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.