. Viewers of Fox News, as it turns out, were particularly susceptible to such a false message.
The campaign of disinformation was the critical piece of the undertaking. Had the Bush administration waited until the occupation of Iraq could be properly planned and executed, that campaign would have fallen apart as better information became available and as the true expenses of the undertaking (10 – 100x the projected expense) became apparent. International support, weak at its best, would have only gotten weaker as Hussein was increasingly revealed to be a paper tiger instead of a legitimate threat. That’s why we had to go with “the Army we had” instead of the force necessary to do a proper job of occupying Iraq.
Iraq had already hollowed out the support for the Bush administration. Terri Schiavo and Hurricane Katrina would supply the finishing blows. The Schiavo affair seemed to be the last straw for many moderate Republicans — the sorts of folks whose conservatism was more about money and limited government than the ravings of the religious right with whom they had always been uncomfortable bed fellows. You had Bush coming back from vacation early to sign special legislation whereby the federal government was injecting itself into the hospital room of a brain dead woman because of the religious sensibilities of a politically influential minority. This kind of political intervention into private matters for religious regions was intolerable to many otherwise good Republicans.
Katrina zeroed out Bush’s support from non-Republicans. As the nation watched a city drown, they saw a President willing to remain on vacation and do little to nothing. When he did come back, he uttered the immortal words “heckuva job, Brownie” to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; a guy who was doing a demonstrably lousy job. Then, it came to light that this guy wasn’t remotely qualified to lead FEMA. He had been a commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. Bush had campaigned on the idea that government was incompetent and seemed determined to prove it through inept, political appointments. With Katrina, it came crashing home to folks that we *need* government for some things and so long as that’s true, we need leadership that would do its level best to make government as effective as possible.
These are just the highlights. There have been any number of lesser or included offenses: political prosecutions and staffing decisions for the Department of Justice; torture; suspension of habeas corpus; yellow cake in the State of the Union; outing Valerie Plame; no-bid contracts; warrantless wiretapping; etc. etc. etc. So, any doubt for which he was entitled to a benefit was long ago erased, and “respect for the office” almost compels disrespect for the man who executed the duties of the office so poorly. Whatever sort of job President Obama may or may not do, the nation will benefit from the end of the Bush Presidency. Good bye and good riddance.