Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Cow Pie Presidency: Abjectly Amoral With the Ability to Shock But Not Surprise

A year ago today, back when a surge was something that you didn't want to fry your computer, extraordinary rendition was a stirring playing of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, people thought FISA was the federal agency that protected their bank deposits and a Huckabee was a . . . something or other, I posed a couple of questions:

Can we survive two more years of a Bush presidency?

Have we become a nation of sheep?

Looking back over the previous 12 months and ahead to a watershed 2008 election, the answer to both questions is an equivocal "yes."

The ability of the most amoral presidency since forever to shock but not surprise ripened like cow pie in a pasture on a hot summer day during 2007:

* George Bush's Forever War morphed into a business deal that merely forestalls the eventual collapse of Iraq: Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki gets coup insurance in the form of a long-term U.S. troop presence and the U.S. gets first dibs at Iraq's vast untapped oil riches.

* In a fairy tale ending, the president commuted the prison sentence of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. Libby, of course, had been thrown overboard by his bosses as they lost control of the Wilson-Plame affair, which grew out of one of the administration's bigger whoppers justifying the war.

* U.S. attorneys were sacked because they resisted becoming handmaidens for a Justice Department that had become a branch of the Republican Party with subpoena power.

* The shroud of secrecy was torn off the administration's enthusiastic embrace of Nazi-like torture techniques, which so troubled the head of the CIA's clandestine service -- although not for the right reasons -- that he ordered the destruction of terrorist interrogation videotapes despite being explicitly told not to do so.

* The administration's bellicose Iran policy crashed upon the shoals of a report by the nation's spymasters that Tehran apparently had shuttered its nuclear weapons program four years earlier, an inconvenient disclosure that did not dissuade the president and vice president from continuing to rattle their sabers.

* Two key administration players – presidential mentor Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez – resigned after working tirelessly to suborn the rule of law while stonewalling a feckless Democratic congressional majority in its feeble attempts to call them out. Both men, and most especially Gonzalez, face a perilous New Year because of their probable criminal culpability.

* Meanwhile, the U.S. economy increasingly looked like a house of cards as the gap between Wall Street and Main Street grew, the war became a half-trillion dollar albatross and the dollar tanked against major foreign currencies. A home mortgage meltdown long in the making was exacerbated by an administration that shamelessly continued to reward the rich and give the finger to a middle class in crisis through, among other acts, vetoing an expansion of the life-saving S-CHIP program.

Can we expect more of the same in 2008? Absolutely. But that does not diminish the importance of digging deeper into the rotten core of the Bush presidency.

This means bringing Gonzalez and other perps to justice, demanding increased transparency in what the administration and Congress does, working to restore civil liberties lost in the unprecedented Bush-Cheney power grab, and insisting that the Republican presidential field either climb out of Bush's bed or explain why voters can expect more of the same if any of them become president.

Will the republic survive another year? Yes, just as the hundreds of terrorism suspects have survived another year without due process in Guantánamo Bay and other way stations in the Rumsfeld Gulag, but there remains the specter of a citizenry even more disenchanted with its president and other so-called leaders and the institutions they profess to represent than at the end of the Clinton presidency.

* * * * *
With low voter turnouts in the first years of a new millennium punctuated by earth-shaking events that cry out for greater citizen involvement (although those hair-on-fire evangelical Christianists certainly are welcome to butt out), have we become a nation of sheep so cowed and addled by the stench emanating from the Washington cow pasture that we would rather retreat to our Barcaloungers than fight?

I gave that question a lot of thought during the year past because an affirmative answer flies in the face of the legendary optimism that has seen Americans through wars, depressions, recessions and other hard times.

But while the lights haven't exactly gone out across this great land during the Bush presidency, there has been a dramatic downturn in the national mood.

A substantial majority of Americans believe that the U.S. is on the wrong track and that their children will not be better off than they are, a rich vein of discontent that Barack Obama is trying to mine in his long shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Can all of this disaffection be laid at the feet of George Bush?

Of course not. For one thing, he has had little control over global economic trends. For another, Al Qaeda and the Islamic jihad against the West was well in gear when he took his first oath of office. (This is not to say that the 9/11 attacks could not have been prevented. The evidence that has accumulated showing that they might have been prevented is persuasive.)
But Bush came to office declaring himself to be the right man for complex and troubled times, boasting that he would be the first CEO president.

That, in retrospect, is tragically hilarious (or is it hilariously tragic?) not because of his manifold leadership failures or inability to make good on any of his promises except deficit-fueling tax cuts, but because he has failed to lead at all, defaulting time and again to rhetoric over reality and politics over policy. In short, he has bankrupted the biggest corporation of all -- the United States of America.
The presidency is by its nature an isolating position, but Bush has determinedly taken his isolation to extraordinary lengths, by his own admission watching only Fox News and reading no newspapers, while he never appears before audiences that haven't been screened for their friendliness.

Look for no major initiatives in the last year of the Bush interregnum. (Thank God!) Look for a punch-drunk American public, especially a middle class already on the ropes, to continue to take a beating. (Ahem.)

And join me in praying that the wheels somehow stay on the wagon in the 384 days before the president returns to his Texas ranch to search among the scrub brush for his squandered legacy.

A final thought: Do you think things will be appreciably better in 2009 with a new president, be it a Hillary, Barack, John or Mitt?

If you do, give me a ring and I'll help schedule your nervous breakdown.

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