by David Michael Green
You would not want to be George W. Bush right now.
Not that you ever would anyhow, but especially not now. Indeed, there are indications that not even George W. Bush wants to be George W. Bush right now.
That second term in office, the one that just a year or two ago seemed so precious that he was willing to launch a war just to obtain it, now feels like a life sentence. Plans for four years spending political capital now look a lot more like endless months of capital punishment.
The Bush Administration has nowhere to go but down, and that is precisely where it is headed. Poll data show that even members of his solid-to-the-point-of-twelve-step-eligibility base are now deserting him as his job approval ratings plunge like so much Enron stock, lately crashing southward through the forty percent threshold. With almost his entire second term still in front of him, Bush is poised to set new records for presidential unpopularity. That scraping noise you hear? It’s the sound of sheepish voters creeping out to the garage late at night, furtively removing “Bush-Cheney 2004” bumperstickers from the back of their SUVs when no one is looking.
Meanwhile, as the scales fall from the eyes of the hoi polloi, even the one constituency which could plausibly make the claim that Bush has been good for America (read: their wallets), is speaking the unspeakable as well. Robert Novak, of all people, wrote a column last week chronicling his experience watching rich Republicans at an Aspen retreat bash the idiocy of Bush administration policies on Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, stem-cell research and more. Perhaps these folks realized when they saw Trent Lott‘s house go under that Mother Nature doesn’t care whether you’re rich and well-connected any more than does al Qaeda. You may be on Karl Rove’s Rolodex, but now Bush is taking you down and your yacht too, not just forgotten kids from the ghetto who enlisted in the Army as the only alternative to a life of poverty.
Even conservative columnists like David Brooks (though not Novak) are writing articles nowadays accurately describing the changed mood of the American public. Where those powerful currents are heading is unclear, but given the radical right experiment of the present as their point of departure, there would seem to be only two choices. We can either go completely off the deep-end and finally constitute the Fascist Republic of Cheney, or we can turn to the left, toward some semblance of rational policymaking. The latter seems far more likely, especially as America increasingly regains its senses after a long bout of temporary insanity. These are bad bits of news for poor George, but worse yet is that they are only the first signs of the coming apocalypse. The real fun stuff is just around the corner. I’ll confess to more than a little schadenfreude as I contemplate the ugly situation staring Republicans officeholders in the face right now. They are tethered to a sinking ship, and have only two lousy options to choose from as November 2006 approaches. One is to stay the course and drown. The other is to start renouncing Bush and his policies, appear to voters as the complete hypocrites and political whores many will prove to be, and then still drown anyhow. Nobody could be more deserving of such a fate, with the possible exception of Democrats like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry who have been even more hypocritical yet in facilitating many of the president’s disastrous policies.
Watching these GOP opportunists jump ship will certainly be fun, but the greatest fun awaits the president himself. Bush has now lost everything that once sustained him. That includes 9/11, now safely in the rearview mirror for most Americans. That includes his wartime rally-around-the-flag free pass, as he has failed to capture America’s real enemy, while lying about bogus ones to justify an invasion pinning our defense forces down in an endless quagmire. That includes, post-Katrina, the ridiculous frame of Bush as competent leader, and the former reality of the press as frightened presidential waterboys.
And that’s the good news for W. The bad news is all the chickens coming home to roost. The economy is anemic and fragile, and yet Bush has played the one card in his deck ostensibly (but never really) intended to remedy the country’s economic woes. (Remember during the 2000 campaign when times were flush and tax cuts were the prescription? Remember in 2001 when the economy was in a recession and tax cuts were still the prescription?). In any case, Bush’s one-note economic symphony has succeeded in producing precisely the cacophony of disaster that progressive commentators have predicted all along: massive deficits, little or no economic boost, a hemorrhaging of jobs overseas, and a vastly more polarized America of rich, poor and a disappearing middle class.
Another angry chicken, of course, is coming home in the form of devastating storms and a grossly incompetent administration to deal with them. Bush is not entirely responsible for Hurricanes Katrina or Rita, of course, but he is partially responsible for them by his willful ignorance of the global warming issue. And he is more than a little responsible for the carnage and damage done, because of his budget-slashing on preventative structural projects, because of his deployment of needed-at-home Guard forces to Iraq, because of his staffing of the government with completely incompetent crony hacks, and because of his and their astonishingly lame performance in responding to a known crisis. Where I come from, a president who remains on vacation during possibly the worst natural disaster to hit this country, praises his FEMA chief for doing a “heckuva job” when the guy doesn’t know what any American with a TV set has known for 24 hours about New Orleans, and then later fires him for poor performance, is a president who should be impeached for those reasons alone.
The other demons awaiting George W. Bush just around the bend are multiple and grim. One of these days (right?), Patrick Fitzgerald is actually going to move on the Treasongate story, and signs suggest that multiple heads will roll within the White House. The political damage will be even worse than the legal, though, as Bush’s clean and patriotic image will be smashed beyond repair, as no one will believe that he himself didn’t know all along who committed treason by outing an American spy, and as he will likely lose the key magicians who have kept him afloat for five years and more. Oh well. W’s loss will be Leavenworth’s gain.
And there is more. The Jack Abramoff investigation has now been tied to the White House. There are also presumably an infinite number of other scandals waiting to explode (can you say ‘Halliburton’?) should the Democrats capture either branch of Congress next year, not least of which being those concerning the Downing Street Memo revelations. Gas prices are off the charts and home heating bills are supposed to soar this winter. Jobs are disappearing, along with pensions and healthcare coverage, inflation is likely to rise, and voters are surly already.
But, of course, the biggest cross for Bush to bear is the one he built for himself, and thus the most richly deserved. In Iraq, simply put, there are no good options. None for America, that is, but even fewer for George W. Bush.
What can he do?
He can’t win. America (or, more accurately, America’s oligarchy) is clearly losing the war as it is. It is a fantasy to imagine that, at this late date, more troops could pacify the resistance. But even if that were so the political consequences to Bush, especially given his promise of no draft on his watch, would be devastating and rapid. American public opinion has already turned decisively against the war. Imagine if there were a draft and all the bumper-sticker patriots across the land had to actually make a sacrifice for their president’s transparent lies. All hell would break loose, and the Republican Party would be dead for a generation.
He can’t lose. The major downside to wrapping yourself in the flag, landing on aircraft carriers, labeling yourself a “war president”, and being marketed in an election campaign as the reliable national security choice is that you had better deliver. Egged on by the likes of Cheney, Wolfowitz and Perle, Bush no doubt thought Iraq would be a fine little walk in the park from which he would benefit politically for the rest of his presidency. (Nor, assuming this president possesses anything resembling a conscience, need he have concerned himself with resulting deaths, since he told Pat Robertson “we’re not going to have any casualties”, and he may have even believed it.) Unfortunately for all concerned – most especially the Iraqis and American soldiers – Bush’s presidency would be one very real casualty indeed should he decide to pick up his marbles and leave the arena, and so he will not, no matter the carnage or the futility. Doing so would be effectively admitting that there was no legitimate reason for the war in the first place. Everyone now knows that, of course, but were Bush ever to even hint at it, he would be committing instant political suicide. He can’t draw. One option is to find some – any – kind of stability, declare victory and go home, saying we got Saddam, we brought democracy, yada, yada, yada. But how many Americans are now going to be fooled by calling an Iraq ruled by militants of one stripe or another a victory, after all the hooey about fighting for democracy in the Middle East? How many think replacing Saddam with a brutal dictator of another name is worth the price of 2,000 American troops and two or three hundred billion dollars? How many will be convinced that Iraqi women having fewer rights than they did under Saddam Hussein, of all regimes, represents a win for the home team? How many will still be unschooled enough to look at a Iranian-dominated theocracy in Iraq and call that a triumph? Moreover, even these total disasters presume a stability of some sort which may be little short of fantasy at this point. When the Saudi foreign minister goes public with his concerns that Iraq is careening toward civil war, you know you’re in deep, and no amount inanities sanctimoniously uttered by Scotty McClellan can keep the truth at bay.
He can’t get help. Now there’s a good one. Maybe the French have finally seen the light and realized what a mistake they made by not bringing something to the party in 2003, eh? No doubt there’s a long queue of countries behind them wanting to commit forces to the farces that are decomposing in the Cradle of Civilization. Luckily for George Bush you can still thumb your nose at the rest of the world and have them come to your rescue afterwards. Just think of what a pickle he would be in if that weren’t the case…
He can’t divert attention. Time was, a government in trouble at home could throw a little war in some hell-hole abroad and divert public attention away from their domestic or other foreign failures. Kinda like Reagan in Grenada, or the Argentinians in the Malvinas, or Thatcher in the Falklands. Yet, while the American public has managed to massively and repeatedly disappoint still sane observers in recent years, it doesn’t appear to be in any mood for more of Mr. Bush’s Fun With Foreign Policy antics. Not that the country any longer has the available military force to pull it off anyhow, but it hardly seems that an invasion of Iran right now would have much effect diverting attention from Iraq, even if it could somehow successfully be done, another fantasy in its own right.
In short, George W. Bush is toast, as is the whole regressive conservative movement of which he is but the most egregious exemplar. Not even another 9/11 would be likely to help him, as the security president who fails to provide security is the nothing (but simply failed) president. The demise of the right is now likely be true even if Democrats continue hurtling down their current path toward breaking all world records for political cowardice by a major party. Indeed, the worst of the Democrats may now also be in trouble amongst the base – as well they should be – for their cozy associations with the right, enabling its destructive march to the sea these last years.
It is thus too bad, as we emerge from the nightmare of the last quarter-century, that so many of us lefties are atheists, agnostics or otherwise debauched secular humanists. Not only have we had to suffer the reign of Bad King George here on Earth, we can’t even have the satisfaction of knowing that he’ll be spending the rest of eternity rotting in Hell.
The good news, though, is that he’s already there, and the flames are only beginning to warm him up. Perhaps that is why Time describes the dry heaves of a young staffer who had to breach the fantasy bubble and tell this “cold and snappish” president the unhappy truth about an issue, or the National Enquirer’s report that Bush, who according to a family member is “falling apart”, is back to drinking.
Thus does a new possible ending to the Bush administration suddenly emerge as a real possibility. Previously, I had assumed that our long national nightmare would be over in one of three ways, either with Bush somehow managing to finish his term, with him being impeached, convicted and run out of Washington, or with him being impeached, convicted and then refusing to leave, precipitating a constitutional crisis and even, possibly, a civil war. Now I see a fourth very real possibility.
It was all fun and games when everybody loved him. When the guy who had failed at everything in life except having the right last name all of a sudden was showing those elitist snobs who was tops after all. When the man with a Texas size inferiority complex got to be adored by millions as if he were some kind of religious icon.
But what if that all changes? What if Diminutive George, just like LBJ before him, can’t leave the completely scripted bubble his staff manufactures, just as such set-pieces become increasingly difficult to sustain? What if the Peevish President can’t escape – even by going to Crawford or Camp David – the mothers of dead children, the baby-killer taunts, the stinging-because-they’re-so-accurate chickenhawk accusations, the calls for his own daughters to go to Iraq, the possibility that everyone was right about him all along when they dismissed him as the family clown? What if all of a sudden, it sucks being president? Why bother, then?
It is clear now that one way the Bush administration might end would be with the president’s resignation, in order for him to duck into more tranquil quarters. Who knows, maybe he could spend his days getting tanked in Crawford, not writing another book, or going into exile, perhaps in the south of France.
Of course, a pardon deal would have to be prearranged with Cheney, if they haven’t convicted him yet, or with Hastert if they have. And, equally certainly, the resignation would be put down to “the president wanting to spend more time with his family”, or some such ludicrous McClellanism, no more or less plausible than the rest of his daily fare. But the truth would be plain for all to see. The frat-boy party-time president who condemns kids less than half his age to the hell of futile battle in support of his lies would himself be deserting as commander-in-chief when the fun part ended. Kinda like he did last time he wore a uniform.
History, it would seem, all too rarely delivers justice. The privileged few go out of this life richer than they came into it, while the poor often leave even poorer, not to mention sooner. Those who commit unspeakable crimes sometimes become presidents or prime ministers, while those who dare speak truthfully of those deeds are crushed owing to the threat posed by their honesty.
Even more rare yet are the cases in which history delivers justice with a deliciously deserved irony. But George Bush has provided us with just such a case. And the very delicious irony is that he is now being undone by a cynical choice he himself made to go to war in Iraq with other people’s blood and other people’s treasure, for the purpose of enhancing his tenuous self-esteem and the power of his presidency.
Goodbye, George. May you know precisely the rest and precisely the peace someone who would do such a thing deserves.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
by David Michael Green