As everyone at Blogocrats knows I’m not one to bad-mouth politicians (wink and snarl, especially the US President), and in spite of the seriousness of this article I can’t help but wonder , didjAmerica jump off the cliff – or were they Bush-Whacked?
Frank Rich is a columnist for The New York Times, in which this edited column first appeared.
We like our failed presidents to be Shakespearean, or at least large enough to inspire Oscar-worthy performances from magnificent tragedians. So here, too, George Bush has let us down. He is not a memorable villain so much as a sometimes affable second banana whom Will Ferrell can nail without breaking a sweat. He is smaller than life.
The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Bush’s presidency found that 79 per cent of Americans will not miss him. He is being forgotten already, even if he’s not yet gone. You start to pity him until you remember how vast the wreckage is, stretching from the Middle East to Wall Street to Main Street and even into the heavens, which have been a safe haven for toxins under his passive stewardship.
The one indisputable ability of his White House was to create and sell propaganda both to the public and the press. Now that bag of tricks is also empty. In what was intended as a farewell victory lap to show off Iraq’s improved post-surge security, Bush was reduced to ducking shoes.
Iraq burned, New Orleans flooded, and Bush remained oblivious to each and every pratfall on his watch. Americans essentially stopped listening to him after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but he still doesn’t grasp the finality of their defection.
Bush is equally blind to the collapse of his propaganda machinery. Almost poignantly, he keeps trying to hawk his goods in these final days. Though no one is listening, he has given more exit interviews than either Clinton or Reagan. Along with old cronies like Karl Rove, he has embarked on a Bush “legacy project”, as Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard described it on CNN.
To this end, Rove has repeated a stunt he first fed to the press two years ago: claiming that he and Bush have an annual book-reading contest, with Bush chalking up as many as 95 books a year, by authors as high-falutin’ as Camus. This hagiographic portrait of Bush the Egghead might be easier to buy were the former national security official Richard Clarke not quoted in the new Vanity Fair saying that both Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had instructed him early on to keep his memos short as the President is “not a big reader”.
Another, far more elaborate example of legacy spin is on the White House website: a booklet recounting “highlights” of the administration’s “accomplishments and results”. With big type, much white space and child-like trivia boxes titled “Did You Know?”, its 52 pages are the literary correlative to “Mission Accomplished”.
Bush kept America safe (provided his presidency began September 12, 2001). He gave it record economic growth (provided his presidency ended December 2007). He vanquished the leading al-Qaeda terrorists (if you don’t count bin Laden and al-Zawahri). He gave Afghanistan a thriving “market economy” (if you count its skyrocketing opium trade) and a “democratically elected president” (of one of the world’s most corrupt governments). He supported elections in Pakistan (after propping up Pervez Musharraf past the point of no return). He “led the world in providing food aid and natural disaster relief” (if you leave out emergency chief Michael “Brownie” Brown and Katrina).
But the brazenness of Bush’s alternative-reality history is itself revealing. The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage. So do his many exit interviews.
The man who emerges is a narcissist with no self-awareness whatsoever. It’s that arrogance that allowed him to tune out even the most calamitous of realities, freeing him to compound them without missing a step. The President who famously couldn’t name a single mistake of his presidency at a press conference in 2004 still can’t.
He can, however, blame everyone else. Asked if he feels any responsibility for the economic meltdown, Bush says: “People will realise a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so before I arrived.” Asked if the 2008 election was a repudiation of his administration, he says: “It was a repudiation of Republicans.”
“The attacks of September 11 came out of nowhere,” he said in another interview, as if he hadn’t ignored frantic intelligence warnings that summer of an al-Qaeda attack. But it was an “intelligence failure”, not his relentless invocation of patently fictitious “mushroom clouds”, that sped us into Iraq.
The crowning personality tic revealed by Bush’s final propaganda push is his bottomless capacity for self-pity. “I was a wartime president, and war is very exhausting,” he told C-Span. “The president ends up carrying a lot of people’s grief in his soul.”
With this level of self-regard, it’s no wonder that Bush could remain undeterred as he drove the country off a cliff. Bush failed because, in the end, it was all about him.”
Over to you
Filed under: Uncategorized |