July 29, 2007

As good as it gets

I sometimes wonder why George W. Bush doesn't simply do a few things that would make him more popular with the American people. His level of unpopularity is reaching absurd depths. Given that previous comparable lows were achieved only by Presidents in the throes of transient crises (Nixon with Watergate; Truman and the cashiering of the national hero General Douglas MacArthur), it seems that the revulsion of the public, where Bush is concerned, is somehow more fundamental. It isn't any one thing; it's everything. Yet it isn't difficult to read the polls, and a few gestures in the right direction could obviously alter things in his favor. For example, on an issue like global warming, Bush could simply accede to the express recommendations of the G-8; since the implementation of its largely hortatory goals is spaced out over the next forty-two years, they would hardly cause a ripple in Bush's remaining 540 days in office, while providing him with a modest bump in popularity. The same might be said about the Iraq War. Bush could short-circuit some of the criticism, and the damage to the Republican Party, simply by accomplishing some of the same things with different rhetoric. He could freely acknowledge that the early phases of the war were mishandled; everyone knows this already, and entire shelves of the library are occupied by heavily documented books detailing the screwups in excruciating detail. He could stop insulting the intelligence of the average American by claiming now that Iraq is the "central front in the war on terror" and that the main foe in Iraq is Al-Qaeda, and focus instead on the necessity of a phased withdrawal to protect Iraqis who will be in grave danger when we leave. This sounds more responsible and compassionate, and even some war critics would have the wind taken out of their sails by this more honest approach.

He doesn't do any of this. He doesn't come close to doing any of this. His poll numbers appear to be in an irreversible nosedive, and he doesn't appear to care or even motivated to undertake simple fixes. I find, indeed, that this quality of Bush's, his complete unwillingness or incapacity for conciliatory gestures or remedial action, is the scariest thing about him. It's the clearest indication to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with him. When it comes to the Bush/Cheney cabal, and their designs upon the Constitutional integrity of the United States, it appears to me that yesterday's paranoid raving has a way of becoming today's realistic fear. I read a lot of stuff about Bush and Cheney, and very rational people, from various points on the political spectrum, seem to be converging around a single salient point. That while Bush & Cheney appear to have 540 days left in office, the deathly fear, which is now being articulated, is that a major terrorist attack on the United States during that period could afford Bush the excuse he's been looking for to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law in the United States.

One can line up the train of abuses beginning with the systematic violations of the FISA law in late 2001; the use of signing statements to ignore Congressional enactments; the systematic misrepresentation of the reasons for invading Iraq; the establishment of a secret gulag of CIA prisons to circumvent the Geneva Conventions and the federal War Crimes Act; the establishment of a prison in Cuba as an end-run around the habeas corpus provisions in the Constitution; the Executive Orders providing for the seizure of assets of Americans found to be complicit by the Secretary of the Treasury (and who might Henry Paulson consult before confiscating every dime you own?), directly or indirectly, or through contributions of money directly or through third parties (witting? accidental?), in acts of violence aimed at, or reasonably likely to be aimed at, the destabilization of the Iraqi government; the amendment of the Insurrection Act itself to allow Bush to determine when a "national emergency" has arisen, under a broader definition than under the prior act, so that he can call out the national guard to quell domestic disorder; Bush's declaration that the United States is itself a "battlefield," allowing the seizure of Americans such as Jose Padilla and their incarceration without legal counsel, without communication, without the right to a speedy trial, on the theory that such people are "enemy combatants" --

You can place different matrices above all these developments, of course. Maybe Bush and Cheney's supporters would simply say they're realists and take the problem of terrorism more seriously than the liberal camp. Their goal is not the overthrow of the American democracy, per se; it's simply that the world changed on 9-11, as they incessantly repeat, and the niceties of due process and search warrants and legal representation and habeas corpus for terrorists simply have to take a back seat to the critical problem of survival. You certainly could look at everything that's happened and see Cheney's "dark side" strategy as simply a philosophical difference in approach. That would be, in its own way, immensely comforting, and that's a strange thing to say. For what I'm saying is that I would be relieved that Bush and Cheney are directing their attack on America's external enemies and not on American democracy itself.

That's the most sickening part for me: that's as good as it gets.

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