A little over a month ago, I wrote "The Handy Reference Guide to Bush Disasters, Incompetencies, and Lies" and asked readers to add to the list, which was an attempt to be a relatively non-partisan chronicling of some of the worst abuses of Bush and his incompetent cronies.
The responses came in droves.
Thus, we will add more items to the original list, but the original rule of non-partisanship must be kept in force. I did not want this to be a highlighting of mere policy differences between liberals and conservatives. Instead, the list should be a sincere attempt to show obvious failures, lies and disasters that have been clearly detrimental to the world, to America or to American interests. So, picking up after the end of the first list:
31. No Child Left Behind. By far and away, most of the responses cited my failure to include this in the original list. (In fact, some emails were simply blank but had "NCLB" in the subject line.) I had considered including the No Child Left Behind Act in the original list, but thought it might be too partisan; after examining the issue further, though, I found that my fears of partisanship on this issue were misguided. The law has faced bi-partisan criticism from teachers and parents, administrators and educational theorists, conservatives and liberals. A reliance on standardized tests and the resultant punishment of schools for not meeting certain benchmarks has lost an entire generation of students by condemning them to learning things that are virtually useless. Schools have lost valuable class time in not only core subjects - as teachers skip English, math or science class time to drill students on standardized tests - but also on more "electives," such as art, music and physical education. Sen. Edward Kennedy was famously behind Bush on NCLB, but it became obvious even to him that Bush never intended to adequately fund the mandates, making them almost impossible to achieve. The result - many children have been left behind.
32. While we're on education, let's include some of the other misguided administration policies that readers citied - support for teaching intelligent design alongside evolution and abstinence-only programs that actually promoted anal and oral sex while doing nothing to discourage "ordinary" sex.
33. The direct administration cover-up of its complicity in torture and abuse of innocent people at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Included in the original list was the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld sanctioning of torture, illegal wiretapping and extraordinary rendition. But a new series by McClatchy (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/detainees/story/38775.html) has detailed the jaw-dropping venality, criminality, arrogance and corruption of Bush and his team, who made up new legal doctrines in violation of U.S. and international law specifically for the purpose of not being held accountable for war crimes. Now, those on the other side of the fence repeatedly justify torture or mistreatment of detainees because, they say, they are our enemies or are prisoners of war. The problem with that argument is, for many of those apprehended there was no evidence they were enemy combatants; they were simply designated as such and held without charges. In one case, McClatchy reported, one detainee, an employee of the Afghan interior ministry, repeatedly asked his guards to simply call the Afghan officials to verify his story that he was actually a government official and friend of the U.S. But he was never allowed to present any evidence of his innocence. The McClatchy reporter made a couple of phone calls and verified the man's story. He was held for four years. This was not an isolated incident; McClatchy reported on hundreds who were held but later released, having never been charged. Many of those were tortured or abused; many are still being held, having been framed or jailed because of bribes or the settling of old scores. Let anyone doubt Bush's complicity in torture, just listen to his own words. He said he knew of, and approved of, discussions to approve harsh interrogation techniques for prisoners; he doesn't call it torture, but by U.S. and international standards, the techniques were, indeed, torture. According to some of his own military officers and international attorney Philippe Sands (author of the devastating book "Torture Team,"), this may mean that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others could legitimately be prosecuted for war crimes.
34. Abuse of the Constitution and contempt for U.S. law. (See above.) No one wants terrorists to be set free. Sadly, in the minds of Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld, and their millions of followers, there is no conception of the notion of providing fair hearings for these people and then punishing them, severely, when necessary. For these people, providing even a hearing for someone held without charges or evidence is "surrender" or a "pre-9/11 mindset." In actuality, of course, it has been these neocons who have endorsed the terrorists, by surrendering freedoms which make America what it was before they took office. It is the right wing who has weakened the Constitution. It is the right wing who would as rather see American values of justice and checks and balances destroyed before the release of one detainee, guilty or innocent. And this is supposedly from a group that believes in limited government. If you think this is all an exaggeration, listen to what they say.
35. The divorce of the vice presidency from the Executive Branch. This is actually a Cheney argument; in 2007 he exempted his office from the presidential order that establishes government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information because he said it wasn't part of the executive branch. Imagine this: suppose a rogue vice president might use such a privilege for abuse of his powers of office... oh, wait, that's what Cheney did, as well.
36. The Bush administration violated federal law in 2006 when it restricted states' ability to provide health insurance to children of middle-income families. That ruling from the Government Accountability Office came after I wrote the column. The GAO said that Bush could not legally prevent states from expanding health insurance for children, but legality of his actions isn't much of a consideration for Bush.
37. Several readers said to include privatization of government and/or cronyism in appointments on the list; I did so, but perhaps not strongly enough. Bush has abused his office and the trust of voters by placing partisan hacks in positions of regulatory authority over such agencies as the Energy Department, FDA, Interior, FCC and EPA. The result is a government giveaway to private interests and a massive loss of protection for average consumers. Some may find this point partisan, but, given that three-fourths of the country disapproves of Bush's performance, it seems like a mainstream opinion. To be sure, Democrats are not free of corruption, but this isn't how the best of them govern - they see government as an attempt to prevent corporate as well as governmental abuses, not primarily as a tool for lining the pockets of supporters at taxpayers' expense. As for privatization, I did mention the privatization of war, but other disasters of this kind certainly are worth mentioning; one is the privatization of services at Walter Reed Veterans' Hospital. The Army Times reported that cost-cutting because of privatization led to staff cuts and loss of critical care for wounded veterans. The desire to reduce or gut veterans' care stems from the beginning of Bush's terms but gained steam with the Iraq War. And Bush has repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for the troops. As noted in The New York Times last month, "President Bush opposes a new G.I. Bill of Rights. He worries that if the traditional path to college for service members since World War II is improved and expanded for the post-9/11 generation, too many people will take it." The ability of those words to outrage us has diminished only because we have lost our awe at the utter incompetence and morally corrupt behavior that have marked George Bush's presidency.38. Bush's obliviousness to the suffering he has caused. Bush danced a jig while waiting for John McCain. He looked like a frat boy giving chest bumps to airmen at an Air Force graduation ceremony. He commented repeatedly, throughout wartime, about what a great time he was having. He made jokes about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction, while people were dying, doing precisely that. He said the world should stop at nothing to stop the terrorists and in the same breath told reporters, "Now watch this drive," as he hit a golf ball. He claimed to give up golf because of the losses in Iraq but even that was a lie. He apparently has no ability to reflect upon himself, his conduct, or his presidency; who could argue that that is a good qualification for a president?
39. The freedom of Osama bin Laden. While Bush, Rudy Guiliani and other blowhards complain that giving terrorists "new rights" will endanger Americans, they overlook the point that they have given terrorist bin Laden the greatest right of all - his personal freedom. Instead of capturing bin Laden, Bush forced us into a war that stunted the hunt for bin Laden and allowed him to walk free all these years. Imagine if a Democrat had let him go free this long... can you imagine the howls of anger and bitterness from the right? The hypocrisy is really quite astonishing.
40. The total poisoning of politics. While dirty politics is not exclusive to any political party, Bush, Cheney and Karl Rove politicized a war and the fight against U.S. enemies. This has turned ordinary political bickering into a fight for the soul of the country and the future of the world - not a necessity when Bush had most of the world behind him following 9/11. Bush, unlike other lame duck presidents before him, doesn't even have the class to stay out of the current presidential election - speaking absurdities about appeasement to the Israeli Knesset (by the way, Israel was negotiating with Hamas at the time and has brokered a cease fire, which may or may not hold) and now calling for off-shore oil dwelling in a coordinated hack job with John McCain.
41. The Valerie Plame/CIA leak case. I had not included this case because of the conservatives' unequivocal defense of Rove and Scooter Libby. While I believed that it was tantamount to treason to out a CIA officer's identity simply to discredit a man who had questioned the need for war, I was willing to admit a partisanship on the issue. But as former press secretary Scott McClellan pointed out in his recently released book, what the White House did in this case amounted to a criminal cover-up through orchestrated lies. Even those who back Bush don't really argue with anything McClellan says; they just say that he's "not the Scotty" they knew.
42. And, in breaking news... another to add to the list - the illegal elimination of outstanding job applicants at the Justice Department because they had either used "liberal" code words, worked for "liberal" causes, or just seemed vaguely liberal based on where they went to school or with whom they associated. Such an ideological litmus test should be an outrage to all Americans, and perhaps most to those who favor a limited, blind government.
The list is still nowhere near complete. But after thinking about the upcoming presidential election, one has to wonder if the old "liberal" label will work against Barack Obama. In fact, pick any attack against Obama - say, the notion that he would wantonly bomb Pakistan - and you will find a worse policy on the same issue that Bush has already adopted. In 2006, Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, said Bush administration threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" if it didn't cooperate in the war on terror. Yet one hears the hysterical wailings of those on the right complaining that Obama is "naíve" because he threatened to bomb bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan. This is why the old "liberal" labels may not work in 2008. The answer is simple: "We tried it your other way; look what happened." The fact is, almost nobody could do a worse job than the bunch that is already in there.
Guy Reel is an assistant professor of mass communication at Winthrop University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.