I just read PJG’s Facebook status, which says that PJG is “starting the mental countdown until our national nightmare finally ends!” I presume he means the departure of one George W. Bush, but he may be talking about the return of Battlestar Galactica tonight. I doubt it, though. He’s in line with Robert Redford, who, at the outset of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, opened his remarks by saying the following:
“Nerves. Anxiety. Worry. Pain. Panic. Fear. I’m not talking about the Festival; I’m talking about what’s going to be exiting the national scene on Tuesday.”
And then there’s today’s Doonesbury:
Bush is going into exile, almost as much as Nixon did, and, unlike when Clinton refused to cede the spotlight when his successor took office, I’m betting we don’t hear a lot from or about Bush for a good long time once he’s gone. I’m not sure how much of that will be voluntary.
As for me, a guy who proudly voted for the guy twice and would have voted for him again if he’d been on the ballot this last time around, I think Bush’s positives outweigh his negatives, which is hard to do, as his negatives are massive. He has actively presided over the most aggressive expansion of government in the history of the republic, and he’s done so cheerfully and “compassionately.” Bush is, in my estimation, single-handedly responsible for the collapse of the Republican Party, and, more significantly, the entire conservative movement.
Contrary to what his legion of mainstream critics maintain, Bush was the exact opposite of a hardened conservative ideologue. He lurched left on entitlements and education and immigration whenever the mood suited him, with no core political principles to tether him to something greater than himself. So his party followed him and collapsed in the process. It’s going to take years, maybe decades, for the GOP to claw its way back to relevancy again, and that is unmistakably George Bush’s fault.
So how on earth could I find enough positives in the Bush presidency to outweigh all of that?
Well, I should note that the judiciary, notably the Supreme Court, is now filled with people who believe that legislatures should make the laws, not unelected judges. John Roberts and Samuel Alito are perhaps the most lasting tangible elements of Bush’s legacy, and they may be enough to keep the courts from jumping off into the abyss.
But that’s not enough to outweigh the damage Bush has done to his party and his ideology. No, the real Bush legacy is that we now live in a much safer, more stable world.
You don’t believe that? You think Bush lied, kids died? That we’re now loathed by everyone and the world hates us and if only we’d have been nice, life would be so much better?
That’s a load of crap.
Move beyond the slogans and imagine what would have happened, for instance, if Bush had backed down in Iraq when the UN told him to. What kind of world would be living in now, where Saddam Hussein knew that nothing he could do would provoke the nations of the world to action? You think we’d have gone seven and a half years without another terrorist attack on US soil? We now have a solid ally in the heart of the Middle East, which is going to make it a whole lot harder for the Arab world to rally behind al Qaeda. You think that happened by accident? Or that it doesn’t matter? Nonsense. We’ve been at war with these people for decades, and Bush is the first president to truly fight back.
Obama is already demonstrating that he recognizes all of this. He’s not going to shut down Gitmo and yank us out of Iraq and undo everything Bush he’s done. And the world isn’t going to suddenly like us a lot more just because the Cool People have one of their own in the Oval Office. As Obama discovers what it’s going to take to keep the country secure, I’m willing to bet he’s going to develop a true appreciation for just how much George W. Bush sacrificed on behalf of the nation he served without flinching.
People talk about the verdict of history, and that it will take time to measure how Bush will be remembered. Some side with Doonesbury and presume the verdict is already in. I don’t much care. My guess is that the people who write history will never give Bush credit for what he’s done, just as they still struggle to pretend that Ronald Reagan had nothing to do with the fall of the Iron Curtain. The collapse of Communism was a historical accident, just as the safety of America under Bush’s watch is another accident. Bush probably knows this, and decided it was more important to be right than to be beloved.
That’s why, when Bush leaves the scene, the nation will have lost more than it will ever admit.