Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Say Goodnight George

All of us media consumer types are about to be deluged with stories about George W. Bush's legacy. I can sum up W's legacy in one sentence that has no verb. Watch this: 9-11, Katrina, Iraq, Economic Meltdown. How'm I doing? Thanks.

For those of us who lived through the Vietnam debacle in the 1960s, watching Lyndon Johnson announce that he would not run for a second term signified one of the biggest defeats we had ever seen in the American presidency. Johnson, irretrievably enmeshed in the quagmire that was Vietnam, knew he was finished. Still, I, and many others, do not see the Vietnam disaster as his legacy. His real legacy has to do with history-altering social justice and civil rights legislation.

After Johnson, the next big presidential failure was Richard Nixon. Nixon, of course, is now chiefly remembered for the Watergate scandal, and for his parnoid fixation on his perceived enemies. But even Nixon has about a 10 percent redemption rate. After all, it was during his administration that China was first opened to the Western world. And it was during his abbreviated second term that a pact was signed with the Soviet Union to control the use of nuclear weapons. Nixon was no saint, but he was also no George W. Bush.

Bush is now widely held to be the most flawed President in contemporary American history, and that's being kind. Some would delete the word "contemporary" from the previous sentence. Bush's poor judgment, jumbled priorities and lack of international political savvy will resonate in this country for a long, long time. I live in New Orleans, where fully three years and three months after Hurricane Katrina, the worst national disaster in American history, we still see the storm in present tense.
We see it in the stretches of residential areas that still look as though the giant wave came in yesterday. We see it in the inordinate amount of downtown office space that remains vacant because businesses are still hesitant to locate here. We see it in the empty, rotting storefronts, citywide, that once were bastions of the city's small business-intensive economy. And we see it in the battle-weary face of Mayor Ray Nagin, whose largely ineffective dealings with Washington, D.C. have frustrated him, angered him and generally caused him to become the ultimate lame duck Mayor. The Federal response to the shattered Gulf Coast of America, under the Bush administration, has been shamefully lacking, and inhumane. Those of us who have lived Katrina since August 29, 2005, will forever see to it that this incident defines the Bush legacy.

When I step outside of my local focus, I think of George W. Bush as the president who took the nation to war for no reason. As of this morning, the American death count in this war of unprecedented meaninglessness is 4,190. Of the dead, 3,889 died in combat, fighting for nothing. The most recent casualty is one Pfc. Cody J. Eggleston,of Eugene, Ore., who died at the National in Bethesda, Maryland, of wounds suffered on October 16 in Baqhdad, Iraq, when he received indirect fire. Cody was 21 years old.

In Cody's obituary, published in the Daily News Miner, we are told that his wife "requested one last 'date night.' She assisted the nurses in bathing him and helped dress him in the hospital's finest dark navy blue gown. She put on the dress that Cody loved, and laid down next to him and fell asleep in her handsome husband's arms. Cody passed away a short time later."
Cody Eggleston is the face of George Bush's legacy. Take a good look at that face.

Like November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was killed, those of us in my generation now have the image of planes flying into buildings in New York City on September 11, 2001 etched into our memory banks. We cannot erase it. We cannot undo it, and we cannot forget it. We do not want to forget it. And even if we did, the thousands of first responders who today suffer permanent lung damage and post-traumatic stress syndrome will not allow us to forget it. It happened under George Bush's watch, and just as he rarely sets foot on Gulf Coast soil, and almost never touches down in Baghdad, those who suffer the after-effects of 9-11 rarely see or hear from him. Their deteriorating health and justifiable bitterness are the living legacy of the Bush presidency.

And item four in the Bush legacy, the economy? Well, U.S. companies cut 760,000 jobs in the first nine months of this year, sending the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent in September. Some economists expect the rate to increase to 8 percent or higher by next year. We're approaching Great Depression era unemployment figures. From July to September consumer spending took the sharpest drop in 28 years. And by now we all know of the ongoing mortgage foreclosure saga. If you are reading this with a roof over your head, be grateful.

We, the citizens, made an error in judgment by electing George W. Bush president. We must take the rap for it. Then we temporarily lost our collective mind when we re-elected him. We must be more careful this time. Today is our day to exercise the necessary caution.

George, if you're reading this (because I'm emailing it to you the moment I post it), you must turn and walk away. You have done some irreparable damage, and you have wounded our national spirit. Your choices and judgment calls have adversely affected hundreds of millions of people, worldwide. I know I speak for many of them when I say, please go back to the ranch, ride your dirt bike, listen to some country music and stay there. You're not welcome here any more.

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