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Reflections on Legacy

December 26th, 2008

This was no ordinary president. This was a president who was, by any measure, absolutely remarkable. Just not in a good way. This is a president who is now neglecting the worst economic crisis in generations so he can instead concentrate on using the presidential office to “secure his legacy”; while America plunges into crisis, this president is so busy trying to make people believe he did a good job that he’s not even doing his job any more.

But campaigning cannot a legacy make; this president’s actions have already defined that legacy.

This was a president who came to office by stealing an election. Who lost not only the popular vote, by a substantial margin, but who in truth lost the electoral vote: had it not been for an illicit purge of legitimate Democratic voters by an assistant of his brother, the 2000 election would have gone the other way.

This was a president who initially distinguished himself by violating significant international treaties, treaties meant to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. All so he could justify a trillion-dollar boondoggle to benefit corporate interests, a missile defense “shield” which could be easily, naturally, more anonymously, and even more cheaply circumvented by not using missiles to deliver nuclear weapons.

This was a president who, perhaps because of the terrorist angle to the missile defense argument, systematically ignored terrorist threats and allowed the most horrific and damaging terror attack in history to hit the United States. Despite repeated specific warnings about who, when, and how, this president ignored all warnings; despite the arrests of two terror suspects learning how to fly but not land commercial jets, no follow-up action was taken. And then, after the attack, this president shamelessly used the fear it generated to his own political advantage.

This was a president who drove the nation into a three-trillion-dollar war which killed more than four thousand of our troops and hundreds of thousands of civilians, a war which was not only unnecessary, but which even caused things to become worse. A war which was so badly mismanaged that it still boggles the mind. A war for control over the flow of oil. A war which claimed to fight terror but instead benefitted terrorists immensely.

This was a president who reversed our long-standing commitment to a policy of never being the first to begin a military strike.

This was a president who reversed our long-standing commitment to never torture.

This was a president who took a budget surplus, the strongest trend to fiscal solvency in generations, and turned it into the deepest deficit and debt in history, not just through massive spending on a destructive, unnecessary war, but through unchecked partisan pork-barrel spending unlike anything seen before.

This was a president who oversaw the deconstruction of countless jobs, the descent of the American wage-earner, the slow but persistent war against unions and worker’s rights, and the relentless expansion of the divide between rich and poor.

This was a president who consistently, even doggedly, acted against the American people at every turn, in favor of wealthy institutions. He gave tax breaks to the rich and tokens to the middle class and poor, tokens cancelled out by reductions in public services. He gave license to corporations to poison, pollute, pillage, and plunder so as to deprive the people of health, environment, and security. Whenever there was a conflict between citizen and corporation, this president always, without fail, sided against the citizen.

This was a president who effectively repealed the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, denying Americans the right to privacy.

This was a president who effectively violated, weakened, or obviated eight of the ten Amendments in the Bill of Rights.

This was a president who politicized the entire government, appointing people to lifetime positions based solely on their political affiliations and partisan loyalty.

This was a president who used the American soldier to legitimize his actions, but never missed an opportunity to short-change and abuse the soldiery.

This was a president who either ignored the intelligence machinery of the nation or else directed it to whitewash intelligence for political purposes, and then blamed his own failures on them.

This was a president who used fear against the American people, from false frightening threats of nuclear attacks so as to start a war to false frightening terror alerts to win an election.

This was a president who incessantly lied to the American people.

This was a president who let New Orleans drown while he ate cake and strummed a guitar, then halted life-saving emergency rescue operations so he could pose for some photo ops.

This was a president who took more time off on vacation than any president in history.

This was a president who took international goodwill and respect and turned it into contempt, anger, and suspicion.

This was a president who tried to dismantle Social Security, Medicare, and the educational system.

This was a president who left the nation in a state of utter disrepair: a crumbling infrastructure, bleeding manufacturing jobs, an economy devastated by deregulation and neglect, with a debt of literally unimaginable depth.

And this is not even a comprehensive list.

This president need not bother to waste time in his attempt to polish his legacy; his legacy is truly secure and undeniable. Since he seems uninterested in working hard to help fix the economic mess he has helped to create, he should simply be true to his legacy, and spend the remaining twenty-seven days on vacation. Goodness knows that having no president is a far better alternative than having this one.

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  1. Tim Kane
    December 27th, 2008 at 08:22 | #1

    Nice job Luis.

    I have been waiting with utter anticipation for the legacy essays streaming forth on the Bush presidency. We are talking about a Presidency that was so disastrous that it is difficult to sum up short clean terms. The depths of the disaster and the recklessness is quite staggering and across so many areas of life.

    Even the term train wreck doesn’t cover it. Train Wreck covers Katrina or foriegn policy or economics, or the constitution, or enivronment but the totality and the depth of the wreckage is hard to to fathom. So I’m thinking only the best writer, only the best pundit will be the one that finds away to sum up this disasterous presidency succinctly. I can’t help but imagine they’re all trying to achieve this.

    Yours is the first I’ve read. Its a nice list – but even you struggle with just the staggering amount of failure that needs to be listed, and then there’s the depth of the failure. And of course it’s not all failures – some of the failure was on purpose, so that Bush views it as a success.

    I saw at a news stand a cover article in Harper’s titled “The Ten Trillion Dollar Hangover.” Hmmm, could be promising.

    About a month or so ago, I calculated that the amount of money that was moved from the demand side of the economy to the supply side of the economy might have been about 10 trillion dollars. That’s $10 trillion to the richest 30,000 families in the United States. And maybe half of that went to the richest 3,000 families in the United States. $10 trillion. To understand just what a staggering sum that might be, consider that Korea’s economy has never reached the $1 trillion level. Korea produces more cars and steel than any nation in Europe, save Germany; it also is number one or two in cell phones, ship building, semiconductors, and flat panel displays. Most of Korea’s 50 million people manage to live a middle class existence on just under $1 trillion dollars. So that’s a lot of money. It’s no wonder the economy is in a melt down now. Demand has been thoroughly gutted. Obama talks about the audacity of hope. But his stimulus packages generally runs under $1 trillion. The audacity of Bush’s economic policy was to move tens of trillions of dollars into the hands over a very few people. I’m quit sure that the economy will not recover until that ten trillion, and then some, is moved back.

    As I often say, the United States is based upon only one principle, free contract. Where the money goes, who gets what, when is all based upon bargaining power. Money follows bargaining power.

    Prior to 9/11 Bush willfully, wantonly, purposefully under reacted to the threat of terrorism. After 9/11 Bush willfully, wantonly, purposefully over reacted to the threat of terrorism, the most egregious of which was his invasion of the wrong country at the expense of our capturing the source of 9/11.

    Most probably is that he purposely invited, if not let, 9/11 happen on his watch, at the very least through purposeful neglect of anti-terrorist measures. Bush’s problem is that he came to power with a negative mandate. He was fully committed to delivery to those who had bankrolled his campaign – more so than anyone every had before him – but he lacked the mandate, the bargaining power, to deliver.

    Reagan and his father might have talked the supply-side game, but when push came to shove and they saw the locomotive coming at them, both Reagan and Bush I sanctioned tax increases. Reagan even protected manufacturing jobs by forcing quotas onto the Japanese and implementing an out-right protectionist industrial policy in the steel industry that revived the steel industry in the United States.

    George Junior had no qualms about squashing industry. Right now, he figures he’s got the best of both worlds: he’s created a situation almost impossible for the auto companies to turn around, but he’s provided enough relief to ensure that those companies die on his successors watch. Nice trick.

    Thinking back to this time 8 years ago, I can remember contemplating the significance of the election. On the one hand, I realized, in the past, there were few substantive changes of policy between presidents – for instance, no one ever touched NATO. But Bush was talking about undoing NATO. Just the talk sent up a red flag.

    Also I remember contemplating what Bush’s election might mean to me personally. I spent the last year of George Sr.’s presidency unemployed. I survived that on the strength of my savings, but just barely. So I recall, sitting there at work wondering just what Bush Jr. would mean to me personally. I knew he was much worse than his father – after all he was the loyalty police of his father’s administration the last couple of years there. A drunk and a failure in every other part of life, he was being groomed for a political future already in 1992. By 2001 I was both in the middle of a phased career change and making close to $140,000 a year, as a consultant. The career change was a risk but I figured my old career was my safety net. But as a consultant who designed systems, that means the economy has to be doing well enough for new firms to justify building new systems. I got the law degree, from a prestigious University, no less, but I failed to pass the bar exam. When I tried to fall back to my old career in 2005 the market had become saturated by H1B visas. I will take me at least 4 years to earn what I earned in one year back in 2001.

    Of course I didn’t need to make that kind of money, nor expected it. But I figure that Bush Junior has cost me at least $500,000 personally, and probably double that, in lost wages and other opportunities. I’m not sure if I was locked alone in a room with him, if we would both walk out alive.

    I’m just one person. You can multiply my tale of woe by 1 or 2 hundred million and you get a sense of the depth of ruin this man has enacted.

    In this sense, one realizes that George Junior has a unique talent for ruination: from being a full time drunk for 40 years, ruining two companies he created – to possibly ruining international global civilization. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “In the field of Public Affairs, few people could have so thoroughly ruined so many things in so short of time.”

    In short, he is the reverse Midas (Sadim?) – every thing he has ever touched turned to dust.

    It’s said that the Roman Empire was gone 50 years before people realized it wasn’t comming back. Likewise, I don’t believe we will know whether or not we have survived George Bush until some 50 years from now. All history written in the short term is merely memoirs. So it may be 50 years before we can fully encapsolate the disasterous presidency of George Bush.

    Quite likely there were 600 young liberal voters in Florida that day who did not get around to voting, whose futures have been ruined by this man. 600 votes in the other direction would have taken the nation and the world down a definitively different fork in the road. However, its seems likely that this nation had an overdue confrontation with reactionary conservativism that hopefully the Bush disaster has thoroughly discredited. Yes there are still Fox News anchors saying that FDR made the depression worse, but that school of thought is well on its way to be thoroughly discredited now.

  2. Luis
    December 27th, 2008 at 13:16 | #2

    Some excellent points there, Tim. Quite frankly, I think we can see a lot of the difference right now. Imagine Bush’s attempt to steal the 2000 election had not succeeded, and Gore had been president. Imagine that he had continued Clinton’s counterterrorism practices rather than ignore them like Bush did. No 9/11, no Iraq War, not even a war in Afghanistan. No terror scare. No huge tax cuts for the rich. Sure, there would have been a recession, but Gore’s plan to start paying off debt and his tendency towards favoring the poor and middle class would have likely affected Congress to a certain degree. Republicans might have made their gains in ’02, or maybe they would not have, but for the first few years, the Dems would have been in control–remember, it took Jeffords to break Cheney’s ability to give Republicans control of the Senate; Gore would have had a Democratic-controlled Senate for at least the first two years, and could have accomplished enough to break out of the recession.

    Also remember that Gore was far-sighted about a lot of cutting-edge stuff; all smears aside, he did see the Internet coming years ahead of time and as a Senator saved it from death in its infancy, leading to what would become a multi-trillion-dollar boon to the economy. He was equally prescient, long, long ago, about the environmental crisis, and would by now have allowed for the development of the Green industry that we’re just barely getting started on now. He would have built up the Internet infrastructure, making America more-cutting edge. Instead of exporting our industry to cheap-labor countries, he would have strengthened both labor and industry.

    He would not have caved to every Republican whim even if they had grabbed both houses in ’02, and there would not have been pork-barrel spending galore. (In fact, if you recall, the Republicans won big in ’02 chiefly because they rode the 9/11 terror scare and the Iraq War buildup, something they would have lacked had Gore won.) He would not have deregulated like the Republicans allowed, meaning the sub-prime mortgage crisis probably would not have hit. (Contrary to right-wing claims, it was not just the political pressure to sell to minorities that caused the crisis, it was the predatory lending practices that took advantage of that direction which led to the current economic downturn; lending to minorities could have been done responsibly and safely.)

    Sure, one can fantasize about a superlative Gore presidency, just like McCain’s fantasy-rich “2013” speech. Probably not all of the good stuff I imagine Gore could have accomplished would have happened. But one thing we can know for certain: it would have been, far, far, Far, FAR better than what Bush did. We would be in much better shape, far more secure.

    The real question is, was 2000 the turning point it truly looks like? Was that the time when the bad dream of Reaganomics could have been washed away more or less for good, when we could have held on to that budget surplus, continued to build up America’s industry, and bought the United States another several decades, if not another century of world leadership?

    And is it still salvageable? Because now, it looks bleak; we will hopefully survive, but what Bush did to us looks similar to what happened to Great Britain at the end of its empire–it remained a world power, but lost its dominance. At least that did not happen from within like it might have happened to us.

    I have real trouble imagining Bush as being remembered fifty years from now as anything but the president who killed America.

  3. Tim Kane
    December 28th, 2008 at 02:10 | #3

    You ought to elevate those comments to a regular blog post.

    As Rodney Dangerfield said, “If you want to look thin, stand next to someone fatter than you.”

    Maybe the best way to fully comprehend Bush is to compare him to a Gore Presidency.

    I, like you, see a much rosier scenario if Gore had been elected. No 9/11. Clinton’s last letter, left on the desk to Bush, said your number one worry is Terrorism, specifically Al Qaida. That means no post 9/11 recession – at best a garden variety recession. Second: the way to avoid ‘bubbles’ are to deflate them through taxation at the higher end of the spectrum – as I always say, there was far too much supply in 2001 than demand – all that money sloshing around on the supply side was searching for returns in an era where demand was too soft – what that causes is bubbles in small areas where returns are decent.

    We know from Gore’s recent speeches that he wouldn’t have cannibalized regulation. We wouldn’t have outsourced nearly as much work nor imported nearly as much labor – all of which would have helped the demand side of the economy.

    The down side, in my mind, would be a still un-repentend well financed, well organized, and alarmingly popular reactionary right-wing Republican party. It’s still un-repented, well-financed and well organized, but it’s lost it’s credibility and it knows it. It’s walking on egg shells now – thus Gingrinch, Pat Robertson and Buchanon all are saying nice things about Obama now. This is their way of trying to ensure that a failed recovery is owned by him and their way of avoiding looking like obstructionist.

    I think you are right about the comparison to the British. World War I was their George Bush – in four years they lost millions of men to a war that achieved nothing – but bankrupt them. During the next three decades their empire was bigger than ever, but it no longer had the vigor to sustain itself nor prevent usurpers. Perhaps one reason for the great depression was the lack of definitivie leadership during a period of transition from Britain to the United States. (by the way, Britain’s empire may have actually peaked in October 1945 – the Indian Ocean at that point was a British lake, but it’s also when Britain was obviously an American protectorate as we paid most of their bills).

    I like to think that art often anticipates life or is at least is cutting edge. In 1996(ish) I thought the movie Independence Day was both America centric when it had the whole world leaning on and depending upon the U.S. to figure out how to defeat the aliens, still I believed that maybe it was capturing a truth. Indeed, within 3 years later I understood that it had. By their was also the movie the Titanic, reminding people

    I think the sinking of the Titanic was a foreshadowing of the entire 20th century. In 1912 – the world was surging – especially the western world. There was a belief that modernism – through global liberalism, especially modern science and economics, could accomplish anything. In 1912 people were projecting the advances of the prior 40 years forward and saw nothing but golden things. The sinking of the Titanic thus served as a dreadful foreshadowing. Nearly all (though certainly not all) Science fiction movies that came after that, right up to 1977, always had a dreadful quality to it (even when not intended) – including the movie 2001. Only Star Wars changed that by balancing the dread (Darth Vader) against the not so dread (Jedi) and creating a tie between the dreaded and the source of what was dreaded and vis versa (representing a sort of maturing of our views). I also think that the big Titanic movie acted as another foreshadowing.

    An America that rallies, becomes Britain of the 1920s. An America that fails to rally becomes the Britain of the late 1940s. Over all there’s hope. England ended the century in pretty good shape – though now, with their economy so dominated by finance, they are faced with a rough decade or two themselves.

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