By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Nowhere was this clearer than in pop culture, where Bush’s persona came full circle. When he first hit the national stage, he was treated as an amiable dope. Think of Will Ferrell on SNL, or Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s short-lived filthy-title sitcom That’s My Bush! All this changed after September 11, when Bush was suddenly elevated to mythic status: Depending on people’s point of view, he was either Frodo or Sauron.
These days such extremes seem ridiculous, and as his presidency dwindles, we’re once again seeing Bush portrayed as a far-from-malignant comic figure. He got stoned with Harold and Kumar. And to loving applause in the form once more of Will Ferrell, he recently turned up on SNL to discuss the election “between the hot lady and the Tiger Woods guy.” Even Oliver Stone bent over backward to be sympathetic in W., portraying Bush as an essentially well-meaning guy cursed with wicked advisers and gnawed by Oedipal angst (James Cromwell’s a revelation as the cold, withholding Poppy).
As poor, sad John McCain could attest, it’s Bush’s fate to screw up everything he touches (even W. is a flop). Far from helping Republicans institute the “1,000-Year Reich” dreamed of by nerdy Karl Rove and the exterminating angel, Tom DeLay, his administration exposed the decadence of a conservative movement that once took pride in having ideas and principles but now only has a sense of entitlement. Conservatism is supposed to be about limits, but Bush put the lie to that idea with an unnecessary war, huge budget deficits and the largest expansion of government power since the New Deal.
Along the way, he also discredited the notion that Republicans are competent. It used to be thought that liberals were dreamy idealists and that conservatives, rooted in business, knew how to get things done. But that illusion has been shattered by our MBA president and his ex-CEO veep, who, ever since his acclaimed Elmer Fudd hunting impression, seems even more spectral than his boss. I’d still love to learn whether their private meetings came straight from Of Mice and Men (“Tell me about the weapons, Dick”), but we already know the essential truth about them. Where Bush is interested in politics, not governing, Cheney’s brilliance lies in bending the bureaucracy to his will. Too bad what he wants isn’t good for the country. Even as I write, the two of them are refusing to go quietly. Despite Bush’s words of cooperation the morning after Obama’s win, he and Cheney are hoping to institute all manner of hard-to-reverse, last-minute regulatory changes — weakening consumer and environmental protection — like a retreating army strewing land mines over the countryside.
Of course, it’s always been too easy to act like Bush is some monstrous aberration. In fact, he’s been emblematic of America in the early 21st century in many of its aspects: jokiness, personal loyalty, political bellicosity, resentful anti-intellectualism, thoughtless consumerism, naïve do-gooderism, reflexive incuriosity about the outside world, and a profound unwillingness to face unpleasant facts. A man who should never have been president once, got re-elected with a bigger margin, which means that the fault is not on him alone. It’s on those who still admire his politics of division — you could hear them booing Obama’s name during McCain’s gracious and decent concession speech — and on those of us who opposed him but didn’t fight him harder.
As Bush himself once magnificently put it: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Tristan Tzara weeps.
If Bush reflected our failings with funhouse-mirror extravagance, Obama’s election offers us hope. This is us, too. Four years ago, right after he won his senate seat, Obama told me that the tricky thing about dealing with the right’s politics of personal destruction was to avoid falling into the same thing “without being a chump.” That’s precisely what he did in his campaign, and of the many things there are to admire about his presidential run — quite possibly the most brilliant in our national history — I rank none higher than the way he kept his nerve when many of his rabbity supporters (myself included) thought he needed to go on the attack more, especially in the weeks around the Palin nomination. But he kept his poise, and his bearings, and these were the qualities that carried him to victory and to that surprisingly sober speech Tuesday night.
Obama has every reason to be sober, and not only because he has raised expectations so high that his followers may have an appointment with disappointment. Having steered the country into war and massive debt, Bush will turn over a presidency that