I recognise that I've antagonised many over the years with my "Bush Bashing". In January, just after OBAMA!'s election, I said I wouldn't mention Bush again, his departure having made him irrelevant. I only feel bad that he and his minions will apparently get away scot- free with their crimes; better they had all been brought up before a tribunal and tried for crimes against humanity in general and the US Constitution in particular. But that is objectively true of almost all presidents since at least Lincoln.
Most of our subscribers to The Casey Report appear to be libertarians or classical liberals - i.e., people who believe in a maximum of both social and economic freedom for the individual. The next largest group are "conservatives". It's a bit harder to define a conservative. Is it someone who atavistically just wants to conserve the existing order of things (either now, or perhaps as they perceived them 50, or 100, or 200, or however many years ago)? Or is a conservative someone who believes in limiting social freedoms (generally that means suppressing things like sex, drugs, outré clothing and customs, and bad-mouthing the government) while claiming to support economic freedoms (although with considerable caveats and exceptions)? It's unclear to me what, if any, philosophical foundation conservatism, by whatever definition, rests on.
Which leads me to the question: Why do conservatives seem to have this warm and fuzzy feeling for George W. Bush? I can only speculate it's because Bush liked to talk a lot about freedom and traditional American values, and did so in such an ungrammatical way that it made him seem sincere. Bush's tendency to fumble words and concepts contrasted to Clinton's eloquence, which made him look "slick".
I'm forced to the conclusion that what "conservatives" like about Bush is his style, such as it was. Because the only good thing I can recall that Bush ever did was to shepherd through some tax cuts. But even these were targeted and piecemeal, tossing bones to favoured interests, rather than any principled abolition of any levies or a wholesale cut in rates.
Is it possible that Bush was actually the worst president ever? I'd say he's a strong contender. He started out with a gigantic lie - that he would cut the size of government, reduce taxes, and stay out of foreign wars - and things got much worse from there. Let's look at just some of the highpoints in the catalogue of disasters the Bush regime created.
- No Child Left Behind. Forget about abolishing the Department of Education. Bush made the federal government a much more intrusive and costly part of local schools.
- Project Safe Neighborhoods. A draconian law that further guts the 2nd Amendment, like 20,000 other unconstitutional gun laws before it.
- Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. This the largest expansion of the welfare state since LBJ and will cost the already bankrupt Medicare system trillions more.
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Possibly the most expensive and restrictive change to the securities laws since the 30s. A major reason why companies will either stay private or go public outside the US.
- Katrina. A total disaster of bureaucratic mismanagement, featuring martial law.
- Ownership Society. The immediate root of the current financial crisis lies in Bush's encouragement of easy credit to everybody and inflating the housing market.
- Nationalisations and Bailouts. In response to the crisis he created, he nationalised Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and passed by far the largest bailouts in US history (until OBAMA!).
- Free-Speech Zones. Originally a device for keeping war protesters away when Bush appeared on camera, they're now used to herd.
- The Patriot Act. This 132-page bill, presented for passage only 45 days after 9-11 (how is it possible to write something of that size and complexity in only 45 days?) basically allows the government to do whatever it wishes with its subjects. Warrantless searches. All kinds of communications monitoring. Greatly expanded asset forfeiture provisions.
- The War on Terror. The scope of the War on Drugs (which Bush also expanded) is exceeded only by the war on nobody in particular but on a tactic. It's become a cause of mass hysteria and an excuse for the government doing anything.
- Invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush started two completely pointless, counterproductive, and immensely expensive wars, neither of which has any prospect of ending anytime soon.
- Dept. of Homeland Security. This is the largest and most dangerous of all agencies, now with its own gigantic campus in Washington, DC. It will never go away and centralises the functions of a police state.
- Guantanamo. Hundreds of individuals, most of them (like the Uighurs recently in the news) guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, are incarcerated for years. A precedent is set for anyone who is accused of being an "enemy combatant" to be completely deprived of any rights at all.
- Abu Ghraib and Torture. After imprisoning scores of thousands of foreign nationals, Bush made it a US policy to use torture to extract information, based on a suspicion or nothing but a guard's whim. This is certainly one of the most damaging things to the reputation of the US ever. It says to the world, "We stand for nothing".
- The No-Fly List. His administration has placed the names of over a million people on this list, and it's still growing at about 20,000 a month. I promise it will be used for other purposes in the future ...
- The TSA. Somehow the Bush cabal found 50,000 middle-aged people who were willing to go through their fellow citizens' dirty laundry and take themselves quite seriously. God forbid you're not polite to them ...
- Farm Subsidies. Farm subsidies are the antithesis of the free market. Rather than trying to abolish or cut them back, Bush signed a record $190 billion farm bill.
- Legislative Free Ride. And he vetoed less of what Congress did than any other president in history.
The only reason I can imagine why a person who is not "evil" (to use a word he favoured), completely uninformed, or thoughtless would favour Bush is because he wasn't a Democrat. Not that there's any real difference between the two parties anymore ...
As disastrous as he was, I rather hate to put him in competition for "worst president" in the company of Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, the two Roosevelts, Truman, Johnson, and Nixon. He is simply too small a character - psychologically aberrant, ignorant, unintelligent, shallow, duplicitous, small-minded - to merit inclusion in any list.
On second thoughts, looking over that list of his personal characteristics, he's probably most like FDR, except he lacked FDR's polish and rhetorical skills. I suspect he'll just fade away as a non-entity, recognised as an embarrassment. Not even worth the trouble of hanging by his heels from a lamppost, although Americans aren't (yet) accustomed to doing that to their leaders. Those who once supported him will, at least if they have any circumspection and intellectual honesty, feel shame at how dim they were to have been duped by a nobody.
The worst shame of Bush - worse than the spending, the new agencies, the torture, or the wars - is that he used so much pro-liberty and pro-free-market rhetoric in the very process of destroying those institutions. That makes his actions ten times worse than if an avowed socialist had done the same thing. People will blame the full suite of disasters Bush caused on the free market simply because Bush constantly said he believed in it.
And he's left OBAMA! with a fantastic starting point for what I expect to be even greater intrusions into your life and finances. Eventually, the Bush era will look like The Good Old Days. But only in the way that the Romans looked back with nostalgia on Tiberius and Claudius after they got Caligula. And then Nero. And then the first of many imperial coups and civil wars.
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