January 21, 2008

365 Days to Go

Various pieces here and there on the Internet have noted, with a great exhalation of relief, that George W. Bush has one year left to finish up his impersonation of a president. Some of them were a trifle premature in precisely noting "365 days to go," perhaps forgetting that American presidential elections happen during leap years, and that February 29 occurs between January 20, 2008 and its counterpart in 2009. Today, however, we can actually make that statement.

In our fevered times, the learned analysts and commentators are impatient with the actual transpiration of history and yearn to write it before it happens. Thus, we see in these "prehistories" an anticipatory description of what life will be like in America after Bush returns to Crawford or Dallas or Asuncion, or wherever he winds up. Most depict a country trying to haul itself up out of a morass of problems and quagmires caused by Bush's reign of incompetence and cupidity. These efforts are all versions of chewing gum with the mind, in my opinion. We just don't know at this point, any more than we know what will happen over these last 365 days.

With all that in mind, however, we can reliably predict that Bush's vaunted "sprint to the finish" (a signal characteristic of Bush's thinking is that his self-image is wildly incongruent with his lived reality) won't produce any great breakthroughs. Bush starts things and doesn't finish them. That's true across the board. Can we recall his "Road Map" which was going to lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian standoff? Anthony Zinni as the envoy, way back when, Colin Powell leading the way to peace in our time? If that seems like ancient history it's because it is. Bush didn't want the United States to participate in the Kyoto Protocol; he was going to propose a different regime "based on science." He never came up with anything. He let the United States languish in the obstructionism of inertia.

His counterpart in the White House, Dick Cheney, is very different. He made his bones as a career apparatchik by always finishing his tasks. With the assistance of his Man Friday, David Addington, Cheney installed his torture regime in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, and at all the black sites in the CIA's gulag of illegal prisons. Cheney was determined to work the "dark side," as he put it, and he delivered. The Executive Branch's obsessive secrecy and utter contempt for Congressional oversight are other hallmarks of Cheney's influence. These two features of the Bush/Cheney years, the sullied reputation of the United States as a moral force and a broken balance of powers, will linger far into the future after Bush leaves office.

On the economic front, we could say that Bush has no head for business and Cheney is indifferent to the national prosperity, although the VP is intensely interested in his own net worth. I don't think either one of them realized how much the global economy was changing while they were in office because their focus was always on wars of aggression and investing in the military-industrial complex. America's dependence on foreign sources of oil is as great (and ruinous) as ever, and the balance of trade issue remains a looming disaster. By staking his reputation on a single failed project, the Iraq war, Bush diverted vast national resources to something which cannot possibly yield a decent return on investment. Had the one trillion dollars been invested in domestic uses (alternative energy and rebuilding infrastructure), the United States would have made progress during his tenure. It is the cardinal sign of a lousy businessman that he can't figure out how to allocate his money to bring about optimal results. In this sense, Bush has simply replicated his brief failed career in the oil business.

You might say that when January 20, 2009 rolls around, the new president will face a situation where all the problems which existed in January, 2001, have been exacerbated, and many very serious dilemmas have been added to the mix -- America's economic competitiveness, the insolvency of the entitlement programs, the unmanageable national debt, the unaffordability of energy supplies such as oil. Eight years will have passed with nothing but depreciation and deferred maintenance to show for it. A truly patriotic gesture on Bush and Cheney's part would be to resign now and to allow successors to get started on the salvage operation. Consistent with their attitudes to date, however, we can be sure they won't.

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