Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top 5 Lessons from the Bush Administration

In six more days, George W. Bush will no longer be the President of the United States.


There was a time when people actually got upset if you bashed Bush, but those times are long gone. When a host of key members of the Republican party – an outfit that derives much of its power by dropping their differences with each other and uniting for the good of the party – bash Bush, you know a guy is a miserable screw-up. As Lee J. Cobb said, "You can throw out all the other evidence!"

For now, I'll just ignore the "Bin Laden Determined..." and "We do not torture" and "grave and growing threat" and "Helluva job, Brownie" and "The fundamentals of the economy are sound" tidbits, and I'll ignore all the ugly secrecy and blatant incompetence and insane debt tallies, and I'll get straight to the issue at hand: What have we learned?

1. In some cases, there is a significant difference between Democrats and Republicans

Back in the 80s and 90s, I heard well-educated friends say they weren't going to vote because there aren't any significant differences between the parties. Ralph Nader relied on this misunderstanding to nab a few key percentage points from Al Gore, tipping the election to the wildly ill-prepared George W. Bush.

In the past, a much stronger case could be made for this sentiment. The country wouldn't have been that different had Mondale defeated Reagan in '84 or had Dole defeated Clinton in '96. Issues like business vs. environment or unions vs. corporations would have had the balance tipped slightly in one direction or other, but it's hard to imagine the country being significantly different under, say, Bob Dole from '96 to 2000.

George W. Bush and his Mayberry Machiavellis shattered this notion, at least for now. The Republican primaries in 2000 scared me enough to make politics a personal obsession. I'm sorry to say that I was right about Bush. And so was The Onion. They wrote this in 2001, a few days before Bush was inaugurated. Please read it -- it's worth the time -- and then come back. I'm not done.

2. A puppet leader can sometimes take the strings away

There was a common sentiment back around the 2000 election that it's fine if Bush is out of his depth. Republicans are sane and responsible, and Bush will have no choice but to surround himself with capable leaders. I even comforted myself with this logic.

The problem is that Bush is a more forceful leader than anyone expected. He was able to impose his will. He and Cheney were able to purge the government of capable workers like Richard Clarke and fill the spots with a bunch of creepy yes men like Alberto Gonzalez.

3. Democrats make a lousy opposition party

John Kerry, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton all vote to give Bush the power to go to war. Weenies. They didn't realize that when someone like Dubya is the leader, united we fall, divided we stand.

4. No matter how much damage bad Republican leaders can inflict, they still get half of the country's votes

The same could be said of Democrats, of course, but I'm talking about lessons we learned from the Bush Era. After Bush ran the country into the ground in several ways, and after the economy collapsed during the bumbling McCain campaign, the Republicans still got 47% of the votes. Almost half.

I think it all comes down to social issues. When I was a teenager, it was infuriatingly difficult to see a woman's bare breasts anywhere. I had to rely on my imagination while scanning the underwear section of the Sears catalog, or every now and then a friend would score a Playboy. Now I can turn on the television in the middle of the day and see nudity, and we're not even getting HBO or Showtime. It's fantastic!

But some people don't think so. Some people think that instead of being appropriately ashamed of themselves, homos have the gall to try to get married. And with all these navel piercings and tattoos and premarital sex, who's going to stop all this?

The Republicans. That's who. At least that's the claim.

5. Freedom Is Just Another Word for Nothin'-Left-to-Lose

One of the premises our country is founded on is that we need a system of checks and balances in order to prevent any individual or group from taking too much power. Our country's foundation made what happened to Germany when the Nazi party took power seem impossible in our country.

Now, I'm not so sure. For the first time in my life, I think it's possible for one party to become controlled by its lunatic fringe, take power, undo the system of balances, and turn our country into a banana republic.

I know, I know. This blog is depressing.


  1. the handmaids tale. it's possible. and i'm scared.

  2. 1) Fiscally, there has been no (significant) difference between the parties, at least when considering that Bush has spent, spent, spent. The deficits Bush has racked up are an embarrassment. As for social issues, see #4, below.

    2) Some of Bush's inner circle have gone on to defend themselves by saying that they thought he was going to be another JFK. He was an outsider (as much as the son of a president can be). He did have a (limited) history of being fairly bi-partisan. He was going to bring a more moderate tone to DC.

    3) Not just in the Legislative branch. Kerry? Really? That's the best you got?

    4) A financial-themed talk-show that I listen to did one show where for 3 hours they just took calls and asked, "who are you voting for and why."

    Callers were not allowed to comment on the opposition, only why they were going to vote for a particular candidate.

    I was suprised and horrified by how many callers who were voting for McCain were doing so because of abortion and gay marriage. There were no calls about guns and none about immigration.

    McCain was never going to do anything to restrict abortion or gay rights. But there are a lot of people in the country who would never vote for anyone who 'supports' abortion.

    Bush never did anything about guns or abortion. He did speak up about gay rights, but during his presidency, that seems to have been a primarily state-based issue.

    My problem is that these social issues are a 2 on a scale of 10. They don't really effect that many people and they don't make or break our social structure. They sure get magnified so that people think just because 'democrats support abortion and republicans oppose gay rights' that there is a meaningful difference between the parties.

    At times, there may be meaningful differences, but those differences are not because of differing views on most social issues (unless you start bringing things like healthcare into the picture).

    Nobody in this country did or did not get a gun, abortion, or gay marriage because of GWB.

    5) Undoing the system of balances requires 75% majorites in the legislative branch and ratification in 66%(?) of the states.

    More importantly, it would require an issue of overwhelming importance and a leader of incredible charisma.

    Obama is the most charismatic leader of my lifetime, and as you said, 47% opposed him. Maybe if you pair Obama with starvation, something crazy could happen, but I don't see it.

    In summary, as I've said before, I think Bush never got past 9-11; in fact, he explicitely said so in his farewell address. I think his presidency will be summarized by describing that inability to move forward coupled with his stubborness in doing what he thought was right rather than what his advisors told him was the best thing to do.


    PS: I think almost everyone in the country is ready for Bush to hang 'em up and Obama to take over. Virtually every multi-term president has had their lowest approval ratings at the end of their 2nd term. Bush especially so.

  3. Good commentary.

    One of the things I liked about Bush was his personal convictions. I thought this would help him tackle tough problems. But instead it prevented him from listening to / looking for other opinions and resulted in him getting far off course. Now I value more the leader who is deliberate and wise, and value less the "rugged American individualist".

    I don't think the president has THAT much to do with social issues. How often does a president take up one of these social banners and run with it? More typically people, groups, organizations start the ball rolling and the president jumps on board when it has enough support and needs the last little push.

    I agree that our system of government isn't bullet-proof (weasel-proof?), but it's pretty good. As citizens we have the responsibility to be vigilant.

    I'm cautiously optimistic about Obama. If he can ride this tidal wave he started, it might be a good ride, but he could crash hard. I wouldn't want to be in his shoes - people expect so much from him. If he chooses his battles carefully and crafts good solutions, with the support of the people (which he has), he can get things done. The danger is, the only thing worse than an ineffectual government is a effective and bad government.

    The next four years won't be boring.

  4. I didn't mean to imply that the President has that much to do with social issues. On the contrary, social issues are often used as a smokescreen. In the big scheme of things, I don't care about abortion and gay rights. I care about how the government spends its money and conducts international affairs.