Seldom if ever has a White House been as untethered from the will of the people, or reality for that matter, as the administration of George W. Bush in its second term. Within two days of the 2004 election, the administration snapped its moorings and started drifting beyond the reach of accountability and common sense. “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style,” Bush said in a press conference on November 4. He would have done well to look at the narrowness of his victory and heed Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that “… great innovations should not be forced on a slender majority …” Instead, with the arrogant absolutism of the fundamentalist, Bush and his Iago, Vice President Dick Cheney, have charted an increasingly perilous course for the nation.
Historians may come to view last month as Bush’s final disengagement from the democratic process. Bush’s only remaining domestic initiative of any substance, his immigration legislation, died on a procedural vote in the Senate in June, leaving little beyond “the war on terror” for a president who views himself grandiosely as a bulwark against evil.
As Cheney has said, they are not running for re-election. “I’m not worrying about what the folks in Iowa are going to say in the caucuses in January of next year,” he told ABC News in February. The administration doesn’t seem to care about the impact its policies have on GOP contenders who are mindful of the polls. “We didn’t get elected to be popular,” Cheney told Fox in May. “We didn’t get elected to worry just about the fate of the Republican Party.”
As a response to opinion polls that suggest a vast majority of the population desperately wants this administration to end, Bush and Cheney have found a self-serving refuge in history’s judgment, to be rendered conveniently after they are dead. “We’ve had a lot of recent evidence of how history regards a president 30 years after he’s left office is a lot different than what it is on the day he walks out,” Cheney told ABC, mentioning Harry Truman and Gerald Ford as examples. So preposterous are the administration’s historical analogies that they have prompted a whole journalistic movement dedicated to debunking them.
Bush’s insistent search for self-justification in the past is all about avoiding responsibility for the present. It’s the mark of a spoiled, painfully incurious man who has never personally had to pay for a mistake. Bush’s self-confidence, built on the wispiest of foundations, is rigid and unshakable. When the president commuted the prison sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, many commentators noted that as an unpopular lame duck, Bush had nothing to lose.
The freedom of not caring what people think and the self-righteousness that comes from believing your every action is beyond reproach is precisely why the final 17 months of this presidency promise to be the most dangerous. At best, we will continue with a tragic status quo as more young Americans are chewed up in Iraq for naught, while at home everything from the environment to the economy slowly crumbles. At worst, a white-knuckled ride awaits. It’s no secret the vice president and his unhinged neocon allies are itching to bomb Iran. Doing so would release a terrible tempest, visiting calamity on our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as possibly here in America. If terrorism strikes again at home, the administration has shown itself more than willing to cast civil liberties aside. Once again, Jefferson is a good guide: “Force is the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism.”