Friday, January 16, 2009

We the People. . .were right

Way back in 2000, George Bush told reporters that he wasn't much interested in studying history, didn't care much about the past, didn't read any history books. Oh! how 8 disastrous years, and truly "historic" poll numbers will change a man.

There is no question that the orgy of exit interviews W has been giving over his last few weeks - equal parts self-congratulation and self-pity - are an appeal to Clio, that fickle muse of history. He wants history to remember him well, even if the rest of us who have lived through this nightmare are nothing but callow ingrates.

Nor is there any question that he needn't bother with all this. He already is, and will be for the rest of my natural days, the worst president in American history (not to mention a despicable human being). I can say this with a certain confidence. "History," after all, doesn't make judgments - historians do. And I am one of those who spends my time analyzing the past for a living. We professional historians - most of us anyway - need no further evidence, nor any more time to deliberate: worst ever.

But what strikes me about W's hail-mary pass to posterity is that he, and the press at whom he has been shoveling this manure, take as a given that the Bush presidency started on September 11, 2001. So, for example: He has kept us safe for 7 years, goes the official line, oblivious to the specious logic of that claim and to the fact that, therefore, he didn't keep us safe for those first 9 months of his presidency.

This post-dated Bush presidency has also made it easier to see his worst instincts and practices as somehow a response to the crisis of 9/11. In fact, there was plenty of evidence by September 10 that Bush would govern as a far right, bitterly partisan president who treated the Congress and the Constitution with contempt, and for whom ideological purity trumped all other considerations. Exhibit A: the appointment of John Ashcroft to be Attorney General. 'Nuf said. Exhibit B: Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont. In 2000, Jeffords was a Republican, but a dangerously moderate one. Bush staffers treated him so badly in those first days of 2001 that he left the party to become an independent. Exhibit C: a small trickle of senior military staff leaving the Pentagon because of their unhappiness with Donald Rumsfeld. That trickle would grow as Rumsfeld ran roughshod over the armed forces. Exhibit D: by August, 2001, Bush's poll numbers were already tanking. And on I could go.

These things are important to remember as we evaluate the full 8 years of Bush's presidency, but perhaps they don't rise to the level of major importance. What does, however, is the election of 2000 itself, which gets conveniently ignored by all those who pretend Bush moved into the White House on September 11.

As this administration comes at last to its end, let us never forget the foundational and fundamental facts of the Bush presidency:

He didn't win the election in 2000.

He was installed by what would be described if it had happened in any other country as a coup d'etat.

The will of the American people was deliberately subverted by partisans on the Supreme Court.

A majority of Americans voted for Al Gore; a majority of Floridians woke up on election day intending to vote for Al Gore, though we may never now exactly how many had their votes stolen or suppressed.

George W Bush was a squatter in the White House.

In this sense, 9/11 was the best thing that happened to George W. Bush, politically speaking, and Bush's White House never spoke any other language. Without 9/11 I have no doubt that Bush would have been a one-term squatter.

We need to say these things because they remind us that our system can be subverted by a carefully coordinated, well-funded cabal. The election of 2000 reminds us that our democracy really is fragile. And - perhaps because I am feeling good and expansive now that my Bush countdown clock really is approaching zero - I believe that we need to remind ourselves that in 2000, the American people were right.