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Tilting at Windmills

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January 18, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Heckuva Job

ThinkProgress had a snippet of Bush's 2000 inaugural address, and for some reason I decided to reread it. Looking back on it after eight years, it's pretty breathtaking. For instance:

"Today, we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.

America, at its best, matches a commitment to principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.

Some seem to believe that our politics can afford to be petty because, in a time of peace, the stakes of our debates appear small.

But the stakes for America are never small. If our country does not lead the cause of freedom, it will not be led. If we do not turn the hearts of children toward knowledge and character, we will lose their gifts and undermine their idealism. If we permit our economy to drift and decline, the vulnerable will suffer most.

We must live up to the calling we share. Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. And this commitment, if we keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment."

Read this and think of Bush's response to Katrina:

"Where there is suffering, there is duty. Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities. And all of us are diminished when any are hopeless."

And consider this:

"America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected.

Encouraging responsibility is not a search for scapegoats, it is a call to conscience. And though it requires sacrifice, it brings a deeper fulfillment. We find the fullness of life not only in options, but in commitments. And we find that children and community are the commitments that set us free.

Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency which give direction to our freedom.

Sometimes in life we are called to do great things. But as a saint of our times has said, every day we are called to do small things with great love. The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone.

I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility and try to live it as well.

In all these ways, I will bring the values of our history to the care of our times.

I completely agree. But I see no evidence at all that Bush meant a word of it. Worse, I don't see any evidence that he even understood it. Conscience and civility matter enormously. They are, as Bush said, matters of character that turn on "uncounted, unhonored acts of decency". Before Katrina, putting a talented, competent person in charge of FEMA, or making sure that the Department of Justice operated fairly before the US Attorneys scandal broke, would have been uncounted, unhonored acts of decency.

But Bush couldn't even manage honored, counted acts of decency, like not torturing people, or coming up with something resembling an honorable response when the implications of his administration's policies became clear.

He's a small, small man, who ought to have spent his life in some honorary position without responsibilities at a firm run by one of his father's friends. Instead, he ruined our country, and several others besides. He wasted eight years in which we could have been shoring up our economy, laying the groundwork for energy independence, making America a fairer and better country, and truly working to help people around the world become more free. Instead, he debased words that ought to mean something: words like honor, decency, freedom, and compassion.

To this day, I do not think he has the slightest conception of the meaning of the words he took in vain.

Sometimes, when I write things like this, people think I am trying to excuse Bush -- as though I cannot condemn him unless I take him to be a scheming leering monster. I disagree. I think that when someone who is not mentally incompetent gets to be Bush's age, if he has no conception of the meaning of honor or decency, he has no one to blame but himself. And to say of a person that he does not understand those things -- that he could stand before the nation and speak the words Bush spoke in 2000 with so little sense of what they meant that it's not clear that we should count him as lying -- is one of the worst things I think it's possible to say about a person.

Especially if you add one further point: the one and only thing that might have mitigated Bush's failings would have been for him to be sufficiently self-aware not to have assumed responsibilities he could not fulfill. Obviously, Bush did not have that kind of self-awareness. But it amazes me to this day that becoming President did not force him to recognize the nature of the responsibilities he had been given, and to try his best to live up to them. Honestly: I don't know how it's possible to become President and, not try your absolute best to appoint really competent people ('Heckuva job, Brownie!'), to ask obvious questions that people don't seem to have focussed on, like 'have we actually planned for the occupation of Iraq?', and so forth -- not to do any of those things, but instead to just go on being the same petulant lazy frat boy you've always been.

Apparently, though, it is possible. And we all get to pay the price.

PS: Special Peggy Noonan flashback:

"Mr. Bush's eyes filled with tears as he took the oath of office--quite possibly a historical first--and people have discussed why. Family redemption, old losses now avenged. Maybe. But I suspect they were the tears of a 54-year-old man who hadn't amounted to much in his first 40 years--poor student, average athlete, indifferent businessman, all of this in contrast to his father's early and easy excellence. He had struggled to find himself and his purpose; amazing and fantastic things had happened, and he had gone on to make himself a president--"Called to do great things."

I think as he stood with his hand held high he felt deep gratitude, deep love, and a hunger to do right, to actually serve and not only dominate his country."

If only.

Hilzoy 1:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Comments

I'm not sure what anyone else saw in Bush's rhetoric. I always saw ambiguous nonsense.

Even in his last speech he described two apparently opposite ideologies. But, as usual, he never identified which ideology he subscribed to. Was it the rigid ideology or the freedom loving ideology? I could never get past his inability to unambiguously place himself into a particular category.

In general he would say something like "some people do X, other people do Y." No sh*t! Which group do you fall into?

Why was he so ambiguous? Why did most of us assume that he put Americans into the good category? All he did was say that there is good and evil. He let us place ourselves into the good category. But he never did.

I think he was the master of deception. He used ambiguous language to allow us to think we were the virtuous actor.

I have to admit, I was suspicious from the day he announced. He was a dullard then. He is a dullard now.

Maybe most people didn't wake up to the GWB disaster until a few years ago. I remember the terror in 2000. I stayed up late. What looked like a Gore win turned sour. I have been on edge since that night, but I have to admit that I went to sleep until Sept. 11, 2001. For nine months, GWB had put us to sleep. He was boring, his presidency was boring, for God's sake, he was clearing brush in an area which has almost no brush to clear (check Washington State for brush), nobody clears brush in Texas! WTF! The guy is a total moron, and apparently the reporters who followed him around were morons squared.

Please ask yourself: why do news organizations employ reporters who accept the fantastic reality spun by morons? Are politicians exempt from the rules of logic or natural science? Why do we teach science and not require our public servants to follow the same science when formulating our laws? Either the world is 6000 years old, or not. Either fossil fuel is generated by some fast acting biological process, or it is the result of millions of years of tectonic forces deep within the earth.

But really, should we listen to people who believe that the earth is 6000 years old? Shouldn't we require reporters to admit that the earth is closer to 6000 million years old? The factor is a million to one. How close to reality should we expect our reporters stay? A million times off is about 99.00001% off the truth.

Posted by: tomj on January 18, 2009 at 2:52 AM | PERMALINK

"And to say of a person that he does not understand those things -- that he could stand before the nation and speak the words Bush spoke in 2000 with so little sense of what they meant that it's not clear that we should count him as lying -- is one of the worst things I think it's possible to say about a person."

The more natural explanation is that he was the face man for a bunch of crooks.

Posted by: Boronx on January 18, 2009 at 3:05 AM | PERMALINK

tomj> In general he would say something like "some people do X, other people do Y."

Who knew George W. Bush was a black stand-up comedian?

Posted by: anonymous37 on January 18, 2009 at 3:14 AM | PERMALINK

The GOP has become a party of sycophants in the service of Robber Barons - anything they say is by necessity a lie, as they would otherwise never manage to achieve a plurality in a democratic system.

It could be that the voters are seeing the GOP for what it is, or we could just be at the outward swing of the pendulum of public opinion, before it swings back into the service of the Robber Barons' interests.

I find it absolutely amazing that my parents are able to vote for these people, without realizing that they voting for powers that wish to disenfranchise them, that wish to rob them of their pensions, their home, their savings and their civil rights. It's an amazing achievement - just by pressing a few autoresponse buttons: gay marriage, flag burning, immigration -- the GOP gains sufficient support to be able to cheat its way to power.
In truth, the GOP should have about 2% support, reflecting the proportion of the populace that actually gains anything from its true policies.

As I tell my fine parents - every single boon we are enjoying is a result of leftist, liberal policy. General education, expanded health care, workplace safety, the abolishment of child labor, job security measures, public infrastructure, expanded rights for women in society and in the workplace, fairer application of laws, etc.

"But, but, but - they want to let people burn flags, and they're against prayer in schools!"
Pity the fools.

Posted by: SteinL on January 18, 2009 at 4:37 AM | PERMALINK

Apparently, though, it is possible. And we all get to pay the price.

I disagree vigorously with Noonan (not for the first time, by any means)! His father was likewise clueless, and likewise a disaster for the country (with the exception that he surrounded himself with better advisors). That she does not recognize this is symptomatic of the fundamental, profoundly unhealthy baseness of her values, and of those of the GOP.

Posted by: oddjob on January 18, 2009 at 4:48 AM | PERMALINK

he was clearing brush in an area which has almost no brush to clear (check Washington State for brush), nobody clears brush in Texas! WTF!

The "ranch" was a 100% Potemkin job. The only reason he got it and the only reason he "cleared brush" was because Reagan had done so.

The difference, of course, was the Reagan loved his California ranch, loved clearing its brush and in California there is a real need to do so since the droughty climate makes brush near structures a fire hazard.

Shrub was a Potemkin creation of Karl Rove. History will confirm that.

Posted by: oddjob on January 18, 2009 at 4:52 AM | PERMALINK

(THAT Reagan, not "the" Reagan.)

Posted by: oddjob on January 18, 2009 at 4:53 AM | PERMALINK

We are a simple and superficial people, attracted to bright lights and loud noises. We live in, and for the moment, buy on credit we don't have, and watch others play games, make music- DANCE, for Pete's sake- instead of doing it ourselves.

We can name the last five American Idols, but not our Representative. No wonder we accept as "fact" that FDR made the depression worse, or that Bush "inherited" 9/11.

I think it was Mencken who said we get the government we deserve.

Posted by: DAY on January 18, 2009 at 6:52 AM | PERMALINK

"He wasted eight years in which we could have been shoring up our economy, laying the groundwork for energy independence, making America a fairer and better country, and truly working to help people around the world become more free. " So well said - that more than anything else the squandered opportunities. In 2000 I was willing to give him the benefit of doubt, even after Sept 9th I was willing to give him the benefit of doubt, thinking no person Republican or Democrat is so incompetent or uncaring that they would put ideology above the country. Oh how wrong I was, and the longer I have to listen to his revisionist history the angrier I become. He has destroyed this country and set us on a path to third world status. I have faith in Mr. Obama but every day I am scared , I mean really scared as the companies start to fall like dominoes. Circuit City ? who's next. The untold hardship that will embrace this country over the next few years will be an almost insurmountable crisis. Thank god the adults are in charge.

Posted by: John R on January 18, 2009 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

I think what was probably the biggest "Whuuuh?" moment for me was when Bush described his 2004 victory as a moment of accountability and a mandate. I'm like "No, the 2004 election was all about John Kerry and what he did in Vietnam 30 years earlier. Where was the accounting? What exactly did the mandate consist of?"
To say that Bush's mandate was "more of the same" is, I guess, accurate. But the campaign simply never focused on 2001-2004.

Posted by: Rich2506 on January 18, 2009 at 7:29 AM | PERMALINK

I see we have one last long-winded liberal rant about President Bush. You may as well savor the moment, liberals. From now on you'll be scambling to rationalize BHO's misdeeds. It's all downhill for you now.

Posted by: Al on January 18, 2009 at 7:31 AM | PERMALINK

There is one patent lie in the quote from Noonan-- Bush didn't make himself president. Not in any way, manner, shape, or form whatsoever.

But the rest of the quote is fair enough, I think, and was fair warning.

Posted by: MattF on January 18, 2009 at 7:55 AM | PERMALINK

ET D ORGANISER UN LYNCHAGE AVEC L ARGENT PUBLIC POUR CETTE GROSSE TACHE DE SI PEU PRESIDENT DE LA REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE, QUESTION DE POUVOIR ? (Chut, ils n'en parlent pas sur rtl et les gens son si bêtes...) http://fr.techcrunch.com/2008/12/23/fr-10-manieres-de-traiter-les-trolls/

Posted by: nina on January 18, 2009 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

"Where there is suffering, there is doody."

Posted by: EarBucket on January 18, 2009 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

I am reminded of "The Onions" version of Bushs' state of the union address titled Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over' and how prophetic it was.

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28784

Posted by: Wayne on January 18, 2009 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

The GOP has become a party of sycophants in the service of Robber Barons - anything they say is by necessity a lie, as they would otherwise never manage to achieve a plurality in a democratic system. SteinL

Very true, nothing more than corporate public relations. But the press treats anything they say as legitimate and the illusion continues for so many naive Americans.

Posted by: Jan in Stone Mtn on January 18, 2009 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Seriously, Bush doesn't write his speeches - he barely reads them well.

The text of the speech is good, but not good enough to overlook the signs he'd be a complete catastrophe that were already present.

Posted by: TBone on January 18, 2009 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with tbone; any time Bush spent reviewing his speeches, it was to review big words, and see if he could make it more folksy so the dumbest among us might believe the words came from him.

Obama might pause and "you know" his way through an unscripted comment, but the words that do come out of his mouth still reasonably sound they could come from the same person that works with his speechwriters diligently on both content and tone. Bush unscripted has become a cottage industry of word-a-day calendars filled with the dopiest inanities ever blathered by a man who could destroy the world with the push of a button.

By all means, condemn the fool who still doesn't understand how out-of-his-depth he was, but make sure you condemn the fools who thought giving him his words was a great way to earn the living, and the fools who continue to believe those lies to this day; they are why America can not & will not ever see its full potential.

Posted by: slappy magoo on January 18, 2009 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

At least, Shrub was consistent - At the end of every oath or speech, he ended with "Yeah, whatever".

Posted by: berttheclock on January 18, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure what anyone else saw in Bush's rhetoric. I always saw ambiguous nonsense.

The fault, dear Brutus...

I saw the results of focus-grouping.

Creatures -- and he was created -- like Bush --or more accurately "Bush" -- are the inevitable product of a society where "Marketing" is an academic discipline and university major, and where the law allows you to call Velveeta&tm; cheese.

A country who thinks Jared runs or owns Subway could easily believe that Bush was President.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 18, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

And Rove's forte was in marketing.

Posted by: berttheclock on January 18, 2009 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

i always wonder about all those people who voted for this man--twice. what is their responsibility in this vicious farce we have been enduring? bush may not have had the brains or self-reflection or compassion or insight, but millions of americans agreed with him...twice.

millions of americans wanted what he wanted, saw the world like he saw it, envisioned our future like he did and still, don't take any responsibility for the disaster of this time. karl rove did not elect this man alone. his was not the lone vote. it is a gov of the people and we, unfortunately, got what we deserved. i refuse to believe that those millions were just 'duped' by the rovian machine. nope, they made conscious decisions based on similar ideologies. i hold those 50+million americans as responsible as i do bush.

Posted by: poly on January 18, 2009 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

I refuse to believe that those millions were just 'duped' by the Rovian machine.

Politics is easier to understand, and easier to do, when you begin with the premise that people are shits.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 18, 2009 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

He is incapable of self-doubt or regret and untroubled by his inability to entertain either. In fact, he thinks that it's a strength. ("I don't want to debate myself.") If you do not admit a mistake, you cannot learn from it. He's stuck in childhood. God help us all.

Posted by: Brian C.B. on January 18, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

From day one and for eight years, the focus was always on the spin, the image, the words and the reality, the policy, the results were always irrelevant. It was how it sounded, what the slogan was, how it looked, what the signage and the image was behind wherever the president was standing, and never any concern about actually doing anything.....other than getting theirs.

Hence an inaugural address that sounded wonderful but was immediately ignored as the bush administration set out to get theirs.

Posted by: dweb on January 18, 2009 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

i always wonder about all those people who voted for this man--twice. what is their responsibility in this vicious farce we have been enduring? bush may not have had the brains or self-reflection or compassion or insight, but millions of americans agreed with him...twice.

It gives me a small measure of satisfaction to seem that many of these people, who voted for Bush twice to gaurantee their tax cut, have lost their six figure white collar jobs and are now forced to stand in line in the cold for free clinic health care and slim opportunity to earn 7 dollars an hour working at KOHL's.

Pray for me.

Posted by: Winkandanod on January 18, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Winkandanod - you are leaving out that 47% of the country voted to EXTEND the Bush nightmare.

I their minds (I know LOTS of them), 9/11 happened because Clinton didn't do his job, the mortgage crisis is Charlie Rangel's fault (so says my brother-in-law - from Fox News I presume), the economy was just fine until the Dems took over Congress, torture has kept us safe and Bush did it because he HAD to, etc.

Their world is not the same as the one we live in!

Posted by: Mark-NC on January 18, 2009 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

As F Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote in the Great Gatsby, ""They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made . . . ." Truly an epitaph for the reign of Bush II, our own Dauphin.

Posted by: jhh on January 18, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Bush lives in his own fantasy world, in which he is honest and decent, and therefore whatever he does is honest and decent. He TOLD us years ago that not only did he have no self-awareness, he was proud of that, that he didn't question his decisions and had no interest in being "put on the couch," and I don't remember a single commentator screaming about what a huge red flag that was. I'd like to think Bush's presidency has taught us that self-awareness is the single most important quality for a leader to have, but I'm not at all hopeful.

Posted by: karen on January 18, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Remember just before his inauguration, when Bush said the first thing every member of his staff would do would be to sign an oath to avoid not just impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety?

Yeah, neither did Bush, about 5 seconds after he said it.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on January 18, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

just because he read the words of his speech writers doesn't mean that he had to understand them or actually agree with them

Posted by: grandpajohn on January 18, 2009 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Saying that Bush was elected ignores evidence to the contrary. BradBlog constantly explored the depths of fiddling with the system that rigged results.
I didn't believe the depth of vitriol that poured out of Texas when GWB first showed up on the scene was responsible commentary. Evidently neither did anyone else.
Sheila Samples over at Smirking Chimp was one who nailed his character from the get go.
Stupid ? Amoral, selfish, greedy and more. His brother blew the whistle on George's favorite ploy once : play dumb so as to evade consequences for the destruction he maliciously caused.
The man promoted Torture - and denied it.
Habeas Corpus is a memory.
His legacy is only starting to become apparent : Disaster Dan.

Posted by: opit on January 18, 2009 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

If only Bush could develop the self-awareness ncessary to realize what a colossal failure he has been and what harm he has done to his country. Instead, he'll go back into his bubble and contemplate the struggles of better men and women to clean up after him with his usual, entirely unwarranted, smug self-assurance.

Posted by: CJColucci on January 18, 2009 at 9:49 PM | PERMALINK

Bush knows what condition he has left this country in but has too much pride to admit it because he thinks it will make him look weak. I could look at him more favorably if he just admitted that he made mistakes, but with him, mistakes are "disappoints." If he had no clue about the damage he's done, why go on a legacy tour (re-writing history tour)? Our elusive president suddenly became highly visible in the last weeks left in his term. He knows. I agree with a previous comment that he thinks we are sh1t, dumb, and stupid. He's absolutely correct, because some Ameicans are. I never voted for him because he came across to me as a spoiled, rich boy. I always suspected that he had some ulterior motive in wanting to be POTUS, and sad to say for our country, I hit the nail on the head when I didn't feel he really cared about America. He was only trying to make his dad proud of him after all of his previous endeavors had failed. He is truly deserving of the title "worst president ever."

Posted by: majii on January 19, 2009 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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