The Bush Legacy
Watching the excellent Clint Eastwood thriller In the Line of Fire again the other day, in which Clint has to foil a brilliant would-be presidential assassin, I was struck yet once more by American president-worship. Anyone who thinks we still live in a constitutional republic hasnt been paying attention. No emperor has enjoyed as much power, or had as much pomp and pageantry lavished on him, as our chief executive.
Its amusing that the most odious character in the film, the surly White House chief of staff who obstructs Clints efforts to protect the president, is played by an unannounced candidate for the office: Fred Thompson. A man who can even pretend to be that ornery should never be entrusted with power.
Also aspiring to the presidency is New Yorks billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has just left the Republican Party. This means the voters may next year be offered a choice among Hillary, Rudy, and Mike: three pro-war, pro-abortion, New York liberals. Well, as Hillarys hubby used to say, diversity is our greatest strength.
Our adulation of the presidency is on full display in the current issue of Time, whose cover features the mug of
In those days, his reckless lechery alone might have ruined his presidency, forced him from office, and made the rest of his life a hell of infamy. The posthumous reverence he now enjoys would have been impossible, as would the election of someone like Bill Clinton. His face on a coin? Forget it.
Which brings us to
What little support Bush has left is chiefly from the neocons who wanted the war with Iraq and are now pining for a bigger war with Iran. Among the most pixilated of these is Norman Podhoretz, who still insists that the United States is winning in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction, and that those weapons were smuggled to Syria, which he also wants Bush to bomb.
Podhoretz seems unaware that the U.S. Constitution doesnt authorize the president, on his own initiative, to launch war against all enemies of Israel. The New Republic quotes him as calling the Iraq war an amazing succss ... a triumph. It couldnt have gone better; furthermore, nobody was tortured in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, and Bush is a hero.
Bush had better keep Podhoretzs phone number handy, because in a few months hes going to need eulogists desperately. When Nixon was forced to resign over the Watergate crimes, he still managed to make something of a comeback. Nobody thought he was a fool, he could draw on his experience to write shrewd books about foreign policy, and he kept a certain respectable role in public life.
This president wont be able to do that. He has been a failure in almost every way, but especially in foreign policy. Liberals, who deserve him and should be grateful to him for expanding Federal power, hate him. If any book is published under his name, everyone will know he didnt write it. Decades may pass before anybody named Bush dares to run for office again. Too bad, in a way, because his brother Jeb might have been an intelligent and tolerable president. But well never know.
Now that this president has claimed and perverted the honorable old term conservatism, how are we ever going to explain to young people that it was once a synonym for realism and prudence, the antonym of rashness and folly? How could a single semi-literate Ivy League graduate, barely acquainted with the dictionary, force us to revise the thesaurus? Well may we exclaim, with Shakespeares Cassius, And this man is now become a god!
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