Published on Thursday, October 13, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Welcome To My World
by David Michael Green
America’s social conservatives are finally finding out about George W. Bush.
However tempting it may be to say “It’s busting me up”, I actually feel some compassion for these folks. And empathy. Now they know how it feels to have their hearts broken by this man. Now they know how it feels to have that which they love trampled and destroyed by someone whose sole responsibility is to protect it. Now they know how deeply betrayal cuts.
All I can say is, “Welcome to my world”
At the end of the day, this presidency was only ever about two things.
The first was public relations, or the highly successful art of masquerading as what it was and is not. For example, the Bush administration would have Americans believe that it is devoted to the job of protecting our national security from foreign threats.
Indeed, this was the principal and nearly sole emphasis of the campaign Mr. Bush ran in 2004. That this was so was no accident, for Americans were already tiring of the administration and its policies, after only three-and-a-half years in government. In a straight policy-versus-policy contest, Republicans would likely have been beaten handily. But, post-9/11 and with Americans in the field fighting two wars, national security was the trump card with which Republicans could act tougher than Democrats. With the help of the impossibly inept Kerry campaign, the claim of being the security president became more than plausible to voters who otherwise weren’t terribly inclined to vote for Bush.
But, in light of recent revelations, perhaps my newly enraged friends on the right might also wish to revisit their interpretations of Bush as the tough commander-in-chief and “sober at last “join me for a review of the real record, the one without the aircraft carrier landings, the soldiers as photo-op backdrops or the disappeared caskets of AWOL KIA at Dover. Perhaps they will then conclude, as I have, that this greatest of all rationales for choosing Bush in 2004 was ultimately nothing more than the most artful example of the prowess of the great public relations machine surrounding him.
America is at war with violent Islamic extremism, or at least it should be, since those folks are at war with us. But the guy who did 9/11 roams free, planning his next attack. And the president who once said he would pursue him and bring him in “dead or alive”, now literally shrugs his shoulders when asked about Osama, and says he doesn’t really think about him anymore. But this president has, meanwhile, bogged down virtually all American land forces in a Middle Eastern quagmire that shows almost no sign of ending well for either America or Iraq. It would be one thing if this was a necessary war for American security rather than a war of personal choice, but we know for sure that it was not (perhaps the Downing Street Memos read differently to you now, without the scales blurring your eyes?). Even a post-war occupation which had been conducted in a manner minimizing the loss of life on both sides would be something less egregious than this, but Mr. Bush’s Iraq war has instead been a disaster of ineptitude and arrogance which has cost tens of thousands of lives unnecessarily, and which has succeeded in losing the peace after winning the war.
Coupled with the lack of seriousness in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda are now regrouping, and with the global hatred of America that the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq has produced, I ask you now “now that the Kool-Aid has worn off“is this the security president for our times? What record could possibly be more disastrous than this one? If Franklin Roosevelt had responded to Pearl Harbor by letting the Japanese reorganize to attack America again, while meanwhile getting us stuck in an endless war in Mexico to satisfy his personal ambitions and psychological pathologies, would you label that a success?
Ah, you say, but at least this is the competent presidency, no? Remember when your poster boy for hubris came to town in 2001 with his posse of supercilious sycophants? They knew how to run government, we were assured. They didn’t need studies and hearings and logic and Congress and all those other impediments to getting the job done. They literally said, following the Clintons, that “the grown-ups had returned to Washington”.
Take a look now, what do you see? Are you at last able to perceive this buffoonish clown of a man who has been handed everything imaginable in life, but still remains to this day a clown? Can you see a president who vacations and campaigns more than he governs? Who vacations while 9/11 is brewing and he was duly warned? Who vacations while Hurricane Katrina was brewing and even after it hit, oblivious to what was happening until his communications director finally brought him a DVD, four days later? Who believed that the crony he had selected to run FEMA was “doing a heckuva job”, just because he had selected him and the guy was a loyal Bushman? Is this, combined with the disaster of Iraq, your definition of competence?
Okay, perhaps not. Perhaps that whole competence thing was just another PR stunt, but at least we can all relax knowing that we have an honest president at the helm, right? I mean, maybe he’s not the sharpest pencil in the box, but at least he tries hard and is a straight arrow, isn’t he?
Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but this has been the cronyism presidency of all time, just as we on the left have long been lamenting. You too can finally see it now with Harriet Miers and (unless you’re still really drunk on Bush) Michael Brown. But we’ve seen it all along with the Enrons and with Halliburton and Bechtel no-bid contracts in Iraq and Louisiana, the most disgusting examples of profiteering on tragedy imaginable.
And that's just the beginning. If there’s the slightest bit of justice remaining in America, we’ll see the extent of Bush administration corruption in the Plamegate indictments which are likely to be announced soon, probably against Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, the top advisors to the president and vice-president. Will you then still cling to the ridiculous belief that Squeaky Clean George didn’t know about this act of treason conducted for purposes of political retribution against someone who told the truth about his Iraq lies? The same George who, presumably, wasn’t aware of the character assassination for his benefit waged against war heroes like John McCain, John Kerry and Max Cleland? And even if you believe that Bush didn’t know, could you still possibly imagine that he somehow “wanted more than anybody to get to the bottom of this,” as the White House once claimed of Plamegate? Now that you see your man differently, do you also see his corruption for the first time?
Okay, okay. So Bush is no paragon of competence, and two centuries from now Americans won’t exactly be relating to their children cherry tree myths about his wondrous penchant for honesty (though they will be telling the kids about lots of trees being cut down). But at least you can be satisfied that he is a fiscal conservative, right? Someone who has been guarding the use of our hard-earned tax dollars, and who serves as the prudent CEO keeping the books in order?
Of course not, as we true fiscal conservatives of the left have been lamenting all along. This president took the surpluses of the Clinton administration “ which were being used to pay down the massive debts incurred under America’s previous experiment with extreme conservatism, when Ronald Reagan quadrupled the national debt“and turned them into record-breaking oceans of red ink. Okay, so there was a little recession at the beginning, and there was an economic hit from 9/11, but it’s been five years now. You guys are always talking about individual responsibility, but does that only apply to ghetto children who lack healthcare, quality education and economic opportunity? After five years of America’s highest deficits, can’t we now tell the truth about this president?
That truth is that our debt is principally due to the combination of the Iraq war ($300 billion spent so far), a drug and insurance corporation give-away masquerading as the prescription drug bill (nearly $800 billion over ten years), pork barrel legislation the likes of which we’ve never seen before (and not a single spending bill ever vetoed by this president), and, above all, the profoundly reckless tax cuts for the rich which were always the administration’s Job One. Let’s not kid ourselves, George W. Bush is not some would-be fiscally conservative president who ironically impoverished America because of unlucky circumstances. He drove this country and its healthy economy into the poor-house because he is the most immature of presidents, the least concerned about us, and the most fiscally profligate. In short, any image of fiscal conservatism is just another masquerade, like the others.
But of all them, the joke is, finally, that even the guy’s so-called social conservatism was more show than anything. You guys own all three branches of government. How is that you can’t get anything done on these issues? Why isn’t Bush pushing anti-abortion legislation, or even a constitutional amendment to ban the practice, unambiguously? Sure, he threw you a couple of meager bones on stem cell research, or gay marriage, or Terri Schiavo, but he was really never doing much beyond playing you folks for your massive reservoir of votes, unwilling to go to bat on the hard issues and spend any of that political capital he likes to talk about. Ever notice this president’s priorities? Tax cuts, war, Social Security privatization, more tax cuts. Maybe you haven’t figured it out yet, but “except when it comes to women from poor countries at the mercy of US foreign aid rules,” he never seriously champions your issues.
Which leads to a very interesting question: Why not? The answer is, as observed above, that this presidency was only ever about two things. One, as we’ve seen, is masquerading as so much that Bush is not and never was. He’s not the national security president, he’s not the competent president, he’s not the honest president, he’s not the fiscally conservative president, and he’s not even the social conservative president. He wasn’t before, and he isn’t now, even though he has and continues to pretend to be all these things.
But what he actually is, and the other thing, the only thing, that his presidency is fundamentally about, is a kleptocrat. Let’s face it, at the end of the day all that this has ever been about is Bush, his cronies, and their class engorging themselves at the public trough. They never gave a damn about national security, but they knew looking tough would win them power. And that it would make them rich. They never cared about reforming Social Security, but they knew that saying so presented a chance for them to drain that cash cow and spread it out amongst themselves. They never cared about reviving the economy. Hell, they prescribed the use of massive tax cuts for the rich when it was booming, and then again when it was in recession. And, fundamentally, they could care less about social issues like abortion other than for purposes of so successfully duping an army of social conservatives to serve as their electoral shock troops.
Indeed, you have to ask yourself, why didn’t Bush just give this crucial element of his base that which they most wanted, especially at a time when he is almost completely lacking support anywhere else in the American electorate? One might as well ask why the administration has been so obsessed with dismantling the International Criminal Court, to the point of twisting the arms of vulnerable signatory states to get bilateral extradition exemptions for Americans (gee, who could they possibly have in mind?). I think the clear answer to both questions is that, surprise, surprise, the Bush team’s first and only priority is themselves, and they wanted to guarantee another Supreme Court vote to keep themselves in power and out of jail. Hence the choice of the uber-sycophantic Harriet Miers, a nominee who utterly lacks any other serious qualification.
These guys know exactly what is at stake. There are more scandals lurking about this administration than television has wasteland. Especially should one or both houses of Congress fall to the Democrats next year, they will desperately need a compliant Supreme Court to back their bogus assertions of executive privilege in response to any Congressional subpoenas. Well they know that Nixon’s fate was forever sealed on the day when the Court sided with Congress in its demand for the Watergate tapes.
The simple truth is that Bush and Cheney are all about themselves and their class, perched as it is in the economic stratosphere. Why should social conservatives be any more or less shocked about this than the soldiers in Iraq who thought they were there protecting the homeland, the Americans who believed that democracy meant counting votes, or the as-yet-unborn children who will be paying for Mr. Bush’s spending and tax-cutting spree, plus interest on the loans, forty years from now? Just like the rest, it would seem, the conservative rank and file were pawns to be used, exploited and discarded. Wake up and smell the (very, very expensive) coffee.
I began writing this essay with a healthy measure of empathy for my social conservative friends, newly joined as they are to the legions of more clear-sighted Americans who have had their hearts broken by this disgusting excuse for a president, this arrogant, selfish fool with the emotional maturity of a toddler, this antithesis of the best and brightest amongst us, this worst and dimmest.
I even managed to feel compassion when I read the Washington Post’s report of how they were treated to the same disgusting back-hand that the administration had wielded against anyone who opposed them in the past. Describing a meeting last week between Bush’s emissaries and angry conservative movement representatives, the Post-noted how, at one point in the first of the two off-the-record sessions, according to several people in the room, White House adviser Ed Gillespie suggested that some of the unease about Miers “has a whiff of sexism and a whiff of elitism.” Irate participants erupted and demanded that he take it back.
So, how does that feel? Does it make you want to reconsider the take-no-prisoner politics you’ve so heartily approved of in the past? Like accusing opponents of Clarence Thomas (another nominee absurdly labeled at the time as the best candidate for the Supreme Court from amongst 300 million Americans) of being racist? Like smearing even Catholic senators as “anti-Catholic” for asking legitimate policy questions of judicial nominees? And, while we’re at it, would anybody now like to take this opportunity to offer an apology to Cindy Sheehan, whose simple challenge to the president’s lies about Iraq “so powerful (and therefore so threatening) precisely because of its simplicity and its honesty “brought down the usual panoply of character assassination techniques on her head, including unconscionable personal comments about this mother of a fallen American soldier?
I began writing this essay with a healthy measure of empathy for my social conservative friends, but whatever I felt then, I find myself ending in anger. I am angry because I think so-called conservatives were so excited to get what they wanted in the policy arena, were so gleefully arrogant themselves about their new-found power that they knowingly stood aside, blind and silent, while Mr. Bush wreaked his havoc across America and the globe.
I am angry that you belittled us and made posters shouting “Sore Loser” in 2000, when all we patriots wanted for our democracy was for the ballots to be counted, fair and square.
I am angry that you said nothing when this president bankrupted our country in order to enrich the already massively rich, passing along the debt to our children and their children for decades to come.
I am angry that you cheered on a war that we, and the rest of the world, could so clearly see was the obvious fulfillment of a personal agenda, and which was therefore sold on lies. I am enraged that you called people like me “traitors” and “America-haters,” when we opposed this war staged by people who would not themselves fight for their country in their time, nor send their own children to do so now.
I am angry that you lustily cheered on the humiliation of true war heroes in order to steamroll your own agenda through. I am disgusted that you wore purple heart band-aids at your party’s convention, mocking John Kerry’s Vietnam service, that you spread rumors questioning John McCain’s sanity, that you morphed the face of Vietnam vet and triple-amputee Max Cleland into Osama bin Laden’s “all to enhance the power of a coward who avoided the war in Southeast Asia when it was his turn to fight.
And I am angry that we who saw how corrupt and incompetent this administration was had to endure your taunts of being Bush-haters when we were in fact really America-lovers, distraught at what this cabal has been doing to our country.
So now you find yourselves heartbroken and crushed because you didn’t get a Supreme Court nominee overtly committed to ending abortion, and I’m supposed to feel bad for you?
Tell you what. All you social conservatives do the right thing and issue statements acknowledging that we were right all along, and you were wrong. Then apologize profusely for arrogantly mocking us, for marginalizing us, for steamrolling us, even for jailing us. You do that, and then we can talk.
Till then, all I can say is, “Welcome to my World.”
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.