An observer in Weimar Germany remarked that the senile chancellor Hindenburg was a Zero who was paving the way for Nero. In this regard – and in quite a few others – I’m going to miss George W. Bush.
Bush should of course be incarcerated for murdering over one million Iraqis and Afghans, destroying their countries, aiding the oppression of Colombians, Palestinians, Pakistanis, Egyptians, among others, expanding a police state, not to mention advocating torture, and his part in an overall gargantuan appropriation of wealth, energy, and life by the hyper-rich.
None of this, however, makes Bush qualitatively or even quantitatively different from other presidents. If anything, Bush will more likely be looked back on with a bittersweet nostalgia, representing – for many non-Muslim Americans at least – a more lackadaisical, less intrusive state.
Bush represents the last spark of the increasingly obsolete American conservative tradition. In most ways he of course obliterated traditional GOP principles, for instance, regarding spending and the size of government. But concerning the finest strain of these values – ironically, also stubbornly maintained by the forever-condemned idealist, Herbert Hoover – Bush largely held. Namely, (not mentioning wiretapping and other Stasi-like encroachments) Bush left us alone.
After 9/11, for instance, while liberals and others demanded that the president call for "sacrifice," Bush merely said that things are okay, and that if we want to help we oughta go shopping. Now, I’m not a shopping buff myself, but it certainly beats the prospect of offering more of my wages to the state to fight so-called terrorists; no doubt it’s similarly preferable to joining the military, the Peace Corps, or some other vehicle of state conformity and oppression. You want me to do my "duty" to the state? I’ll take Starbucks over the Soviet Union any day.
No, Bush smiled, joked, and quipped. One only has to watch the decrepit McCain or the sterile Obama to appreciate the early Bush’s virile energy, charisma, and dynamism. Of course it’s a joke. Of course he was laughing at us, and why not thank him for his honesty? Otherwise, the joke is only on those naive enough to believe the grade school propaganda that tells us that the head of the state is our advocate rather than our boss. The notion that the sanctimonious Bill Clinton, bombing and philandering like a mad dog in heat, is in any manner a less contemptible creature than beloved idiot Bush is frankly reprehensible. Or perhaps liberals long for Andrew Jackson? No, they of course long for FDR and JFK, because they like their war criminal moralizers articulate.
Bush had levity, and this was appropriate to the last days of apogee US power, whose decline he no doubt accelerated. Why shouldn’t he – and we – laugh as he helped burn down the house? We should be grateful, if only a tiny bit. He showed us what the state is. Now we have an opportunity – greater than in many years – to formulate a new society based on actual freedom. This is exactly what the next president will seek to prevent, as already foreshadowed by his ominous calls for sacrifice and references to obligations to conform one’s interests and desires to those of the state.
Obama laments the squandered opportunity for national service following 9/11. "Whether you lived in Manhattan or here in Mount Vernon, you felt the pain and loss of that day not just as an individual, but as an American. That’s why we lined up to give blood. That’s why we held vigils and flew flags. That’s why we rallied behind our President. We had a chance to step into the currents of history. We were ready to answer a new call for our country. But the call never came. Instead, we were asked to go shopping…." Shopping versus blood, eh?
Of course, it is shortsighted to attribute a country’s atmosphere solely to the policies of its president, and this is just the point. The current economic crisis will likely produce a concomitant political crisis, and whoever became president would have to employ coercive measures to maintain social order. Thus, the calls for sacrificial "change" and "country first" service.
In the coming circumstances, no president will be able to afford to ignore the citizenry-cum-rabble and will have to instead enlist them in the national project. As J.D. Tuccille observes, Obama "wants your kids."
I’ll take Bush’s approach. Laugh at it and tear it down.
Joshua Sperber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org