Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Waiting for historical perspective

It's funny the way creating history works. Once it is established, it can be accepted as conventional wisdom--so much so that people will act as if they knew things all along that in fact they didn't. Charles de Gaulle advanced the myth that all of France but the Vichy Regime had resisted the Nazi Occupation. For awhile, this became the conventional wisdom.

Most people today still think of Nixon as a bad president, mainly because he greatly abused executive power. Back when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were exposing the connections between the Watergate burglary and the White House, however, many people defended Nixon.

It is frustrating that the French couldn't be resistors at the time, or that Americans once liked Nixon enough to give him an overwhelming electoral victory in 1972. Yet it happens. How does it happen? It happens for the same reason that Bush is still president today: because people cannot see the big picture and the media will not report it. Bush and his administration have consistenly abused their power. They have brought the country into an irresponsible war based on a farce. They have greatly increased the deficit. They have worked to increase the profits of already wealthy people. Most of these things would justify impeachment, all of them would justify being resoundingly voted out of office.

Their abuses of power have been worse than Nixon's, their corporate welfare has been worse than Warren G. Harding's, their war has not yet been as deathly as Vietnam, but it too is based on misrepresentation of the facts. Ulysses Grant let political cronies get too much influence when he was president, but at least he was well-intentioned. George W. Bush does the same thing without being well-intentioned.

Richard Reeves said at the end of last year:
I have talked with three significant historians in the past few months who would not say it in public, but who are saying privately that Bush will be remembered as the worst of the presidents. There are some numbers. The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record. Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered -- maybe they were all crazed liberals -- making the project as unofficial as it was interesting. These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever. Worse than Buchanan. This is what those historians said -- and it should be noted that some of the criticism about deficit spending and misuse of the military came from self-identified conservatives -- about the Bush record.

It does not matter now what the historical evaluation of Bush will be, of course. We should worry more about what he is doing in the present. Still, if somehow all of the pundits who kiss his butt and all of the journalists who avoid investigating his administation and all of the politicians who are too afraid to stand up to him could take a time machine to the future and see that Bush may be seen as Harding times Buchanan squared--maybe they would do something now.

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