Bush’s legacy: uniting a country … against him

By Ry Rivard

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – July will be remembered as the month America lost its 43rd president. We lost him not to disease, as Harding, Harrison, Taylor and Roosevelt, resignation, as Nixon, or assassination as Garfield, Kennedy, McKinley and Lincoln, but to himself.

“The heart of darkness is the president,” a government official told the Washington Post. “Nobody knows what he thinks, even the people who work for him.”

There has been a shift in American opinion this summer. It is a move by liberals and conservatives alike away from the misery, rage, tragedy and disappointment of the Bush administration from surprised or angry to completely dismissive.

Not only is Bush ineffective as a leader – his disapproval ratings equal Nixon’s and the opinion of the Iraq war is lowering constantly – but he is no longer in charge of the country and its people because he no longer speaks for us, represents our views or has our consent as his mandate to rule. (All he has is an election three years ago since which he has caused decades worth of damage to our nation, namely in the Middle East and perhaps on the Supreme Court.)

Not only are his approval ratings low but his domestic agenda is incoherent or stalled in Congress. His foreign policy, regardless of Iraq, is impotent. On the world stage he has made neither the right choices – either for the environment or American industry – or the right friends on the international stage. His biggest diplomatic accomplishment since 2003, when Libya gave up its quest for nuclear weapons, was when Bush’s father lied to the press about how large a fish Vladimir Putin caught two weekends ago on their retreat in Maine.

(Former President Bush said the striped bass was 31″, experts said 21-24″.)

To repeat the charges against the Bush presidency or to even count them again is superfluous.

But it was the commuted sentence on July 3 of Lewis Libby that showed us how he thinks, only of himself or not at all, and turned him away from us.

The decision to commute and not pardon was illogical. The reason behind the commutation itself were even more so – he cited the unfairness of federal sentencing guidelines that he himself has worked to make stricter. It showed a man in isolation who does not care how he will be remembered or even how he appears. It showed a president who, having lost so many other battles, could have a pyrrhic victory in but one: his friend would not be in jail, his secrets could be kept safe.

It doesn’t even matter whether or not one thinks Libby should be jailed – he was, after all, convicted of obstructing justice in an investigation that produced no charges of a specific crime – but it does matter that the president would deploy such scandalous lack of decency and aptitude to get him out of jail as he did.

This was the turning the point.

The single gesture did for this country what even more death in Iraq could not: Unveil the sheer lunacy of our leadership, so cowardly, pandering to an ever-dimishing conservative base (the only people who any longer feel like standing up when the man enters the room) that the country cannot imagine Bush as our leader but as their crony.

It was an obvious conclusion before that has now become inevitable.

The ferociousness of the president primary campaign – which can also be attributed to blogs and some general insanity – is telling: Nobody wants to think about who is in charge anymore.We just want to know who can replace him. Who can repair the country? But this distraction will come at a price.

George Bush, though he is not much of a leader or decider or compassionate conservative or wartime president, is still in charge of something, if not the will of the people, then the apparatus of the federal government and the machinations of war.

He can still appoint judges to the Supreme Court and he can still stumble this country into irreconcilable differences with other countries and itself.

This is why the distraction of the presidential campaign – and the leading candidates – is both disappointing and dangerous.

Sen. John McCain’s fact-finding missions to Iraq have mostly been ways for him to either, at first, ruin his campaign or, this week, try and save it.

But at least he is in Washington, in the Capitol. The top Democratic candidates, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are both delivering speeches in Iowa this week instead of being in Washington for the debate on funding the war in Iraq which will become, essentially, a debate about when and how to end it.

They will be, of course, saying the same things in Iowa that they would on Capitol Hill, but we need all the responsible people we can in Washington.

We have already lost our president.