Friday, January 16, 2009

Time Loves A Hero, But Bush Ain't One

(Portions of this post originally published December 14, 2008)
I happened to be in the hall when Bush accepted the nomination that steamy August night in Philadelphia and was horrified not just by the vacuity of his words but the knowledge that up on the podium was a resume without a man into which every neoconservative and other Republican with a burr in their saddle would pour their pet animosities, causes and policies.

It was going to be rocky four or eight years, but no one could have foreseen the scope and magnitude of the Bush administration's epic failures, including its inability to confront every major crisis on its watch.

Following are excerpts from the speech in italics and what has transpired:Mr. Chairman, delegates, and my fellow citizens . . . I accept your nomination. Thank you for this honor. Together, we will renew America's purpose.

I am proud to have Dick Cheney at my side. He is a man of integrity and sound judgment, who has proven that public service can be noble service. America will be proud to have a leader of such character to succeed Al Gore as Vice President of the United States.

Cheney has been devoid of integrity and focused not on public service but leading an historic imperial power grab. He is viewed by many as a secrecy-obsessed megalomaniac at home and a war criminal aboard.

This is a remarkable moment in the life of our nation. Never has the promise of prosperity been so vivid. But times of plenty, like times of crisis, are tests of American character. Prosperity can be a tool in our hands -- used to build and better our country. Or it can be a drug in our system -- dulling our sense of urgency, of empathy, of duty.

These have indeed been prosperous years -- for the wealthiest Americans and Wall Street tycoons -- while the middle class has been brought to its knees as New Deal controls on financial institutions declared as onerous by the White House were stripped away, hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost and the dollar tanked.

Our current president embodied the potential of a generation. So many talents. So much charm. Such great skill. But, in the end, to what end? So much promise, to no great purpose. Little more than a decade ago, the Cold War thawed and, with the leadership of Presidents Reagan and Bush, that wall came down. But instead of seizing t
his moment, the Clinton/Gore administration has squandered it. We have seen a steady erosion of American power and an unsteady exercise of American influence. Our military is low on parts, pay and morale.

Today the military still is low on parts, pay and morale, and also is exhausted because it has had to fight two wars, one unnecessary that plundered resources from the one that was necessary.

America has a strong economy and a surplus. We have the public resources and the public will -- even the bipartisan opportunities -- to strengthen Social Security and repair Medicare. But this administration . . . did nothing. They had their moment. They have not led. We will lead.

By trying to tie Social Security to Wall Street and leaving Medicare in even more precarious shape than it had been before.

Greatness is found when American character and American courage overcome American challenges. . . . We heard it in the civil rights movement, when brave men and women did not say . . . "We shall cope," or "We shall see." They said . . . "We shall overcome."

Tell that to the people of New Orleans. Tell that to the Hispanics who supported Bush in 2004 but fled in horror this year. Tell that to African-Americans who were told time and again, sometimes in shockingly unsubtle terms, that there is no place for them under the Republican's shrunken Big Tent.

I will use this moment of opportunity to bring common sense and fairness to the tax code.

A consequence of which has been an economic collapse on a scale not seen since the Great Depression that has now spread around the world, as well as a budget deficit that future generations will be paying off.

We will give our military the means to keep the peace, and we will give it one thing more . . . . a commander-in-chief who respects our men and women in uniform, and a commander-in-chief who earns their respect.

Hundreds of thousands of veterans maimed physically and emotionally have to wait for months and even years to get care in a Veterans Administration and military hospital system that has been systematically bled. There has been an epidemic of suicides by those who could not get help to overcome their despair, as well as an epidemic of war profiteering by private contractors with close administration ties.

A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam.

Which were promptly forgotten in Iraq.

When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming.

The Bush Doctrine has led to further destabilization of the Middle East, America's repute overseas is at low ebb, nearly 150,000 troops remain in Iraq six years after a war that was supposed to be over in weeks, and 2008 has been the deadliest year for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since 2001.

Now is the time, not to defend outdated treaties, but to defend the American people.

While ignoring the treaties and conventions that the administration found inconvenient to obey and embracing the use of torture.

My opponent . . . now leads the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But the only thing he has to offer is fear itself.

How richly ironic that fear has been an oft-used cudgel by the president and vice president to consolidate power while suspending the rule of law, spying on its own citizens, and transforming the Justice Department into an arm of the Republican Party.

I don't have enemies to fight. And I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect.

Cheney. Rove. Rumsfeld. Gonzales. Wolfowitz. DeLay. Men who were all too competent at abusing power. Then there were incompetent toadies like Michael "Heck Of A Job, Brownie" Brown, indicted and convicted officials, missing emails, mysteriously shredded documents, and court orders and congressional subpoenas ignored.

As governor, I've made difficult decisions, and stood by them under pressure. I've been where the buck stops -- in business and in government. I've been a chief executive who sets an agenda, sets big goals, and rallies people to believe and achieve them.

The consequence of whose failure has been an historically low approval rating.

When these problems aren't confronted, it builds a wall within our nation. On the other side of the wall are poverty and prison, addiction and despair. And, my fellow Americans, we must tear down that wall.

It was called compassionate conservatism.

Behind every goal I have talked about tonight is a great hope for our country. A hundred years from now, this must not be remembered as an age rich in possessions and poor in ideals. Instead, we must usher in an era of responsibility.

The era will be remembered for a president and administration that governed with a deep cynicism, questioned the patriotism of those who did not agree with its policies, refused to acknowledge the challenges of climate change, willingly participated in the right-wing culture wars, never took responsibility for its manifold failures and has nearly brought the Party of Lincoln to its knees.

Americans live on the sunrise side of the mountain. The night is passing. And we are ready for the day to come.

A truly awful metaphor since the darkness was just beginning.

Thank you. And God bless you.

You too, Mr. President. The smirk will be gone but the memories will live on.

Photograph by Paul J. Richards/Getty Images

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