Friday, November 28, 2008

Nailing It in a Sentence -- or a List

At the end of an otherwise rather dreary essay in the New York Review of Books,* Elizabeth Drew has a sentence which seems to do a pretty good job of capturing the Bush administration's nature in a list of adjectives. Of the selection of Obama in the last election, Drew writes:
The American people had overwhelmingly rejected the Bush regime's stupidity, cupidity, its wars, its lies, its torturing and its secrecy, its ineptitude and its power grab that threatened constitutional government.
That about captures it, doesn't it? In fact, let's take a look at that in list form:
Power grab that threatened constitutional government
Yes, very good. So the next question is: can anyone think of either A) any central aspects of the Bush regime's maladministration which is not captured in that list?, or B) any central defining characteristic of the Bush administration which deserves a place alongside those aspects?

I'm not sure if I have any answer to A, but I think I can at least propose a few candidates for B. Here's what I'd suggest:
Defiance of empirical reality
Corrosive politicization of technical areas
Adherence to a malignant ideology

All of these are, arguably, contained in Drew's list above. But I would suggest that they each deserve separate mention. (And after all, all of Bush's nearly inexhaustible negative qualities and effects, the damage he has done to our nation, our republic and our world which will take a generation to fully understand let alone repair, is interlinked.) The Bush regime's defiance of empirical reality -- its ignoring of (and often hiding of and lying about) basic facts about the world, from Iraq to global warming to the economy to Katrina to the constitution, is essential to a large number of its worst acts and omissions. Politicizing things that had never previously been politicized, too, is essential to various aspects of Bush's assault on the country -- the corruption at the justice department, to take a narrow example -- but above all describes the nature of his response to 9/11: using it to eek out political wins in 2002 and 2004 and debasing, in the process, our country's reputation and morals, any hope of a positive response to that crime, and the memory of those killed. And while wars, lies and torturing covers a lot, Bush's imperialism strikes me as separable from all of those.

But most of all it's about ideology. Bush's regime was particularly stupid, avaricious, warmongering, dishonest, secretive, inept and so forth, even by normal conservative standards. But a huge proportion of most of those flaws flowed out the Bush regime's ideology -- an ideology that was the distillation of everything that the conservative movement has strived for since Goldwater and before. Many conservatives have heretofore been in denial about the effects of various principles that they have espoused -- some even saw in the conservative movement a natural basis for opposing the criminality of the Iraq war on the grounds that it wasn't prudent (or whatever), despite the overwhelming bellicosity that has characterized the conservative movement's approach towards foreign policy for a generation. For many, a combination of stupidity, avarice, ideology and deliberate ignorance of empirical reality have disguised the deregulatory roots of our current economic crisis -- and, hence, its roots in conservative ideology. And ultimately the conservative contempt for governance has been basic to both Bush's incompetence and his corruption and cronyism, of which Katrina may be the most obvious example, although there are so very many to choose from. And so forth.

But if we ignore the fact that these manifold flaws are not Bush's personal problem, or even the problem of those he hired and appointed and was elected alongside, but rather the faults inherent in a set of ideas that guided Bush's regime, then we risk returning to it once the immediacy of the devastation it has wrought (moral, political, economic, etc) recedes from view.

I digress. At any rate, my proposed sentence is far too long, but it's more complete, so here is my revised version:
The American people had overwhelmingly rejected the Bush regime's stupidity, cupidity, its wars, its lies, its torturing and its secrecy, its ineptitude and deliberate ignorance of empirical reality, its imperialism, its corrosive politicization and consequent cronyism and corruption, its power grab that threatened constitutional government, and its adherence to a malignant ideology that led to all of the above.
What do you think?

But what is best about Drew's sentence is its recognition of a basic reality -- that in electing Obama, more than anything else, the American people rejected all of the maladministration the Bush regime perpetuated and represented, and that this rejection was the most important reason to vote for Obama and not McCain. To have done otherwise would have been to reward the worst governance in the history of the Republic -- a sure-fire recipe for its further desolation.

But we didn't. At long last -- four if not eight years after we should have, we rejected all of that. No wonder that -- as Drew says in her next sentence -- "the relief was palpable." Given the situation, it should have been.

* Dripping with enough conventional wisdom -- including the pretense that it was in places going against conventional wisdom -- to drown a medium-sized farm animal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For every 113 votes that Obama got, McCain/Palin got 100. A ratio of 13%, on a national basis, is not "overwhelming." And Drew doesn't point out that Bush became president, twice, because people voted for him. Thus, while I fully subscribe to her rhetoric and to the author's intelligent emendation, a winning margin of only 13% is not exactly a cause for triumphant jubilation.