Monday, January 19, 2009

Goodbye, farewell and amen

Unless, of course, they’ve undertaken a coup d’etat overnight and subverted the Constitution again, George Bush and Dick Cheney are only hours from passing the torch of the national executive to Barack Obama and Joe Biden, formalizing what we’ve known for far too long: the Republican business model of presidential politics is a thing of the past.

In the morning — that great gettin’ up morning — about nine hours from now, Barack Obama will take the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States and begin the process of dismantling the damage done by the Bush administration. Much of that damage done by Crew Bush #43 was attitudinal, a different way of thinking about the United States’ place in the modern world. And that damage to the nation’s sense of itself, its well-being, its future, may be the worse damage of all.

For Bush & Cheney, there was finally no real strategy, no overarching theme beyond control and leverage for the sake of a gauzy, ill-defined and needlessly belligerent set of principles whose imposition drained the national treasury and alienated the greatest nation in the world from the world.

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We’ll miss the phrase “axis of evil,” that curious mix of words as much the stuff of Churchill and World War II as it would have been a great title for a Motley Crue record. That twist of language established the emotional pretext for global aggression. It was the first sign of the Bush Doctrine, the principles formally lashed together in a National Security Council paper and published in September 2002 — a testament to unilateral and pre-emptive belligerence against any country even slightly considered a threat to the United States.

“Our security will require transforming the military you will lead — a military that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world,” President Bush told cadets at West Point in June 2002. “And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.”

With that distillation of intent, the Bush administration lurched the nation into a war that continues, at a ruinous cost of our fortune, our standing, our precious human lives. What a legacy, guys.

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We’ll miss that cute thing they did with the shredder and the U.S. Constitution, effectively suspending habeus corpus for inmates in a prison in Cuba, and doing it on the flimsiest of pretexts. We can’t forget the way they manipulated the language, turning “prisoners” into “detainees.” Or how they legitimized the phrase “War on Terror,” a meaningless sobriquet whose objective is utterly unattainable.

We remember how they enabled one Attorney General who fired U.S. Attorneys on purely political grounds, and enabled another Attorney General who refused to call the torture of those “detainees” for what it was.

Their policy of wide-open economic deregulation contributed to a corporate gigantism that backfired badly on Wall Street, and a liberalization of credit access that lured impressionable Americans eager for the storied American Dream of homeownership into improvisational mortgages whose terms would ultimately break them, and shatter that dream for them, and millions of other people besides.

And after Hurricane Katrina, the single most devastating domestic meteorological event in modern times, the federal agency that should have made a difference in the aftermath, if not been prepared for the aftermath before the storm arrived, was a woeful evidence of Keystone Kops miscommunication presided over by a feckless administrator who couldn’t find his ass in the Category 6 windstorm that cost too many people their lives.

All while the president did a flyover in Air Force One. And some of the poorest people in this nation were scattered by the water to the four winds, left to wonder if their government ever really gave a good goddamn. Like a lot of the rest of us.

And running throughout the last eight years of the Bush-Cheney tandem, we were witness to a kind of swaggering stylistic cluelessness; a belligerence of style that saw the president manhandling the German Chancellor or taking his wife to India and not even visiting the Taj Mahal; a cowboy rhetoric that put the deadly earnest business of modern war in the language of the dime-novel Western. Dead or alive indeed.

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Bush & Cheney. They left a lot of broken things in their wake, like the sloppy owners of the house who turn a mansion into a fixer-upper before handing over the keys. They nurtured a divisiveness and unease in the country that’ve managed to spill into every facet of our lives, from the economic to the cultural, the religious to the racial.

We’re the heirs to their world view, and a trillion-dollar deficit, a housing market in free fall, a stock market in coma, a badly and needlessly tarnished international reputation, and an overall malaise they’ve done nothing to prevent or overcome. Not bad for eight years’ work.

Let’s raise a glass to Bush & Cheney — phrasally wed forever, like Laurel & Hardy. Or Mick & Keith. Or Archie & Jughead. It’s them that brought us to where we are today, ladies and gentlemen. Remember them. And thank your personal Gods: In the morning, we won’t have them to kick us around anymore.
Cheney and Bush: Public domain. Katrina: NOAA.

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