Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Top 10 Ways the George W. Bush Administration “FUBARed” the United States of America (2000-2008)

[This is an essay I wrote five years ago at the end of the George W. Bush administration. Not a lot of people talk about him now.]

No one knows what will happen between now and November 10, 2009, but one thing is certain - George W. Bush’s Presidency will end. And with an approval rating hovering at or below 25%, it looks like Bush will finish his eight years in office as one of the least popular Presidents ever.

It seems almost tasteless to rehash the many things this administration has done to warrant such a degree of condemnation from the general pubic. I think it’s critical that we do think about these things, though, if only as a warning to future citizens as to what can happen when arrogance, greed, zealotry, and incompetence meet at the top and rule the world.

#10 The Malaprops
“I'm…not very analytical. You know I don't spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things." (aboard Air Force One, June 4, 2003)

In 1999 Bush campaigned as a Regular Guy, an easy-going Compassionate Conservative who you could have a beer with. Deep thinkin’ and book-learnin’ were not on high on his list. We all knew that. What we didn’t know was just how far away from “articulate” and “smart-sounding” the gentleman from Crawford would turn out to be.

Entire books and Web sites have been written that do nothing but document the mangled words coming from our Commander-in-Chief’s mouth. If there were not so many difficult and dangerous things going on in the world right now, Bush’s inability to consistently string together coherent sentences would be laughable, maybe even folksy in its way. But this is not the time or place, and Bush’s legendary lack of intellectual curiosity and borderline-incoherent public mumblings are a national embarrassment.

I would have expected the opposite to be the case, considering this is a man born and raised with every conceivable advantage a free society could provide: An upbringing in extreme wealth and privilege, educational training at Harvard and Yale, the inside track to several important positions in business and government, until finally becoming arguably the most powerful person on Earth. And yet, his deficiencies are so severe that, after decades in public life, he still needs to be stage-managed like a burned-out pop star.

#9 Congress and Other Lackeys
“If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." (Washington, D.C., Dec. 19, 2000)

Dick Cheney. Donald Rumsfeld. Condi Rice. Karl Rove. Alberto Gonzales. John Yoo. Jack Abramoff. A Republican majority in Congress. A sympathetic Supreme Court. A Right-Wing Media Machine and echo chamber headed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, and Fox News. They’ve all had a hand in making the administration what it is today – about as complete and scandal-ridden a failure as a Presidency could be - while convincing enough citizens that any alternatives would be “un-American.”

The Culture Wars and the Republican Revolution helped lay the groundwork to get Bush into office. The Conservatives managed to impeach Bill Clinton, and for six years after that the party that hates Big Government dominated all three branches of the Federal law making and enforcement process. Maybe the results aren’t so surprising.

#8 Church as State
"I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job." (to a group of Amish he met with privately, July 9, 2004)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-religion. One’s choice of what deities to pray to or what philosophy to follow is between you and yours. What I do know, however, is that at some point in America’s history somebody important decided that it was a good idea to leave religious fervor at the door when it comes to public policy.
The Bush administration does not feel the same way. There’s nothing wrong with seeking votes from an organized and politically aware group like the evangelical Christians. There is something wrong with trying to make Christianity the official religion of the United States. Bush made clear steps in that direction with his efforts to change the way the Federal government and religious organizations worked together, culminating in his establishment of his White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives.

During the current campaign, one of the nastier smears against the Democratic nominee Barack Obama is that he is secretly a Muslim and he cannot be trusted because of hidden ties to extremists. Not only are these allegations lies (Obama is a Christian), but they also contain the underlying assumption that a Muslim should not run for President and that all Muslims are terrorists. Whoever started these rumors seeks to pander to primal fears of “the other,” fears which (like it or not) are often reinforced by organized religion.

The Framers of the Constitution saw this coming centuries ago, and put up walls that kept religion and government separate. Bush and company have been chipping away at these walls ever since he got into office.

#7 Oil
“We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." (Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002)

Bush and Cheney are oil guys. They have had no incentive to alter America’s current energy policy, which is to keep using as much oil as possible. Even as oil passed $100 a barrel, the only answer has been “more drilling!” even when experts stated flatly that if America sucked every last drop of oil from its territories it wouldn’t come close to meeting current demands.

Thanks to this Presidency, the US is at least 10 years behind its European counterparts in everything from alternative energy sources to fuel efficiency and mass transit. The need to keep the oil flowing has colored just about every aspect of international policy while giving our “friends” in OPEC a degree of economic leverage far out of proportion to anything seen before in history.

#6 The Economy
“That's interesting. I hadn't heard that." (Washington DC, Feb. 28, 2008 during a press conference when told that some analysts are predicting gasoline could go up to $4 a gallon)

The Bush administration never had much of a domestic policy outside of rallying the righteous to save Terri Shiavo in 2005. The few stabs at a domestic agenda there have been (like No Child Left Behind and the Clear Skies Initiative) have gotten mixed reviews at best.

Bush’s economic philosophy has been one of massive deregulation of Wall Street combined with massive spending increases for the military and tax cuts during a time of war. Open your local newspaper to see where that has gotten us. The Conservatives’ Free Market philosophy has led the planet to the brink of global recession, while the American taxpayer gets to bailout banks and investment houses to the tune of $700 billion, and the country faces a trillion-dollar deficit that our great-great grandchildren will be paying off.

#5 The Surveillance State
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." (Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004)

In the fear and confusion following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Bush administration helped usher in domestic intelligence gathering ideas on a scale that would amaze George Orwell.

There was "Operation TIPS", which would have encouraged people who have access to U.S. homes (like plumbers) to report suspicious activity. This proposal was ultimately rejected, along with the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program that was proposed by the Defense Department. Projects from that program continue to be funded and worked on under the Information Awareness Office.

The measures that did make it through to be come the law of the land include the USA PATRIOT Act, a set of rules based on the idea that in order to remain free the country has to give up some of its freedom to the government. And then there’s the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, where the National Security Agency, with the help of the phone companies, illegally spied on million of persons within the United States when procedures to do it legally were already in place.

Unless someone somewhere draws a line in the sand and says “no more,” the US government will continue down a path that will eventually rival the Soviet Union in its paranoid scrutiny of its own citizens.

#4 The 2000 Presidential Election

It almost seems pointless to talk about it again, but the more time passes the more incredible the scenario looks.

An election with razor-thin results comes to a close amid accusations of fraud and discarded ballots. Everything comes down to Florida, a Republican stronghold where the brother of one of the candidates just happens to be governor. The American people become way too familiar with hanging chads and pregnant chads. The Republicans sue to stop the counting, sending their case to a Supreme Court heavy with Conservative appointees. The Court agrees. Counting stops. A meek Democratic contingency lets it all happen. It’s the first time a branch of the US government stepped in and stopped the lawful, legal process of the citizens of the country voting for President.

I will never forget a scene from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, where the Congressional Black Caucus went around the Capitol Hill chambers at the 11th hour begging anyone in the Senate to sign on to their objections to the process and let the Florida votes be recounted, and how not a single Senator (not even Bush’s opponent Al Gore) would stand up and help. To me, it is one of the most shameful scenes ever in American government.

Little did We the People know that this was only a taste of how the new administration would operate, replacing legal processes and systems with the will of a few powerful people who do whatever the hell they want and justify it later, if at all.

#3 Hurricane Katrina
"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." (Mobile, Ala., Sept. 2, 2005 to FEMA director Michael Brown, who resigned 10 days later amid criticism over his job performance)

In late August of 2005, an American city suffered a fate usually reserved for communities in far-off “Third World” nations. The hows and whys of the levees breaking, the images of people stranded at the Superdome or drowned in their homes, the glacial process of reclaiming whatever was left of the historic city, all of these things have been documented in detail.

Is it possible, though, to adequately describe the complete impotence of the Federal government’s response to the crisis or Bush’s cluelessness about the magnitude of the suffering? It’s not like the government’s emergency services were just having an off day. Their ineptitude was the direct result of long-term neglect of infrastructure, a shortage of National Guard personnel and equipment that was tied up in other ventures, top-of-the-food chain nepotism, and the Every Man For Himself philosophy that defines modern Conservatism.

The Federal government’s response (or lack of) to this tragedy begs a deep question – what is government for, anyway? When the agencies that the American people pay for can’t help its own citizens in a time of obvious crises, what’s the point of even having them? Maybe that was the Neocons' plan all along.

#2 Unitary Executive Power
"I'm the decider, and I decide what is best.” (In response to a question about firing Donald Rumsfeld from his position as Secretary of Defense, April 18, 2006)

When I was in high school, I was taught that one of the things that makes America special, the thing that separates Us from history’s monarchies, dictatorships, oligarchies, banana republics, and other rule-by-the-few societies, was the Constitution. That document set up a system of government by three separate branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial), each one having its own special functions as well the ability to act as a check on the other two.

During the last eight years, it seems the dynamics have changed, and America has one main branch (call it the Decider Branch) and everyone else. Whenever there is a really important decision to be made, you can count on Bush and his circle of advisors to set up a government-within-the-government to handle it. (e.g. The Office of Special Plans, the extensive use of signing statements to declare which parts of laws Bush will and will not follow, and the $700 billion-by-Friday Paulson Bailout Plan). All of these special agencies have a few things in common – only Republican loyalists are involved, there is no advice from, oversight by or accountability to Congress or the courts, and any decisions made are final.

What’s the reason for this imbalance of power? Why are things set up this way? To paraphrase Bush’s standard response: “Because I’m the President and I said so.”

Bush’s lawyers have tried to explain that the President is, in fact, granted an awful lot of power in a time of war. This would be the War on Terror they are referring to, a war the President decided we were in without any official declaration from Congress (which used to be the accepted standard for being at war).

It remains to be seen if the next President will hold himself to the same standard that Bush has, which is to say, more of an emperor than an elected executive. If that person does, it will take some serious intestinal fortitude from the other two branches of government to exercise their Constitutional powers (aka do their job) and restore balance to the system. Based on what I’ve seen the last eight years, I’m not holding my breath.

#1 The Iraq War
"My answer is 'bring them on.'" (on Iraqi insurgents attacking U.S. forces, Washington, D.C., July 3, 2003)

Ever since George Bush took office, attacking Iraq was a plan his administration wanted to put into action. 9/11 and a lie about illegal uranium processing gave them the motive and opportunity, a pliant Congress, a gaggle of media cheerleaders, and an American populace willing to take its leader at his word gave them the means.

They thought it would be easy, as far as military actions go. The first part was. Bush declared victory. And then the war started.

As of October 27, 2008, the war in Iraq has cost (figures taken from here and here):
*4,188 US soldiers killed
*43,787 US soldiers wounded
*Hundreds of soldiers from US allies killed and wounded
*Hundreds of thousands (maybe more) Iraq citizens killed, injured, and scattered across the Middle East (I don’t think I’m wrong to assume that more than a few of them now hate America more than they ever did before)
*$565.5 billion US dollars and counting
*Illegal rendition and torture scandals that have cost the US a serious amount credibility from other nations
*A training ground for a new generation of radical Al-Quaeda terrorists
*The kind of respect in the international community that will take generations to get back

There doesn’t appear to be an end in sight to this conflict. The President’s spokesmen continue to say that we’re winning. The President himself hasn’t has much to say on the matter, and his silence might speak louder than anything else.


In conclusion, as Americans head to the polls in what might turn out to be the most important election in decades, I ask the Undecided Voter one question: does the party responsible for George Bush really deserve your support?

--Clarence Ewing

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