Bush’s State of the Union was a surreal exercise in self-delusion. Virtually everyone – Republicans and Democrats – recognize the Bush administration has been a catastrophic failure, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisles treated our hapless and incompetent president to rapturous applause. It may be a measure of how morally obtuse our political class is that a hoard of legislators sought the autograph of the man who presided over Katrina, Guantanamo, and the tragically mishandled invasion of Iraq.
All the available evidence suggests that George W. Bush is poised to eclipse Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, and Richard Nixon as the single worst chief executive in presidential history. Still, a dwindling number of Bush sycophants and apologists believe forty-three will be vindicated by history, just as Harry Truman has been. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to square their Pollyannaish views with the grim reality that over the last seven years the United States has suffered an unprecedented and precipitous decline in its national power and moral prestige. Put simply, Bush’s policies have left the United States isolated, drained, and divided while greatly exacerbating the strategic and economic challenges the country faces.
Former Bush scriptwriter, Michael Gerson, tries to put the best spin on Bush’s State of the Union in his column in the Washington Post. Bush, Gerson argues, has remained true to the principles of compassionate conservatism. His faith-based initiatives, AIDS relief efforts, and educational reforms associated with the No Child Left Behind legislation represent the "persistent advocacy" of a compassionate leader. Bush bashing has become an industry fueled on hatred, Gerson implies, of a decent man who aimed to do well.
I’ve never subscribed to the simple-minded view that Gergon attributes to Bush critics, namely, that Bush is "heartless and callous." No doubt, Bush’s legacy will include some admirable and worthy accomplishments. Ironically, however, I believe it is Bush messianic idealism coupled with his personal mediocrity that accounts for the unfolding multiple tragedies his administration is responsible for.
At one time or another, Bush has exhibited an axis-of-mental ills – dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, alcoholism – that probably go a long way to explaining the perverse mixture of hubris and ineptness he has displayed in office. It’s not that Bush is unintelligent, by any means, but his thought processes and reasoning are demonstrably defective. His persistent resort to cliches, mixed metaphors, and non-sequitars, for instance, is a sign of artful demagoguery at best, or serious cognitive deficits at worst.
It’s easy to laugh at the mixed metaphor that has become virtually synonymous with the Bush administration’s spectacular intelligence failure regarding Saddam’s phantom WMD -- "we can’t wait for the smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud" – but as the pundit Karl Kraus recognized long ago, a person’s character is invariably revealed by the way they use language. It’s probably no accident that Bush failed to connect the dots prior to 9/11, and then subsequently connected dots where there was no logical connection (Iraq and al-Qaeda). Likewise, his decision to lump three disparate states into the infamous "axis-of-evil" is another example of Bush connecting the dots where no formal alliance or real-world connection existed.
Bush’s ADD almost certainly has everything to do with the lack of due diligence he displayed in the run up to the Iraq War. Whether it is the infamous sixteen words that everyone agrees should never have appeared in 2003 State of the Union, or the failure to prepare for the occupation of Iraq, Bush’s decision-making processes can best be characterized as rash, impetuous, reckless, and ill considered. He never planned for worst-case scenarios because he mistook prudence for pessimism. And he never allowed evidence or the facts to get in the way of his instincts. Bush’s ADD has made him a deeply irrational decision-maker.
Bush’s "leadership" has been a moral, strategic, and economic calamity for the United States. As recession looms, the deficit swells, and the dollar slumps to new lows it is becoming apparent to most Americans just how much the country has been steered in the wrong direction by the Bush administration. The architect of America’s great unraveling, however, remains largely oblivious to all this. How is this possible? I remember a Town Meeting where President Bush was asked about his decision to go to war with Iraq. Bush defended his war of choice, but surreally blamed Saddam for kicking the UN weapons inspectors out of the country. Much of the audience – and I’m sure Bush too – probably believed the U.S. had done everything it could to avoid war.
The only problem, of course, is that it wasn’t Saddam who kicked the inspectors out of Iraq, it was president Bush that ordered them out because he insisted the inspections weren’t working. Another couple of weeks, Hans Blix contented later, and we’d have known for sure that Saddam never had the alleged WMD stockpiles. Even after the fact, Bush couldn’t admit the truth. It’s a telling revelation of a president who will probably go down in history as the political equivalent of Inspector Clouseau.