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April 27, 2013 5:25 PM What was the single worst thing about George W. Bush’s presidency?

By Kathleen Geier

With Be Nice To Bush Day (H/T, Atrios) having come to a merciful conclusion, some of us, having had our unhappy memories of 2001-08 so rudely revived, have been thinking about George W. Bush’s enduring legacy. On his blog today, Paul Krugman writes that Bush’s biggest failure was not so much any of the awful policies he enacted (though there were plenty of those). Instead, he argues, there was “something even bigger”:

Bush brought an unprecedented level of systematic dishonesty to American political life, and we may never recover.

I rarely disagree with Paul Krugman, but in this case I beg to differ. I agree that the Bush administration did indeed turn lying into a high art. The lies were bigger, deeper, more brazen, and, to use Krugman’s word, more “systematic” than ever before. A key innovation of Prevaricator-in-Chief Bush and co. were the lies they told about domestic policy. Not that it hadn’t been done before (see: Reaganomics). But Bush and crew really were bold as brass when it comes to the scale and scope of the lies they told about issues like tax cuts, the budget, and the cost of Medicare Part D. Krugman’s comment that the way the administration sold these policies “amounted to an expert class in how to lie with statistics” rings painfully true. Lying was institutionalized to a degree that we rarely see outside outside of explicitly authoritarian, anti-democratic regimes.

So yes, they took lying to a new level. But where I part company with Krugman is the idea that lying “wasn’t standard practice before” and that “the president as con man was a new character in American life.” Can we have forgotten this man so quickly? Or this one?

During my childhood, the president of the United States resigned in disgrace after telling the country a series of rancid lies about his participation in the cover-up of a sordid criminal conspiracy. And just in case I felt the urge to pass that off as an aberration, there were Reagan’s many and profound duplicities about everything from economic policy to Iran-contra to U.S. covert operations in Central America to his fantasies about personally witnessing the liberation of Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Before that, of course, there were of course the countless lies LBJ (and JFK, and Nixon) told about Vietnam. And throughout and after the Cold War, there were various other presidents’ whoppers about U.S. participation in various bloody — and sometimes outright genocidal — covert ops in a variety of countries.

Krugman says, “There was a time when Americans expected their leaders to be more or less truthful.” Perhaps. But at least since the beginning of the Cold War period, no one paying close attention had any reason to expect truth from American presidents. At one point or another, and to varying degrees, they all lied like fiends.

So if it wasn’t the massive dishonesty, what then was the most reprehensible act Dubya and company committed? Certainly, starting a unjust and tragic war on the basis of lies has to be near the top of the list. But unfortunately, that action was not unprecedented.

Ultimately, I believe the Bush regime’s most reprehensible acts were probably the torture and the other grotesque abuses of civil liberties and human rights they perpetrated — all in the name of national security. Openly embracing torture as acceptable U.S. policy was a radical break with long-standing American norms and values. Sadly, the Obama administration has continued far too many of the Bush administration’s most egregious national security policies. With practices like the military tribunals and Gitmo, the Bushies institutionalized policies that, to the extent they occurred before, had existed in a grey area and on a far smaller scale, never openly or as part of an officially recognized system or organization.

So far as honesty goes, the Obama administration, though far from perfect, is a dramatic improvement over the Bush regime But I remain genuinely shocked at the Obama administration’s support of some of the most repellent Bush-era national security policies, including the continuing existence of Gitmo and the drone strikes (which of course Obama has expanded). Bush released some serious evil in this world, and tragically, I don’t see us reversing course and attempting to undo it any time soon.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • somethingblue on April 27, 2013 7:14 PM:

    "Openly embracing torture as acceptable U.S. policy"

    Bingo.

    To be sure, the Obama apologists assure us that this is all okay now, because Obama isn't torturing anyone. (Why, he's said so himself!) That's nice. But since no one's been prosecuted for it, torture is now effectively a "policy disagreement."

    "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever."

  • botdoc on April 27, 2013 7:17 PM:

    not with a bang but a wimper

  • Milt on April 27, 2013 7:38 PM:

    Nixon of course set the record for lies and he and Lee Atwood created an atmosphere of lies that continues today. My contribution to the Beat-on Bush Bash must be his abdication of responsibility. He allowed his subordinates to do whatever they wanted and since they had great power and no controls on their actions they came as close to the pre-WWII Nazi party as I care to imagine. He allowed them and their cronies to display despicable behavior that was quickly picked up by mega-corporate brainless twits. This too remains the standard of behavior today. The unfortunate thing is, there doesn't seem to be any effort to corral this behavior. Everyday some jerk makes outrageous assertions based entirely on lies and the msm picks up on the story in order to sell papers or advertising time. Until these people are called to task and openly criticized for their behavior it will continue.

  • golack on April 27, 2013 7:51 PM:

    There are always bad policies, spins, lies....

    yet.....

    For the recent Republican presidents, they lie to subvert our nation. But, but, but, "If the president does it, it's not illegal"....

    So:

    Nixon, Watergate--use of the offices of the State to stay in power...
    Reagan, Iran-Contra--set up shadow organizations outside the law to get your way...
    Bush W., Everything--Out a CIA agent to attack someone questioning your lies. Torture as policy. Send our troops to war because your friends want you too, and they can make a lot of money off of it.

    Our country has the peaceful transition of power from one person to the next, one party to the next, in part because we do not have witch hunts once the new person is in power. But if ever there would be an exception....

  • Josef K on April 27, 2013 8:07 PM:

    I think Bush43's single greatest crime was that it pursued "Bush v. Gore" to the Supreme Court.

    It was clear form the outset that the Vice-President had won the national popular vote, and Florida's recount process was fatally compromised. The Bush Campaign could have taken the high road and conceded the election. Doing so would have salvaged the GOP's stock with the public a bit (Gingrinch was still the public face of the party, after all) and in a way undermined the Gore Administration more effectively than the collection of idiots that ran the GOP at the time.

    Instead Bush got himself installed by Judicial fiat, with a decision that should be enshrined as a perfect example of criminal legalese, and in the process overturned the very foundation of our democratic republic: that the public are the ones who elect our leaders.

    In short, Bush's greatest crime was that he was President in the first place.

    Everything that followed from there - 9/11, Katrina, the financial meltdown, Afghanistan, Iraq, Camp X-Ray, the Swift Boaters, TARP - was just 'sauce' for that already cooked goose.

  • bleh on April 27, 2013 8:23 PM:

    Agree with something blue, it was the OPEN embrace of torture, while denying it was torture.

    All governments lie -- indeed, they must -- and many before have lied the country into war for unworthy purposes. Granted, Bush's reasons were particularly venal -- and by the way, does anyone remember PNAC?! -- but they're hardly the first whose lies were deliberate and had horrendous results.

    But the repudiation of what had become a foundation of moral and civil law since ... what, the 18th century? For which we openly, and correctly, HANGED Fascist military leaders after WWII? This was like peeing on the flag.

    Most of this was Cheney's influence. He is truly a nexus of evil. I would say more, but that would just be another point for evil.

  • J. Michael Neal on April 27, 2013 8:49 PM:

    . . . including the continuing existence of Gitmo . . .

    Oh, for god's sake. Yes, there are some serious problems with the Obama administration's commitment to civil liberties. But anyone who spews this without acknowledgement that they tried to close Gitmo and Congress explicitly forbade them to spend any money on doing so loses all credibility.

  • Regis Reynolds on April 27, 2013 9:22 PM:

    Dick Cheney

  • Regis Reynolds on April 27, 2013 9:24 PM:

    Dick Cheney

  • Sad Paul Ryan on April 27, 2013 10:14 PM:

    Err ... Remember the Maine? None of us were around, but I suspect the War of 1812 was started on a fistful of lies. Certainly the Mexican-American War was. I will say, however, that Josef K's point about how Bush got into office was top shelf bad ... we hadn't seen an election that wrong since 1877. The outright mendacity of the administration is something new, in the sense that the federal government is bigger than it was in the 1920s, the public are richer and the press is more attentive than it was back in the day. Thus, it takes a lot of nerve and effort to sell the lies. More than in the Mad Men era, when the Vietnam War was sold to the public.

    Most galling is the collapse in our accounts. We're still the richest nation in the world, but we went from billions in the black to trillions in debt. And that was very much a Bush phenomenon. Obviously, that money didn't go into the pockets of a dozen individuals. But the fact that in the end the rich corporatists got much richer than the country as a whole and that they have us wishing to thank them after the financial crisis is completely rancid. I hope Bush stays at the bottom of the presidential league tables for a century.

  • PTate in Mn on April 28, 2013 12:51 AM:

    The single worst thing??? That's hard. Where to start? I agree with Krugman about the cynical duplicity, and I agree with Geier about the institutionalization of torture. The war and the tax cuts, of course. The assault on social security. The harmful deregulations of finance and environment. The divisiveness.

    But if I had to pick one thing, it would be his Supreme Court appointments. The nation could repudiate the worst of the Bush years, but the consistent assault on our freedoms by this weirdly conservative Court --Citizens United, in particular--makes it terribly hard.

  • Anonymous on April 28, 2013 2:39 AM:

    PT: Reagan appointed Scalia, and even worse GW's dad appointed Thomas. That one must be one of the most abjectly contemptible appointments to the court ever. You remember, he's the most qualified guy we could find, and his own "high tech lynching", which wasn't high tech at all or anything like a lynching for that matter. Actually I always wondered if Clarence wrote that one himself or if the PR department cooked it up.

    But speaking of lies...and good point Josef about GWB's Original Sin....it seems to me that Reagan and GWB in particular brought political campaigning, and governance, into the modern age of advertising and PR. Nixon's lies were just normal lies and diversions, going back to the Checkers speech. Reagan campaigned with nonsensical content free TV commercials populated by farmers and silos and wheatfields and happy children in golden sunrise light backed by swelling patriotic mood music (OK, I didn't actually look it up on YouTube or anything, but you get the idea - Morning in America, thank you Hal Rainey) and he governed the same way, with imagery not reality, themes of the day and soundbites, while trading arms for hostages etc. It changed presidencies forever, and not in a good way.

    GWB forbid coverage of flag draped coffins, and paid off right wing columnists and had fake news clips produced and who knows what else. And who could forget the most insane instance ever of modern political public relations theater absurdity, the Mission Accomplished production. And they even lied about the banner afterwards.

  • Rex Visogothis on April 28, 2013 2:45 AM:

    as to Gitmo closure, the principled, self respecting C in C would declare the congressional strictures to be unconstitutional tampering with his Art.II responsibilities and impeach me you puny motherfuckers is if you have the balls.

  • PTate in MN on April 28, 2013 3:04 AM:

    Anonymous, while Scalia and Thomas are genuine stootges, I was referring to John Roberts and Samuel Alito. It was Bush's cynical stacking of the court with reactionaries, the politicization of our highest court, that leaves the nation so vulnerable.

    Regarding GWB's forbidding of photographs of American soldiers killed in Iraq, the always interesting BagNewsNotes observed that the photos from the Boston Marathon bombings were extremely gory whereas the photos we see of Afghanistan (or Iraq) are always bloodless. Horror against terrorism is okay, I guess, but horror at the consequences of Bush's pointless invasions remains off-limits.

  • bad Jim on April 28, 2013 4:21 AM:

    Perhaps what disturbs me the most about W was his insouciance, the impression he gave that results didn't much matter to him. From his 24/7 attention to the job (24 days a month, 7 months a year), to his casual attitude towards al Qaeda or Katrina, or joking about missing WMD at the Correspondents' Dinner not long after the invasion of Iraq, it was apparent that he felt that being president was an entitlement I'm the Decider rather than something that demanded his utmost efforts.

  • c u n d gulag on April 28, 2013 7:08 AM:

    HA!
    Do you know what the single greatest crime of the Cheney-Bush Crime Family was?
    The one that's still ruining "Reel Murka" and the world?

    They were inept.

    They were bumblin' stooges.

    One could say, "comically inept bumbling stooges," except there was nothing funny about them, their ineptness, or the results.

    They couldn't find the zippers to their private parts with a roadmap, a GPS system, and a f*cking flare.

    If they were more "ept," more people would remember them more fondly.
    But they weren't.
    And people don't.
    The Bush Mis-adminstration had the "Reverse-Midas Touch."

    EVERY F*CKING SINGLE F*CKING THING THEY F*CKING TOUCHED, TURNED TO F*CKING SH*T!!!!!

    Nixon and his crew were fairly "ept," until Watergate, when their inner-ineptness was on display, for one and all to gaze at.

    Reagan's sunny disposition, and blank-eyed smile, covered up for his, and his administrations, ineptness.
    But he at least had some sort of charm.

    I saw through it.
    Through to the inner sociopathic reptilian brain at work, looking upon the world as some sort of potential lunch crawling before it, where, before lunging and lunching, the reptile disarms its potential meal, with it's calm stony eyes, and lizard-smile - and then, SNAP!!! - the 'unhappy meal' enters the lizard's gaping maw.
    Millions and millions of people didn't.

    But, Dick Cheney had no charm.
    And has no charm now.
    Never did, never will.
    He lets his inner-sociopath fly as proudly as the flag he always claims to love.
    But he loves only himself - like the true sociopath that he is.

    And, as much of a charmed life as W lived before he became Preznit, what little "I'd rather have a beer with that recovering-alcoholic guy," charm he might have had, all unraveled before our eyes.

    He bumbled, he stumbled.
    He couldn't couldn't even seem to "tok raht" - unless you paid attention.

    And if you paid attention, you noticed that whenever he was talking about terror and/or war, and all of the delicious things that made Cheney salivate while masturbating - like invasions, torture (which they ludicrously denied), and rendition (ditto), etc., he never mis-spoke.
    NEVER MIS-SPOKE!
    Not once.
    Not ONE mis-placed syllable.
    Not one garbled cosonant.
    NOT ONE!!!!!

    NOT EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It was only when W tried to act compassionate about issues, that he spewed out garbled word salads that would make Sister Sarah, the Sinister Saint of Sitka, jealous.

    Whenever W tried to act like he was compassionate, he put the "ass," in compassionate.

    The entitled sociopath didn't have a compassionate atom in his body - except maybe for some reptilian form of empathy for his family and friends.
    I always felt sorry for Laura Bush - until I realized that if she really was a caring person, and not just another, smarter, sociopath with a better demeanor and a prettier smile, she'd have left that moronic sociopathic asshole, years before.
    Or, could have left him while he was Preznit, and Preznitin' us off a cliff.
    A truly caring person would have.
    SHOULD have.

    We Americans can forgive a lot.

    But what we can't forgive, is ineptness on a level not seen since Max Sennett's studio was grinding out their comically absurd "Keystone Kops" episode - where the "Kops" never catch the 'Krooks,' who are laughing at them the whole time, while they lead them on chases that never end, until the money runs out for the movie.

    But this ain't no movie.

    And they bankrupted this country, half full (or, almost) of suckers, marks, stooges, fools, bobo's, dopes, morons, idiots, and imbeciles, so badly, that when you come to the George W. Bush "LIEberry," you have to bring your own crayons.

    George W. Bush was that in

  • c u n d gulag on April 28, 2013 7:16 AM:

    Oooops!

    Too many word-turds.

    Ok, kids - here's the exciting conclusion:

    When last we encountered c u n d gulag, he was writing, "George w. Bush was that in..."

    And the finish is... wait for it... "ept."


    'George W. Bush was that inept!'
    They were all, ALL, THAT INEPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    THE END - of America?

    Tune in tomorrow, and every tomorrow, to see if Barry O'KenyanSocialistFascistCommunistAtheistHeathenMuslim, can fix it.

    Not likely, with a Congress half-full of Simon Legree's and Snidely Whiplash's.

    But watch him try.

    At least he and his team seem "ept!"

  • Daryl McCullough on April 28, 2013 9:01 AM:

    I think it's obvious that his worst action was the Iraq war. That cost a trillion dollars, thousands of American lives, 10s of thousands of Iraqi lives, the US' reputation with the rest of the world, and on and on.

  • esaud on April 28, 2013 9:17 AM:

    It's useful to think how much worse the next Republican president will be, on a sliding (sinking?) scale of what our corrupt media establishment will let Republicans get away with. In retrospect, it seems almost quaint that Cheney et.al. felt that they actually had to come up with an excuse for the invasion of Iraq. Highly paid media pundits were happy to accept any excuse they manufactured.

    How much worse can it get? The only things that matter to arch conservatives are money, power, privlege. Truth, justice, fairness are of no concern to them.

  • bestdissertations on April 28, 2013 10:06 AM:

    bestdissertations
    that was so funny... I'm still laughing... :)

  • beb on April 28, 2013 1:01 PM:

    I would have to agree with Krugman, the greatest sin of the Bush administration was the relentlessly lying and the attacks on those who criticized the Bush administration. Neither Nixon or Reagan lied to get us into a war (Tho Nixon lied about getting us out of one). Neither lied about the costs of those wars. Neither ever claimed that deficits don't matter. Neither claimed that torture produced good intel. So sure, they lied but not nearly as constantly, not as callously indifferent to reality. Bush made an artform of a regrettable tendency of politicians.

  • KarenJG on April 28, 2013 1:07 PM:

    In my opinion, the worst thing about Bush's presidency was his terrorism after the 9/11 attacks. Yes, you read that right - *HIS* terrorism. He used the fear generated by those attacks to get Congress and the American people to allow him to do all the awful things people have mentioned here, and to silence those who would object. Contrary to C U N D gulag's assertion, I think he was very "ept" - just not at the things we'd want a president to be "ept" at - i.e., governing well. He was extremely "ept" at getting everything HE wanted.

    Using fear to get what you want? That's terrorism.

  • c u n d gulag on April 28, 2013 1:12 PM:

    KarenJG,
    Me like-ee.
    You're right, of course.

    He was very "ept" when it came to the things he wanted.

  • Don on April 28, 2013 1:53 PM:

    The worst thing? Sending men to die over a lie and then laughing about it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvliUuXjbL4

    I can't believe one of his Marine guards didn't put a bullet in the back of his head because of that.

  • emjayay on April 28, 2013 2:31 PM:

    PTate in MN: Anonymous you referred to was me. Odd that this blog allows comments when you forget the boxes above, as long as you achieve Captcha.

    Re: "Bush's cynical stacking of the court with reactionaries." And of course I agree with you, (except probably Roberts is a bit more responsible than the others, if similarly evil) but just wanted to add to the list. Alito and Roberts and Scalia reflect the general opinion of the president nominating them, even if particularly those of GWB were no doubt not thought through or analysed legally or anything like that in any sort of way, at least not by GWB personally. He was just told her's a guy who's the kind of authoritarian pro-business fascist your really like without a bone of that ha ha ha compassion crap.

    I just think the Clarence Thomas nomination represents another dimension of cynicism, and oddly from a president who seemed a lot more knowledgeable and experienced and reasoned than his son.

    About the photos: interesting. But what is the mechanism here? Active censorship, photographer's personal discretion, something institutional, or what? I don't know. Certainly these days any individual with a cell phone can go past editors and military right to the internet. So what's going on?


  • Mason Dixon on April 28, 2013 5:23 PM:

    Immediately after the botched inauguration and election Cheney convened a board of Big Energy insiders to discuss (and presumably decide) national energy policy. The minutes and decisions of this board (including Ken Lay of Enron) were closed and never made public.

    This occurred at the same time as the California "energy crisis", which precipitated the unprecedented recall of an elected Democratic governor who was replaced by a Republican governor. At the time this was pretty obviously a ploy to attempt to move California from blue state to red state. The resulting Republican governor was utterly incompetent - but a back-slapping great guy! - who left the state with serious organizational and financial problems.

    More importantly though, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Bush/Cheney appointees, refused to investigate the cause of the "energy crisis" in California. Later independent investigation proved that the energy crisis was completely a result of corrupt process and financial shenanigans by the very groups that were in Cheney's energy committee, e.g. Enron et al.

    The nation was distracted from this egregious conspiracy by the attacks of 11 September 2001, so it is largely forgotten, but it siphoned a huge amount of money from the people and companies of California and created a completely manufactured crisis that still cries out for investigation and prosecution.

  • firedogButt on April 28, 2013 5:50 PM:

    That when Bush left, Obongo moved in.

    Now we see basketball, bang wigs and Boston bombings.

  • emjayay on April 28, 2013 10:00 PM:

    MODERATOR: Can't racist garbage comments be removed from this blog? It's not like this is Yahoo!News. Please.

  • monoceros4 on April 28, 2013 10:50 PM:

    Man. All the best points are taken. I have to agree that the worst aspect of the Bush presidency was that it happened at all; once his fraudulent claim on the Presidency was forced through, that was it really. The Republicans learned for once and all that they could bully the law itself into submission; if they charged in and acted like they were already running the place, they would get their way. I remembering thinking, wistfully and entirely wrongly, that the new Bush administration would be forced to move cautiously since they were under a cloud of dubious legitimacy and had only the slenderest of advantages in Congress. It seems ridiculous in retrospect: they'd already "won" an entire election with bluster and intimidation, why would they suddenly govern with restraint?

    It's tempting to point to this or that aspect of the presidency of Bush the Lesser as particularly damaging but, as has already been pointed out, was he really unique from Reagan in this regard? In a way he was just a continuation and perfection of the trend.

    In a way the worst legacy wasn't anything that Little Bush did but what the press did with him. One of the most baffling aspects of the man was that his faults became bizarrely invisible. He had skeletons in his closet that would have, I thought, been more than enough to overwhelm his ambitions--but they didn't! Nobody seemed to give a curse, at least not in 2000, and when his shabby National Guard career finally did get a bit of attention in 2004 it was in such a half-assed and incompetent way that it backfired horribly (while at the same time the bogus Swiftboating charges got constant play in the press.)

    It continued throughout his presidency, too. It seemed to be enough that the man could get through a speech without openly wetting himself, and that was sufficient proof of his leadership. Didn't matter what he said or that he sounded like he couldn't say more than three words at a stretch without waiting for the cue cards to catch up.

  • emjayay on April 28, 2013 11:27 PM:

    And yet right wingnuts still think making Obama/teleprompter jokes is the height of hilarity. The comments above hit a lot of the GWB horrors, and I'm sure if we looked back a bit we would find more and more. Pretty much every minute of every day of the entire eight years.

    OK, Obama is in bed with Wall Street, compromises too much too soon, is much too prone to killing people with drones, the whole government is in the thrall of big business/big money, the ACA is an absurd Rube Goldbergian sell out to insurance companies, etc. All too true.

    On the other hand Obama isn't an incompetent, mean spirited, incurious, small minded, two-faced, duplicious, emotionally stunted asshole and bully. It's night and day compared to the previous administration.

  • jkl; on April 29, 2013 8:49 AM:

    So many bad and evil things, with the worst being eight intolerably long years of outright lies, deceptions, fictions, misrepresentations, fabrications, false stories, untruths--which truly relate to so much of the wrongness of that administration--lies to start wars, falsely pushing fear-mongering to citizens for years, paid propaganda machines in full action, the lack of truth about programs such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare D, etc.
    Blatant political bias that began in 2000 with Bush v. Gore --and Scalia --in that instance-- conveniently departing from his states rights stance to deny Florida its state's rights to count all votes, while his son had been employed by the legal firm representing Bush, and his spouse active in Heritage Foundation and reactionary extremist groups.
    And the subsequent voting fraud that won Bush the election in 2004!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Many lies --absent real scrutiny-- will remain the worst part of the Bush years.
    AND, as clever pundits say, we now see Bush's "Lie Bury"
    built in Texas, another major whopper of a lie as he pretended to be a Texan Cowboy complete with ranch when he actually was from Conneticut.