It's 12:27 on Tuesday, January 20th, 2009. In just a little less than 12 hours, the presidency of George W. Bush will come to an end.
I did not come up with the idea for making a blog post about the end of Bush's presidency until about two minutes ago. So what I will say here is simply off the cuff, a collection of thoughts about the last 8 years.
During the presidential election year of 2000, M and I were married but still childless, living in a 2-room Residential Director apartment inside a fraternity house at our alma mater. M was finishing her second degree and working part time, and I was working full time in middle management and moonlighting as the RD for the fraternity that had been the rival of my own fraternity while in college.
Having long since discarded the more conservative leanings of my teenage years, I was a strong supporter of Al Gore. I recognized that Gore was not the best presidential candidate in history, but I felt that he was adequate for the job because of his intelligence and experience.
During the primary season, I had hoped to see John McCain pull out a victory. I believe that if McCain had won the nomination that year, I would likely have voted for him. I felt that McCain was clearly the better choice for Republicans, even though I was not myself a Republican.
I was dismayed when the Republicans chose Bush to be their candidate. My parents live in Texas, so I knew a little bit about W. I knew, through the lens of my parents, about what he had done as governor of Texas, and I more or less thought he was a clown, puppet, and fool.
I felt that he did not have the qualifications to be president. I felt that he was an overprivileged little jerk who had ridden his Daddy's coat tails his entire life. I felt that he was, at best, of average intelligence and that he came off like a remarkably stupid idiot when speaking. Practically every business venture he had tried during his adulthood had failed, and I believed this was a fairly good sign for how a Bush presidency would pan out. I felt like if Bush won that year, it would signal a major victory for an increasingly powerful extreme right wing that had spent the entire 8 years of Clinton's presidency poisoning the minds of Americans against "liberal" politics.
I remember on election night in 2000 feeling very nervous. I remember watching the numbers come through in that little living room inside our RD apartment. At first, the numbers were good for Gore. Major swing states were called for Gore, and at one point I remember talking to my mother on the phone and rejoicing because Gore was evidently going to win.
Then everything fell apart. They took Florida away from Gore and returned it to "too close to call" status. By the end of the evening, it was apparent that Bush had won, even though Gore was evidently going to end up with more total votes.
I was surprised the following morning to discover that the election was not yet over. Like everyone else, I watched and wondered and debated during the next few weeks, anxious to see how it was all going to turn out, and hoping beyond hope that somehow Gore would get the votes he needed in the recounts in Florida. I hoped, at the very least, that perhaps a revote would be called in Florida, since there were so many questions about "hanging chads" and confusing voter cards.
Then the Supreme Court, in a vote split along ideological lines, put an end to the recounts and declared Bush the winner. This crushing blow was bad enough, but it was made even worse by the fact that the Supreme Court did not appear to even have the constitutional or legal authority to do such a thing. But who are you going to appeal to when it involves the Supreme Court itself? God?
I can't honestly remember if I was "supportive" of Bush in the early days of his presidency or not. I can't remember if I was saying that I would give him a chance and support him until he screwed up (like some Republicans are saying now about Obama), or if I was pretty much feeling derisive and resentful right from the start.
I remember watching the inauguration and realizing that for good or bad, it was an important day in American history - as is any inaguration of a new president. I remember specifically feeling sad to see Clinton go, and I think I might even have shed a tear during his final speech, which he gave at an airport or someplace later that afternoon/evening. I remember the anchorman on TV remarking about how America's peaceful "transfer of power" should not be taken lightly, because many other countries don't have such peaceful transfers. I also remember the anchorman saying that it was customary for the outgoing president to leave a note for the incoming president on the oval office desk.
Whether I was initially supportive of Bush in the name of unity or not, I know that I very quickly came to regard his presidency as a shambles, a sham, and a travesty. When he cut taxes right away and gave everyone a nice little "rebate," I felt that he was simply trying to buy support. I also recognized that the measly 300 bucks I had in my hand didn't compare on any level to the kinds of tax cuts wealthy people and big corporations were getting.
After 9/11, I experienced the only time during Bush's presidency where I had "nice" feelings towards him. If I had been polled in the first month after 9/11, I probably would have said I approved of how he was running the country. But it did not take long for me to recognize that he was going to exploit people's fear and outrage for his own political ends. By the end of October at the very latest, I was recognizing that bad things were on the horizon.
I opposed Bush's war from the start. I recognized that his stories about Weapons of Mass Destruction were a lie and a sham. The name itself was such an obvious propoganda creation that it was difficult for me to believe that otherwise educated Americans couldn't see through it. The U.N. weapons inspectors inside Iraq insisted there was no evidence that the Iraqis were making these WMD's. The entire world was satisified with this - but Bush and his cronies pushed forward anyway.
I watched with growing disillusion as Bush drummed up support for what I already believed was an immoral war. This was made all the more worse because so much of the world was patently opposed to our actions, and I recognized that we were making enemies and that Bush was doing incredible harm to America's reputation. As far as the world stage was concerned, I felt embarassed.
The war, of course, wasn't the only thing that I found distressing about Bush. I watched as he loosened environmental policies, promising instead - you guessed it - tax cuts (yay!) - for companies that voluntarily cleaned up their pollution. I watched as Bush antagonized Iran and North Korea with his Texas cowboy slang. I watched as Bush backed out of the Kyoto Treaty, a longstanding environmental treaty that every developed country on earth was a part of. I watched as Bush kowtowed to the religious right and banned stem cell research, effectively putting the U.S. years behind the rest of the world in one of the most important sciences in the modern world. I watched as Bush maneveuered the country closer and closer to removing the rights of a woman to choose what to do with her own body.
By 2004, I was desperate to see Bush replaced with a Democrat - some balance in Washington after 4 years of unilateral Republican/Conservative rule. I strongly supported John Kerry, feeling that he was several steps above Al Gore, and that he was a great choice for president. I still didn't feel like Kerry was the absolute "best candidate ever," but I felt that he was above Gore, and head and shoulders above Bush - who had already proved that he wasn't competent to do the job. Up to that time, I routinely heard Bush supporters talk about how "awful" things would have been if Gore had won. It was a way, I felt, that they made themselves feel better about Bush's less than stellar record. But regardless of speculation about Gore, I felt that Kerry was clearly the better choice, and Bush had demonstrated for everyone to see that he was a failure as a president.
But it was not to be. Kerry did not run a particularly stellar campaign, and Bush ended up winning more votes than he had in 2000 - which at the time totally shocked me. I couldn't believe that ANY Democrat who voted for Gore in 2000 would have voted for Bush in 2004, and I felt that at least some Republicans would switch to Kerry. But that's not how it turned out.
By that 2004 election, I was divorced from M and living by myself in a grungy little apartment. I don't actually remember watching the election results in 2004, the way I remember watching in 2000, although I'm sure I did. I suppose it was probably obvious fairly early on that Bush was going to win, so I turned it off. I do remember getting up the following morning and checking the TV to make sure, and feeling that sense of hopeless dread when it was confirmed for me that Bush had won a second term.
That evening, after getting home from work, I wrote the following poem:
november 4th, 2004
i woke up in the middle
of the night
and it was raining.
i let my dog out,
standing before the
sliding glass door
in my boxer shorts.
it was cold
and the rain dripped from
by dawn, the rain had ended,
but it was chilly
and a fierce wind blew out of the east.
a heavy shelf of dark clouds
and in the distance, white-peaked
cumulonimbus piled on the horizon
like snow-covered mountains.
everything was wet
and the trees were spindly and bare.
dead leaves, clumped and muddy,
clung together in gutters,
as though hiding from the cold…
or something else.
morning traffic went on as normal,
and businesses opened and
fast food restaurants served their morning coffees.
but you could see the difference
in the weather.
even if the two-legged creatures who ruled her
they didn’t seem to understand,
couldn’t see what they’d done,
how they’d poisoned their own futures.
but nature knew.
she understood the display of
hubris reinforced by ignorance,
knew what a dangerous combination it was.
and she was in mourning.
I definitely remember feeling a legitimate feeling of hopelessness that day. I had hoped for so long that things would change, and instead the American people simply handed Bush their seal of approval. I felt far more upset by the resuls of the 2004 election than I did by the results of the 2000 election. The 2000 election, for me, was a choice between the lesser of two evils. I felt that Gore was clearly the lesser of those two evils, but I was able to see that neither candidate was particularly excellent. However, in 2004, we had 4 years of substantial proof that Bush was a failure. The fact that Kerry lost, for me, was a sad and depressing commentary not on the inadequacy of Kerry or the Democrats, but on the American public for re-electing a president who had proven that he was a profound disaster.
Well, four more years passed. The rich got richer and the poor seemed to get poorer. The economy worsened, America's reputation on the national stage was in shambles, and the war - which Bush said was over a month after the initial invasion - dragged on and more and more soldiers kept dying.
I got interested very early on in the possibilities for the 2008 election (for obvious reasons), and I felt more passionately for Obama than I had for any presidential candidate in my life. I literally felt pent-up with anxiety throughout the election season, wondering if we would take four more years of the same failed policies, or if America would finally wake up. The day Obama was elected was one of the most exciting days of my life.
It's now 1:27 - exactly 1 hour since I started writing. Bush has less than 11 hours left in office.
It has been nice, in the last few weeks, to see Bush actually act like a real person in several interviews. He has been a puppet on a string for the last 8 years, and I think we've seen more of the real George W. Bush in the last few weeks than we've ever seen before. I was surprised to hear him admit that he is not a bible literalist a few weeks back. He sure did do a lot to make those bible literalists happy during his presidency though. One might say he spent 8 years sucking their proverbial dicks.
It was also nice to hear him admit a few mistakes. I recall specifically during the 2004 election when he was asked a similar question. "What mistakes do you think you've made in your first term?" He dodged the question and responded with something like: "Well, I don't know, I'd have to think about that. I'm sure you news people could think of some. I'm sure I've probably made a few mistakes, but I can't really think of anything right now." I just remember thinking to myself that if he had actually had the balls to admit a mistake or two, I might have gained an ounce of respect for him. Instead, he just went deeper into the realms of uselessness. Honesty, integrity, openness, and unity were never part of the Bush administration's agenda. So it was nice to hear him finally admit to a few mistakes, but the honesty came 8 years too late.
Bush has said that he believes history will vindicate him. He believes the historians will remember his presidency favorably. Well, of course he's going to say that - what else would he say? "Yeah, historians will pretty much rank me down there with Andrew Johnson and Warren Harding." The fact that he even has to make remarks about how historians will view his presidency is pretty powerful evidence of just how much his legacy is in jeopardy.
I believe historians will not look favorably upon Bush's presidency. I believe he will get credit for toppling a sadistic dictator in Sadam Hussein, but I think that his invasion of Iraq will be seen as an abuse of power that was carried out with lies and unfounded propoganda, exploiting people's fear, outrage, and suffering after 9/11.
I believe his tacticts in the "war on terror" will cause historians to remember him as a president who felt that he was above the constitution and that the "means justified the ends."
I believe his poor response to Katrina will be seen as evidence of poor leadership. I believe he will be remembered as a president who held America back from technological advancement in the field of genetic research - a feild that promises to change the world in the next century.
I believe he will be remembered for flouting science's warnings about pollution, global warming, and the environment, and I believe he will be blamed for not doing enough to stress the need for alternative fuel sources, focusing instead on drilling in national parks.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I believe Bush will be compared to Herbert Hoover in regards to leading our country into a severe economic recession, bording on outright depression. I believe that blame will be put on his shoulders for failure of oversight, for continuing his predecessors policies of deregulation despite the strong economic indicators saying things needed to be changed. His obsession with war and the "war on terror" will be seen has having blinded him to what was going on in his own backyard. I believe Bush's connection to this economic recession will be remembered even more strongly if Obama succeeds in bringing the country back into prosperity.
Perhaps more than anything else, I believe Bush will be remembered as a president without vision, a president who was always reactive instead of proactive, a president without the leadership ability or charisma to unify America during difficult years, a president who made difficult years remarkably more difficult with misguided policies that served the elite at the expense of the average.
Bush says history will remember him well. He apparently cannot even understand why his presidency is such an abysmal failure. If he can't even understand that - or be honest enough to admit it - then is it any wonder that he failed in the first place?