Leafing Through the Bush Legacy

by Walt Brasch

Usually, it takes years, even decades, for a political leader to develop his legacy. George W. Bush, over-achiever that he is, has done it in about 18 months. And, there’s still two and one-half years left for him to expand that legacy.

Bush, the semi-smart smirking statesman, has already told the Palestinians he didn’t want them voting for Yassir Arafat to chair the PLO. He has botched discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Undoubtedly, he has alienated, or at least infuriated, secretary of state Colin Powell.

And now he is planning to overthrow the government of another nation. Juveniles who don’t really want to fight, yet want to make a “statement,” will claim, “My father can beat up your father.” In George W.’s case, his father couldn’t finish off Saddam Husseim, so the mantra is now, “I’ll do what Daddy didn’t,” better known as the “Daddy Doo Doctrine.” In clear terms, W. says he’s going after Saddam. Says he plans to take out that dictator. In his own country. A “pre-emptive” invasion against a sovereign nation! The vice-president and the attorney general, both of whom are too old to enlist in the war, neither of whom ever served in the military, are salivating at the thought of the invasion. Does anyone else have a problem with the leader of one country deciding that Texas imperialistic cowboy vigilante justice is how we should be portraying America to the rest of the world?

If precedent has any meaning, we won’t capture Osama bin Laden until one of the semi-sober party-hearty Bush twins is elected president.

The Bush Administration, with attorney general John Ashcroft and Vice-President Dick Cheney as its pointmen, believe the people not only should willingly give up their civil rights, but shouldn’t have any right to know what their government is doing.

Ashcroft created a system in which suspects can be summarily identified as “enemy combatants,” held indefinitely without charges being filed, their names not released to the public, and their rights to attorneys abridged. His belief in secret tribunals is more a philosophy of King Henry VIII (and now America’s George III–the first one seemed to tower well above the next two) than Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. He also has whittled the USA Patriot Act to allow the government to violate numerous other civil rights.

A federal district court has finally ruled that the government was wrong to detain people and refuse to release their names. Even if the Department of Justice appeals, and all the appeals are denied, Ashcroft and Bush still got almost 10 months of freedom to violate the freedom of others.

And now the Bush surrogate proposes RAYN DOWN (“Rat on Your Neighbor/DO What’s Necessary”), but euphemistically calls it the more sugary “TIPS.” Ashcroft would have holier-than-Gabriel terrorist-fearing citizens trumpet the evil deeds of “suspicious” citizens to the police. This, of course, is similar to the programs that helped fuel the Nazi Party’s dominance before World war II, the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, and which led the FBI and other agencies to keep maliciously false records against anti-war and civil rights leaders during the 1960s. Only under intense pressure from senators of both major parties did Ashcroft finally back down and say he didn’t really mean all that stuff he said about amateur spies. He now believes the government should only record complaints, not keep a data base that could haunt Americans for decades. (“My neighbor was seen coming home drunk late at night–I think he was up to no good. Could be a terrorist.”) Yeah, it’s “tips” all right — the tip of an iceberg that would further destroy civil liberties.

Bush’s other surrogate, Dick Cheney who has seldom met a business leader, honest or corrupt, he didn’t like, says that those who protest the administration’s handling of just about anything is almost like giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Bush himself opposes all independent commissions to investigate the nation’s apparently botched intelligence gathering agencies, the administration’s handling of the nation’s security following 9/11, or anything that questions governmental action–or inaction. Nevertheless, by a 215-189 vote, with 25 Republicans in the majority, the House of Representatives voted to establish an independent 10-member bipartisan commission. Bush claims the commission would “cause a further diversion of essential personnel from their duties fighting the war.” It’s a nice piece of rhetoric that serves only to make people believe that a government has no responsibility to be honest with its people, only 47.9 percent of whom actually voted for this president, a half-percent less than those who voted for Al Gore.

After 9/11, the Administration’s mantra was it needed to sacrifice civil liberties for homeland defense–you know, the one with the five colors. Ironically, Americans have become this administration’s willing lambs. Almost every time the administration unfurls the flag and declares it’s necessary to keep secrets because it’s protecting the people, the president’s approval ratings go up. However, the latest numbers, combined with public opinion, may be the most important. Sales of existing homes in a declining economy plunged 11.7 percent in June, and first time unemployment claims in July were 362,000. Equally important, according to a Gallup poll, 45 percent of all Americans say they are worse off financially than they were a year ago. Only 32 percent, the lowest in 10 years–count back to the beginning of the Clinton administration–say they are better off. Bush’s high popularity ratings are an illusionary bubble created by the desire of Americans of all political views, and social and economic classes, to unite against a common enemy; it should not be seen as support for the man, but for the country and the Presidency itself.

Bush says he will veto proposed legislation to create the Department of Homeland Security if the bill includes language allowing the workers to be under civil service protection or to be members of unions. Again invoking the catch-all word “terrorism” to advance a political agenda, the Commander-in-Business says he needs “flexibility” to be able to move people in the national interest. But, even the most naive observer has to know that Bush has no desire to be “flexible,” and has every desire to destroy worker rights while skirting official governmental policies that advocate collective bargaining. Perhaps Bush needs to reflect that almost every firefighter, every police and port authority officer, and every emergency medical service worker who responded with courage and heroism to the events at the World Trade Center not only was protected by civil service rules but was also a member of a union.

During the 2000 Presidential election, Bush and a forest of Republicans vigorously argued their plan to allow Americans and the federal government to invest social security funds in American business. The Democrats vigorously opposed. During the past year, even with a business-friendly White House, dozens of executives of major corporations have been charged or are being investigated for numerous federal violations, including fraud, insider trading, and–if it could be illegal–greed and stupidity. Workers have been losing their jobs and pensions, while the executives, even those under indictment, have gotten even richer from numerous deals they cut. Americans’ confidence in American business is at one of its lowest levels, leading the stock market to drop faster than a bumble-fingered juggler. Although Bush mouthed the words others had to write for him to rant against corporate greed, he still believes in privatization of social security funds. But, try finding any elected Republican today who will say anything positive about investing social security funds in the stock market. If it was such a good idea two years ago, why isn’t it such a good idea today?

Bush is languidly whistle stopping America from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, during August to let us know we should have confidence in American business. This series of well-orchestrated pseudo-events, complete with bands and photo ops, might help some of us feel better about losing our jobs, but it’s doubtful that this former corporate executive’s meetings with Americans will do much to assure us he “feels our pain” at corporate betrayals.

The White House residence has private phone lines. This is so seven layers of government employees don’t screen W’s calls from his closest relatives and friends. What if Bush isn’t available when the phone rings. Does he leave an answering machine message–“Thank you for calling. I can’t come to the phone right now. But, if you’ll leave your name, phone number, and what corporate crime you’ve been charged with, I’ll get right back to you.”

Finally, just about everything Americans need to know about this President is wrapped up not in what he does or says, but by what he hasn’t done. Once a month, several White House staffers get together for a discussion of current literature and social issues. Guests often include best-selling authors. Among those who haven’t attended the discussions have been the Vice-President-in-Hiding, former librarian Laura Bush, and the “education president.”

Walt Brasch is the author of “The Joy of Sax: America During the Bill Clinton Era,” a witty and penetrating look at the American culture, media, and politics during the 1990s. The book is available at local and on-line bookstores. You may reach Brasch by e-mail at wbrasch@planetx.bloomu.edu


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Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an analysis of the history, economics, and politics of fracking, as well as its environmental and health effects.

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