George Bush, Jr leaves office today, perhaps marking the end of the baby-boomers tenure in the White House. Polling data indicate ”“ confirm, really ”“ almost unsurpassed discontent with his two-term presidency. Barring the unfolding of democracy and westernization in the Middle East (possible, but improbable), future judgments will not be favorable. However, a perspective granted by a decade or two might be somewhat broader in scope though no less dim than the one forming now.
Bush the Younger will likely be remembered for presiding over the country while shortsighted management and large-scale flimflammery pervaded Wall Street, the financial sector, real estate and elsewhere, and while the economy marched toward then leapt into the abyss. A considerable amount of blame will attach to Bush, but poor management and flimflammery predate January 2001 by quite some time ”“ as does idolatrous faith in free trade and in a service-sector economy. Only highly partisan historians will ascribe great blame for the economy to Bush, but there’s no shortage of them.
Bush will also be remembered for ensnarling the country into open-ended wars. So poorly thought out and executed were these wars that they have antagonized hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world and caused longstanding allies in Europe and elsewhere to question the reliability of the United States as a responsible partner in world affairs. The occupation of Iraq is apparently set to end in three years, but the war in Afghanistan is seven years old now and the US, with bipartisan support, is doubling its troop strength there from thirty thousand to sixty thousand. Suspicion naturally arises that as the years unfold the consequences of these ongoing wars will become more troubling and perhaps even disastrous. Though Bush’s blunders in the region are huge, his forbears’ smaller ones ably led the way by increasing our presence and meddling.
We’ve long heard jokes and criticisms regarding Bush the Younger’s intelligence and public speaking. The problem is not his innate intelligence, which is probably well above average and probably higher than that of say Lyndon Johnson or Robert Byrd. The problem is George Bush, Jr simply never applied himself to anything. He has never demonstrated knowledge of any subject that even a quick read of a wiki article provides. He is the scion of a privileged family who created the appearance of accomplishment by dabbling in the armed forces, the oil business, baseball ownership, and state politics. It was enough to make an impressive CV, though one that upon scrutiny would reveal little accomplishment. In short, he is a dilettante.
How did we elect such a figure? In 2000, after eight years of Bill Clinton, much of the country wanted ”œchange.” This vague sentiment periodically grips the nation like a fashion trend or influenza outbreak. It runs its course and is soon followed by another of greater or lesser intensity. Of course there were issues and policies and consequences, but outbreaks of changephilia play crucial, embarrassing roles in American electoral politics ”“ and political consultants know it. That’s at least partly how Clinton won in 1992, Reagan in 1980, Carter in 1976, Nixon in 1968, Kennedy in 1960. . . .
Perhaps sometime in the future, the judgment of history will be that Bush the Younger was simply one of a long series of lackluster presidents who with only brief exceptions flailed about in national and world affairs, wasted tens of thousands of American lives in the process, and dutifully mouthed lines about free markets and America’s global mission.
~ Â©2009 Brian M. Downing
Brian M. Downing is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam.Â He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.