By Robert S. Becker
Enduring question for 2012: why were the Bush-Cheney political corpses from 2008 never fully interred, but allowed to live on as undying, ever-dangerous vampires? It wasn’t for lack of widespread scorn (to this day) towards this conspicuous, evildoing duo, but because no empowered heroes effectively planted the right wooden stakes.
Certainly, Bushism, executing Reaganism, lives on because it voices the rightwing gang’s willful denial of reality. Second, and more critical, because skittish, spineless Obama Democrats devoid of killer instinct squandered the opportunity of a lifetime – to dramatize W.’s manifold failures and thus shift our political ground of being. The first is predictable; the second, an ongoing tragedy.
What is more disheartening, yet revealing of today’s horror show than to realize our most disgraced, discredited, and despised ex-president since Nixon still insinuates our politics long after departure? Right, W., the Decider who failed at everything – nominal truth-telling, war-making, foreign policy, economic or job growth, emergency responses, balancing the budget, education, bank fraud, avoiding nasty scandals – even muzzling his most unpopular, rogue vice president.
So, was/is public revulsion against W. simply drastic personality fatigue, rather than awareness of his reign of error? Yet only national psychosis explains Howard Fineman’s insight (during Iowa) about what unifies both parties: direct affinity to Shrub. This “most influential political figure of the last decade,” even three years later, “remains one of the most consequential, though paradoxically invisible, figures in modern American history.” How is it possible that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (by Republican wannabes) carries such enduring sway? How is it that Obama remains Bush’s policy cousin?
A Whiff of Epic Proportions
As if that’s not bad enough, Thomas Frank’s new book, “Pity the Billionaire,” describes another painfully ironic mystery – how in blazes did the crash of 2008 boost the very reactionaries by 2010 directly liable for the nightmarish wreckage? The fiasco of lawless crony capitalism focused the populace for only one election, making history by installing a vaguely liberal, mixed breed Democrat with the skimpiest of resumes. Yet years later, where’s the visible leftwing movement with electoral clout that captures this rage, as did the Tea Party? With respect, Occupy has yet to align itself to real-world issues or levers of power.
Frank is correct: elitist Democrats blew a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leverage massive alienation after eight calamitous years because the “liberal culture in Washington” was not “interested in that anger.” Rather like not swinging at softball strikes to break a tie with bases loaded in the 9th inning and no outs. Instead, though extremists logically “had no right” to garner this anger (Tea Party types loved Bush), the fringe succeeded in a power void. In fact, the president and top Democrats “totally missed the opportunity” because they were/are “completely unfamiliar with populist anger. It’s an alien thing to them. They don’t trust it, and they have trouble speaking to it.”
What’s still amazing is how greatly Obama the Remote forgot why and when he was elected, thus alienating his base. Compared to Hillary, then McCain, this devout, ambitious non-ideologue filled the national desperation for a seemingly non-entrenched, fresh face to counter the Bush Doctrine and the Bush mindset. Who doubts candidate Obama, absent any national achievements, was elected mainly as the best anti-Bush to redeem us, or start the ball rolling, from Bush horrors?
It is the worst indictment of Obama’s performance that our most hated ex-president – not today’s White House celebrity – still frames our politics. Is not Obama to blame for blowing any chance to starve the Bush beast in the bathtub before then making significant legislative moves? No clear majority of ’08 voters was dying for a compromised health reform bill or the entire first year Obama agenda. His election was about reversing Bushism, not symbolic rejections of that gang’s worst, like defending torture. That meant finding a way to investigate and establish what happened, now water past the dam. Nothing less than misguided timidity or willful amnesia, punctuated by selling out to the 1%, took over promptly when the Obama inauguration cheers died down. Thus followed Bush III.
Doomed by Not Re-educating
Where was the Obama re-education program that decimated fictions about years of failed militarism? Instead, the president widened the invasions, the secrecy and the civilian drone attacks. Where were the weekly White House teach-ins to restore basic terms of economic realism, beyond half-assed, politicized pump-priming? Where was/is the overt correction not just to bad policy but GOP hysteria about public debt, false Medicare-Social Security shortfalls, the brilliance of top science, or the “hoax” of energy pollution and/or climate change? The tip-offs came fast and early, when Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize by defending this over-reaching nation’s right to act unilaterally, echoing Bush but with nicer words. Note egregious, like-minded parallels when Obama declared faux victory in Iraq, then dared to channel faux Bush 9/11 references as relevant justification. Say what?
Frankly, I think letting Bush-Cheney off the hook doomed the first Obama term. And likely the second, if it happens. If Watergate was the cancer of the Nixon disgrace, per John Dean, what diagnosis fits today’s government: cardiac arrest, respiratory collapse, or incurable paralysis? All three? Gridlock didn’t happen by chance, just as the historic loss of House members in 2010 didn’t happen by chance. Could modern Democrats not have known every GOP candidate for the House or for president would bellow to outbush Bush?
Why not? Unvetted failure isn’t perceived as failure. Howard Fineman: Obama “has done little to change the basic framework of domestic and foreign policy laid down, brick by brick, in the Bush Years.” Even on Bush's two biggest domestic policy initiatives: the No Child Left Behind and Prescription Drug, this president “has tweaked but not abandoned -- and in some ways even amplified.” So “the Bush presidency may be gone,” Fineman concludes, “but Bush still reigns, even if we can't see him in Iowa.”
Brace for a contest between a Democratic shape-shifter who inexcusably forgot his mandate (but not Bushism) with a Romney shape-shifter whose insane neo-conservatism wants to take Bush one step further. I don’t know about the country, but reality is under siege and may not survive such a high-falutin’ donnybrook.