Saturday, December 08, 2007

How Will the History be Written?

In 408 days, the Bush presidency will end. (That is, barring some wild Cheney/Rove spasm of historical exceptionalism, on a scale beyond even the Supreme Court appointment that marked the beginning of the regime.) And, we will blink in the dawn of a new era, wondering what in the hell that was about. And the Bush regime will begin to be placed into historical context.

Ironically, the proverb "History is written by the victors" has many attributions, reflecting the uncertainty and even falsity of much we accept as "history". A few more colossal military screw-ups, and our greatest President may have been recorded as the final and most inept President of the formerly United States. "What if" games can lead to all kinds of altered visions, with history's villains triumphant, and history's heroes vilified.

But the process of assessing presidents in the popular mind is far less binary. Nixon has become a paranoid, flawed master of foreign policy. Reagan is widely viewed as a dim-witted simpleton with a sunny smile who surrounded himself with corrupt thugs (though a few hold-outs still remember him as "morning in America"). Kennedy, well, heck, you can't even mention him in some circles without genuflecting, though serious study reveals a far less saintly Jack.

A common theme in presidential assessments is that truly negative views cannot hold. As Americans, we cannot stomach the thought that one of our leaders was actually a bad person. As noted above, even Nixon, who resigned when he hit the depths of disapproval to which Bush has sunk, has gained a more generous stature than anyone thought possible when he left office. At the time, he was a slimy, despicable crook, but now he has risen to a competent president with a flair for talking with the Chinese, whose fatal flaw was too much concern about being reelected.

The truth is that W needs an upgrade in reputation. The truth is, grade school students in 2050 aren't going to look at the large sheet of oval portraits, focus on Bush (he may attract attention for being the last in that consecutive string of white males) and learn what really happened. No teacher is going to stand there and say "At the turn of the Century, Democrats fell under the control of a bunch of incompetent, gutless party leaders, and the Republicans fell under the spell of the Christian right, and the voters elected Gore, but the Supreme Court preferred Bush, the war-criminal, who soon launched one understandable war and then one inexcusable, evil debacle that destroyed our country's standing in the world."

America in 2050 will not believe how bad Bush has been. We, as a country, need to believe that our path has been righteous, and always toward the light. We even gloss over the Spanish-American War these days, as a 6 month adventure in helping other countries gain their independence from Old Europe. In a few more years, the Bay of Pigs will either drop entirely out of mainstream history books, or be upgraded to a valiant effort that inspired the Cubans to hold on for another 50 years until Castro died.

My imagination fails me as to how we can remake W, though. He launched a brutal, bloody war against a country that had not attacked us and posed no threat to us, reprising the role of Hirohito. He gave us secret prisons and people "disappearing", ripping a page out of what we had thought was Stalin's playbook. He made us torturers, and rendered the Geneva Conventions "quaint", drawing from the Pol Pot genre. He accepted a presidency that wasn't his to accept, in the best tradition of tin-horn third-world "presidents". He played guitar while New Orleans drowned, like a modern-era Nero. How do we cobble together an acceptable portrait out of this historical Frankenstein of ill-chosen parts?

My suspicion and hope is that Bush will be remembered in the manner of Lyndon Johnson - a kind of forgotten war-time president whose focus was on a war he couldn't win or end. We'll have to forget that, unlike Johnson, Bush started his war, and chose it with an eagerness that led him to skew intelligence. We'll have to forget a whole lot about Bush.

It's going to be a slow, painful process to forget about Bush. Forgiveness of the person, of course, is going to be beyond the ability of many of us, but fixing what he has done to us will be difficult enough that it will provide plenty of distractions.

Some will read this and complain that it's not fair that Bush will get off lightly for his misdeeds. I agree - he's a war-criminal and an uncaring leader serving the interests of the wealthy. But history has never been a fair and just narrative. It's about creating a story we can live with. America will not be able to live with the truth of George W. Bush. In 400 days, we must begin to reinvent him.



Blogger sophia said...

This post is wise and depressing. The school children won't be taught what really happened, but the truth won't be erased from the the historical record. It will be there, for honest people to encounter and reflect that this country has had some big asshole moments. Hopefully, they will be able to do that from a country where the Bush legacy has been contained and reversed, not advanced.

And when Bush dies, I expect that many voices currently heard on the internet will rise up from the retirement villa and assess his Presidency and his life in terms that would make Hunter S. Thompson proud:

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern--but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.

Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man--evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him--except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.

He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

12/08/2007 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Ready for primetime.

I only take one exception to your thesis. We have been sweeping our ugly behavior under the rug for a long time. Bush will no doubt be a continuation of the faulty propoganda and blind nativist ideaology thinnly veiled in patriotism which for centuries has kept the majority silent.

How easy to forget small pox in blankets for cold and hungry indians, genocide, chattel slavery, KKK, Phillipine war, United Fruit, Vietnam, Illegal invasion of Panama, Patriot Act ect ect... We have a history of making incredibley bad choices and causing suffering where none previously existed.

Don't get me wrong there is a much longer list of accomplishments which America should be very proud of and I love this land. I just don't like the direction we've been heading, nor am I proud or ignorant of the pain we have inflicted on many people world-wide in the name of freedom and profit. Even worse is the blind adoration our citizens offer when we use the word patriot or flash an image of an American GI.

What to do? I am honestly looking at Ron Paul. I have been a life long Democrat for the almost 5 decades I've been on planet earth and I'm not crazy about Paul's social platform. But I am ready for sweeping change.

Thanks Dan for thoughts.


12/08/2007 2:28 PM  
Anonymous Sphere of Ions said...

Ahhh. Dan’s assessment of the G.W. Presidency, as seen through liberal colored glasses from the 8th floor. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

1. The U.S. Supreme Court determined the 2000 elections results. If you have a problem with that, I suggest you place the blame appropriately on the Supreme Court. George W. Bush did not appoint any of the Justices that rendered the decision.

2. Less than two months after taking the oath of office, Robert Philip Hanssen was charged and later convicted of espionage. This has been considered the largest security breach in U.S. History. – Welcome to the Presidency George W.

3. Less than 8 months later, 9/11/2001. More people died that day than in the attack on Pearl Harbor. – G.W., are we having fun yet?

G.W. may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he never stood a chance. Post 9/11, the blogs created a whole new attack on U.S. soil; the attack on the Presidency. Anyone with a computer now had easy access to voice their opinion. Ask any marketing expert and they will tell you; “make one person happy, and they will tell one person, make one person mad, and they will tell ten.”

It is very easy to decide how someone else should do their job when your opinion does not include responsibility for the outcome. Dan stated that Iraq “posed no threat to us”. Really Dan? “No threat to us”? Maybe they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, but your claim of no threat, in any way, shape, or form, cannot be supported.

Did the President or Congress have the luxury of hindsight? No.

When we entered the Iraq war, was the nation was behind the President? Yes, even the Democrats.

Even without the possibility that WMDs existed, the U.S. would have likely supported attacking Iraq. The nation was wounded and would have been willing to do just about anything to avoid future attacks on U.S. soil.


Dan, are you running for public office anytime in the near future? It would be nice to see someone who constantly judges others put themselves in a position of being constantly judged. Do you really want such blind, mindless attacks on a sitting President to be associated with your name?

12/08/2007 3:23 PM  
Blogger sophia said...

"Post 9/11, the blogs created a whole new attack on U.S. soil; the attack on the Presidency."

Liberal bloggers = terrorists. What a f'd up time we live in.

12/08/2007 3:39 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Ion -

If we attack every country that poses a threat to us in any way, shape or form, we might as well start attacking with the A's and end with the Z's, leaving no stone on stone. War was not justified, and we all know the intelligence was ginned up in favor of a war the neo-cons had sought years before 9/11. Yes, Bush and his band of black-hearted evil-doers manipulated a panicked America through fear-mongering, but that is nothing to be proud of.

No plans to run for public office, thank you for asking.

12/08/2007 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Gonemild for President! said...

Sphere -

Too damned funny. You basically say that since a spy got found out, that somehow justified Bush attacking the wrong country? Wow.

I don't know Dan, but if he did run for office, I don't think he could possibly fuck things up as bad as Bush . . .

12/08/2007 6:53 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.

- William Tecumseh Sherman

12/08/2007 7:43 PM  
Anonymous Red Again said...

Sphere of Ions,

Are you just a dim-witted fucktard? Did you expect a logical response?

sophia now equates liberal bloggers with terrorists. She must also think 2+2=7. Don't ask her how she arrived at her conclusion. That would cause her to think.

dan, poor, poor dan. Liar, Liar, Liar. Sphere was nice to you. He/ She did not call you a Liar. Yes he did, and he was correct. Iraq was a threat? Maybe not a threat worthy of attack, nonetheless, a threat. Something about putting a price on the head of a former president would lead me to believe that SH was a threat.

gone mild for pres.- the left shoe goes on the left foot. You're just a fucking idiot.

12/08/2007 7:53 PM  
Blogger Muddy Mo said...

Red Again wrote, "Sphere was nice to you. He/ She did not call you a Liar. Yes he did, and he was correct. "

Hmmm.... Red, dude, I think you just manifested that other personality (the one you thought you were doing such a good job keeping submerged) while typing a comment on the Gone Mild blog.

Ya might wanna dig out the number for the Doc whose pulling the on-call shift this weekend and see if they can tweak those meds just a liiiiiiitle bit there, buckaroo.

12/09/2007 12:21 AM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

Saddam was boxed in and posed no threat to anyone, let alone the U.S. He didn't even have control of his own airspace. The fact that someone in his position issued a bounty on the president didn't make him a threat, it made him an impotent windbag and an idiot.

I think after Bush/Cheney leave office you will see even more incriminating evidence start bubbling up. At some point, there will be serious efforts made to bring members of the administration to The Hague to face charges of atrocities and war crimes. It will happen.

It will take many, many decades of consistent diplomacy to repair the damage that Bush/Cheney have caused. Some of it may be irreparable. Some parts of the world have very long memories.

I think that with the rise of the European Union, China and India, the era of American supremecy on the world stage is at an end.

We will soon be joing the ranks of Great Britain, France, Italy and Greece. Former empires who reached their peak and then imploded.

It would behoove us to loose the arrogance and start behaving with a bit more humility.

12/09/2007 11:49 AM  
Blogger les said...


At least we've identified the 28% of our population willing to trade constitutional rights and privileges for the illusion of safety from an imaginary threat. A dubious accomplishment.

12/10/2007 10:12 AM  

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