George W. Bush
Righty: Thank God this courageous man was chosen to lead our country during its most unsettling crisis since the Civil War. Bush had the guts to challenge Islamic terrorists and hunt them down where they live. (Can you imagine if Gore had been president on 9/11? He’d probably have scolded the terrorists for releasing pollutants into the atmosphere over lower Manhattan!) Unlike most politicians, who flip-flop at the merest squeak from their latest focus group, Bush sacrificed his poll ratings to make unpopular decisions in the name of American security. Think about it: while half the Muslim world was plotting to attack the U.S., we went seven years without a single terrorist incident on American soil. Give the man a break. Years from now we’ll be honoring Bush for turning the tide against terror. I just hope he lives long enough to see it happen.
Lefty: From his mangled syntax to his catastrophic war in Iraq, Bush sealed his reputation as incomparably the worst president in American history. Nixon may have been just as villainous, but at least he was a competent villain. Bush was so willfully ignorant, so aggressively stupid that he made Warren G. Harding look like a genius. (If I couldn’t laugh at Bush I would have popped an artery.) With his insane crusade against Saddam Hussein, his establishment of evil American gulags, and his Orwellian penchant for wreaking havoc in the name of “freedom,” he squandered all the international goodwill we enjoyed as a nation after 9/11. Bush was a fundamentalist Christian fanatic who claimed to receive his foreign policy advice from God. What more evidence do we need that the man was unfit to be president of a small-town travel agency, let alone a world power? We have our own Supreme Court justices (bless ‘em) to thank for electing him in 2000. What rankled me even more was the willingness of the American people to submit to Bush and his reign of terror. We should have impeached him for lying to us about Iraq; in fact, we should have been charging the barricades to bring him down.
The New Moderate:
I remember a moment, shortly after 9/11, when it looked as if our unprepossessing Prince Hal was about to transform himself into Shakespeare’s heroic Henry V. As he stood atop the ruins of the World Trade Center, bullhorn in hand, and shouted for retribution, George W. Bush seemed to embody the strength and eloquence of a natural leader who had just discovered his powers. Here he was, tossing aside scripts, prudence and namby-pamby diplomacy for an honest, from-the-gut response to an international outrage. Unfortunately, that was the high-water mark of his presidency.
Nearly everything that followed was disastrous almost without precedent in our history. The natural leader with the middling mind and fiercely patriotic heart made the fatal error of letting his sinister entourage think for him. (Not that his own thinking would have been much of an improvement.) Bush should have dispatched his advisors at the first mention of “hidden WMD” in Iraq. But he was too ignorant and too unsure of himself to prevail over them. Even after it became clear that his policies were leading us toward the brink of catastrophe, he bravely stood his ground — like a deer staring into the headlights of an onrushing car.
Meanwhile, the reputation of the United States lay in tatters. Our misguided war in Iraq alienated half the world and threatened to bring our overextended empire to ruin.
Hard as it may be to believe, Bush’s domestic record rivaled his foreign policy for disastrous implications. His pigheaded stance on the environment was enough to cause mass apoplexy among people who care about this planet. His carefree spending dug a deep budgetary hole that will take decades to remedy. He was too lax on illegal immigration and too eager to curtail civil liberties. His no-child-left-behind education policy turned our public schools into test-prep centers when we desperately needed them to educate. And of course, his love of unfettered capitalism gave our most reckless plutocrats the green light they needed to gamble with the life savings of millions of Americans. The sad result: our most terrifying financial crash in nearly 80 years.
Worse yet (at least from The New Moderate’s centro-centric perspective), Bush polarized the American people like no other president in memory. Under his watch, the republic essentially split, like some great amoeba, into two separate and mutually hostile cultures: the red and the blue, godfearing Middle American conservatives versus “progressive” coastal liberals. As usual, thinking moderates were caught in no-man’s land. At least we can thank Bush for making our moderate movement necessary.
I don’t believe the man was evil; I don’t even believe he was stupid. Shallow, yes. Impulsive, check. Insulated and uninformed, certainly. Beholden to ruling-class interests, mais oui! But more to the point, Bush II was simply beyond his depth in the presidency.
In peaceful times he might have succeeded; the odd combination of his affable down-home personality (grammar snobs be damned) and upper-establishment connections would have served him well. Despite the Katrina relief disaster that was flogged to death in the major media, Bush seemed to have genuine respect for minorities. He didn’t weigh the political advantages of his policies, much to his credit. (He was the opposite of Bill and Hillary in this department.) But Bush will never escape the opprobrium of having led us into a disastrous and totally unnecessary war. That’s his legacy, and unfortunately all of us will have to live with it.
Summary: George W. Bush wasn’t exactly evil; he was more like your average ruling-class mediocrity who bit off more than he could chew. The downside is that all of us Americans will be paying for his mistakes for decades to come.