(Just in case you haven’t noticed, bloviations have been in short supply around here recently as the Old Bloviator has undertaken feverishly to finish revisions on a new edition of his little book, Georgia Odyssey. Take heart, however! The flatus hiatus is at an end. Witness the flood of calumny, sarcasm, cynicism, and juvenile humor that gusheth forth below.)
I’ve certainly fired off an “I told You So!” or two in my time, but I can never take much pleasure in doing so, because, given my genetic predisposition to pessimism, it usually means that I was proven right when I would have preferred to have been wrong. I remember distinctly having lunch with some liberal friends back in October 2005 about the time that the headlines were screaming that President Bush’s approval ratings were at an “all time low” of 37 percent. My pals responded to this news exultantly, proclaiming that Bush was effectively done for as president and would be unable to accomplish anything from there on out. In typically contrary fashion, I allowed as how, polls or not, “W.” was still the president and therefore in position to do quite a lot, not much of which I expected to be good.
In October 2005, we had roughly 155,000 ground troops in Iraq, and there was widespread lamentation that the death toll had just passed 2,000. Well, here we are twenty-two months later, and Bush’s approval rating is still at an “all time low,” except that this time, it’s 26 percent. Over the course of this eleven-point plummet from bad to god-awful, however, over 1,600 more of our soldiers have died in Iraq, and our estimated force of ground troops has risen to well over 160,000.
What are we to make of Bush’s simultaneously aggressive and nonchalant persistence in the policies and actions that have him on course to leave office as the most ridiculed and despised chief executive in our history? For starters, just as the answer to the old question, “What do you call the person who graduates last in his/her med school class?” was “Doctor,” the correct form of address for the most obstinate, intellectually vapid, arrogant, and hypocritical guy who ever managed to amass 270 electoral votes is still “Mr. President.” And so it will remain. Even if his approval numbers shrink to single digits, Laura leaves him, and his dad demands a paternity test, if Bush decides to fling some firepower at Iran, then the folks in Tehran had better put their heads between their legs and endeavor to self-administer the last rites, cause those missiles will be still heading their way.
Beyond the reality that the President of the United States is purely and simply the most powerful person in the world is the very scary fact that this particular president refuses to acknowledge, much less obey or respect, the relatively few limitations on his office that actually exist. He appends the bills he signs into law with statements explaining why he intends to obey them only to the extent that he agrees with them. He sneers at Congress’s warnings and resolutions and orders his aides to defy its subpoenas. He scoffs at the American signatures affixed to the Geneva Conventions’ prohibitions on torture and wee-wees on the Constitution’s guarantees of civil liberties and due process. He’s all for punishing wrongdoing outside his circle, but when a duly constituted judge and jury render a verdict or sentence against someone inside that circle, he doesn’t wait even the decent interval that might at least suggest some sort of reluctance born of respect for the legal process before stepping in to prevent justice being done to one of his own. (In this, as in all other things, of course, he actually takes his cue from the only real check on his power, his vice president, the master marioneteer, who makes his monkey-on-a-string boss seem, in comparison, like a simpering, sentimental sucker for the separation of powers doctrine.)
One might well argue that, through their hand-wringing, wind-sniffing hesitation and timidity, his namby-pamby Democratic adversaries have been unwitting enablers of Bush’s ultra-empowerment, but is there real reason to think that he will ultimately acquiesce even if, for example, they somehow summon the will and secure the votes to cut off funding for the monstrous Iraq debacle as of a date certain? There is actually some precedent for presidential defiance in such a case in Theodore Roosevelt’s response to congressional threats to withhold financing for a round-the-world cruise by the Pacific fleet in 1907-1909. Thinking such a show of force and capability necessary to ensure that the Japanese minded their P’s and Q’s, like the wild westerner he envisioned himself to be, TR simply declared that he had enough money to fund much of the trip, and if Congress decided it would be a good thing to bring all those ships home eventually, he was sure that the monies to do so would be forthcoming. Given his track record, there’s little reason in my mind to think that our current, even wilder westerner in the White House is above playing “chicken” with Congress on the funding issue until the chickens for his presidential irresponsibility can finally come to roost directly above the next occupant of the Oval office. (Note to self: Metaphoric abuse of chickens can lead to charges of fowl play.)
In reality, however, I cringe at any comparison of “W.” and TR (or practically anybody else, for that matter.) Granted, like most of those now viewed as great presidents, including Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln before him and his cousin Franklin after him, Theodore Roosevelt expanded the powers of his office, but for the most part, all of these men did so, not by simply ignoring or openly defying the laws or at least the principles designed to check this power, but by making the most of the underutilized space within the presidential sphere and exploring the undefined territory around the boundaries with the other governmental branches. .
Even the vile, cynical, and mean-spirited Richard Nixon, who used illegal, not to mention unnecessary, means to strengthen his hand as president, did so believing that his expanded power must be legitimized by an overwhelming popular mandate. What we have in Bush, however, is another animal entirely, someone who became president with dubious credentials and under dubious circumstances, but has nonetheless managed with what strikes me as a truly unprecedented kiss-my-butt cocksureness to run roughshod not simply over his 9/11-cowed and dysfunctional Democratic political opposition but over the Constitution and Congress as vital national institutions as well. In addition to the thousands of civilian and military lives he has cost and the countless others that he has effectively ruined, not to mention the financial resources and international goodwill he has squandered, in his ruthless determination to amass and wield the kind of power that exists only above or beyond the law, he has actually left both the office of the presidency and the nation he swore to keep strong far weaker than he found them.
P.S. Seeing that I’m already in the “I told you so” mode, I don’t want to hear even a hint of whining and Bush-bemoaning from you high-minded liberals who thought it more noble--and way cooler--back in 2000 to “make a statement” by voting for a certain self-righteous, Corvair-hating, consumer advocate whose only possible impact on the outcome was to elect the candidate most representative of everything both you and he despised. Your votes either won the presidency for George W. Bush or made it close enough for his crowd to steal. Either way, although yours may be a minority share, you definitely own a piece of him, and I’d wager the chances of divesting yourself of this troublesome property anytime soon are pretty slim. Your responsibility is still too obvious, a lot more so than the point you claimed you were trying to make in 2000.