With an all-time low approval rating of 29%, President Bush is hunkering down in the White house following the same course in Iraq, and offering little leadership on important domestic matters. He and his aides are fond of pointing to another once unpopular President, Harry Truman, and telling us that Bush too will be vindicated by history. But looking back on his miserable Presidency, I am afraid historians will conclude something different altogether, namely that in his tenure President Bush thoroughly betrayed the ideals of the American Revolution we celebrate every July 4.
Tired of having no say in how they were governed, the founding fathers rebelled because they wanted an open and honest government accountable to its own people. Sadly, Americans today are more disillusioned with their government than ever. President Bush is hardly the first leader to cause such sentiments. Richard Nixon’s break-in at Watergate, and the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s are two examples of events which hurt public trust in government. But President Bush will suffer in history for exacerbating these public sentiments in every conceivable way.
During his term, President Bush has expanded executive authority in ways that would horrify the founders. Conservatives (Bush claims to be one) would have us believe that they descend from the anti-federalist strain of thought which fought centralized government power. Needless to say, Thomas Jefferson, the strident critic of the Alien and Sedition acts simply would not stand for the PATRIOT act. Neither for that matter would any of the other founders-- I can’t even imagine Alexander Hamilton supporting the wretched thing. Now librarians can find out what books you’ve been reading and obtain wiretaps without a warrant. When the government does need a warrant, it can go to a secret court. It’s awfully hard to have faith in courts you don’t know about. I can’t imagine the generation that fought for liberty thinking too highly of a government which spies on its own people with little to check its power.
With power firmly concentrated in his own hands, President Bush has given Americans precious little to be proud of. In 2005, Americans watched thousands of their fellow citizens starving in the superdome with New Orleans flooding outside. In a moment of crisis that required leadership of the highest caliber, Americans saw their President staring out of Air Force One with a look of complete detachment from what was going on below.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration has done little better in the aftermath of the storm. When I went down to New Orleans in the spring, the ninth ward still looked like a war zone, and people were still living in trailers waiting to get the money they had been promised so they could start rebuilding. Thousands are still scattered around the country praying for the chance to come home. What are Americans to think of an administration so inept that it lets people continue to suffer two years after the fact?
Perhaps worst of all, President Bush has extended his incompetence and slavish commitment to ideology into foreign affairs. After September 11, almost everyone in the world sympathized with the America. An editorial in France proclaimed, “We are all Americans today.” In short order, President Bush managed to dissipate any feelings of warmness to America when he invaded Iraq. At the same time, he used flawed intelligence and emotional appeals to patriotism to sell the conflict to his own people. Since Bush declared mission accomplished, thousands of Americans have been killed or wounded, and the country has added hundreds of billions of dollars to its already bloated budget deficit. If that weren’t bad enough, the surge which he has enacted since the start of the year has not met the benchmarks he himself set. Bush has yet to realize that no amount of military might can win a political struggle.
This has all had disastrous consequences for this country’s image abroad. In the past few years, America has gone from a revered leader to a world pariah on President Bush’s watch. People who once rejoiced at the sight of the American flag now burn it. They have seen a country founded on ideals of liberty and fairness, holding men without charges in Guantanamo bay, and setting dogs on them in Abu Ghraib. Largely because of this President, the promises of the declaration of Independence and the Constitution ring hollow both to Americans, and to the rest of the world.
There is little redeeming about this President. He’s right that he’ll be remembered in history, but it will be as the President who tarnished America’s image by ignoring its founding principles, and who made the government, more omnipresent and less accountable to its people. Apparently, everything the revolution was fought for 241 years ago has been lost on Mr. Bush, the great counter-revolutionary of our time.