by Guy Reel
The other day, as I was musing aloud about notion that George Bush is the worst president in U.S. history, an acquaintance interrupted, “What’s been so bad?” I stammered for a moment, unable to get my mind around such a large question. It was sort of like trying to summarize the mysteries of the universe: The topic is so big one doesn’t know where to start. So I decided to compile a handy reference guide to the failed policies, worst decisions, irrational practices and outrageous lies of the Bush administration.In compiling this list, I made the rule that it cannot be an inventory of policy differences between liberals and conservatives; it must differentiate between rational and irrational policies, between truth and lies, between successes and failures. In other words, this should not be a partisan list but an attempt to chronicle the failures, catastrophes and ruinous policies that are apparent to impartial observers. Contributions are welcomed.
1. Lies about an optional war. Some may argue that Bush wasn’t lying about the weapons of mass destruction — that he, and many others, believed they were there. The problem is, he, and most everyone in his administration, misrepresented (lied) about the nature of the intelligence that (they claimed) led us into war. Within the intelligence community — yes, Bush’s own intelligence community — there was much, much more disagreement about the nature and threat of these weapons (and even whether they existed) than what Bush-Cheney-Rice-Rumsfeld claimed. Also in the category of outrageous lies, it is now clear that Bush, during the run-up to the war, was routinely lying when he said he had made no decision about going to war, that he was trying to exhaust all diplomatic options. Memos and staffers have since made it clear that Iraq was a target for war even before 9/11.
2. The optional war itself. It was clear that an invasion of Iraq was not tied to 9/11 and that it would not do anything to deter terrorism and that, in fact, it would make terrorism worse. Bush and his followers might believe otherwise, but I would argue that this is empirically true. The vote for the war authorization was pushed right before a midterm election, and Bush was demanding its passage, clearly making war a political issues. That alone is outrageous conduct for a president. But I would be happy to eliminate this one from the list, if enough readers think I should.
3. The fiasco in handling the optional war that was started from lies. Even John McCain, military strategists and such right-wingers as Pat Buchanan acknowledge this one. Because of arrogance, ignorance and just plain stupidity, the war was mismanaged from the start. It led to countless unnecessary deaths, a disastrous loss of prestige and diplomatic clout for America, and, predictably, it became an al-Qaeda training and recruitment tool.
4. Tax cuts that overwhelmingly favor the rich in a time of war. It is possible, as far as policy goes, to argue for tax cuts, even in the face of crushing deficits. It may be possible to argue, in a supply-sider’s dream, that it is appropriate for the rich to garner most of the benefits for the tax cuts. But it is nearly impossible, unless one lacks sufficient powers of reasoning, to argue that we should enact tax cuts that disproportionately favor the wealthy, when war demands sacrifices and sufficient revenue to be waged successfully.
5. Trillions in new debt, and annual deficits in the half-trillion-dollar range. This may be paired with the item above. Bush and the Republicans have not only failed to pay for the tax cuts they so eagerly handed out to rich supporters who then gave them campaign contributions, they also put forth billions in new spending, making Democrats look like chumps when it comes to pork-barreling. Oh, and by the way, they also enacted the biggest entitlement program in history since Social Security, the pharmaceutical drug bill, that provided billions to drug companies while restricting drug price competition. Also, the Bush administration lied to members of his own party about the cost of the 2003 Medicare bill, just so they could be tricked into voting for it.
6. The weakening of the dollar. Again, this may be paired with the items above. Many experts have speculated that the dollar’s reign as the world currency may end fairly soon, and its displacement can be directly tied to Reagan-Bush-Bush policies favoring vast debt, massive gaps in wealth between the rich and middle class, a weakening of the manufacturing economy, and changing the U.S. from the largest creditor nation in history to the largest debtor nation in history. I won’t give Bill Clinton a pass on this one, since the manufacturing sector decline continued under his watch and, some might argue, accelerated as a result of NAFTA. But it is clear that idea that taxes are heresy under Republicans — even at the expense of the nation and at the collapse of the dollar — has taken on its Biblical status under George W. Bush.
7. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Here was a president so disengaged that American citizens were left stranded, and people died, during his inaction. Yet, in his words, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”
8. The suspension of habeas corpus. This has taken several forms under George Bush — by executive decision, through legal opinion by the likes of hack John Yoo and by the establishment of prisons to hold prisoners without charge or trial. But one moment Americans should never forget is the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Congress must share the blame on this, but without Bush’s “leadership,” it never would have passed. The law cast aside the Constitution and the principle of habeas corpus, which protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment. The Congress also gave the president absolute power to designate enemy combatants, and to set his own definitions for torture.
9. “Enhanced interrogation”/torture/extraordinary rendition. Bush said he knew and approved of the harsh tactics that led to such outrages as Abu Ghraib. Bush says the U.S. doesn’t torture because it doesn’t torture. Whatever you call it, it amounts to an illegal usurping of executive authority. John McCain was against it before he was for it. Some Americans may believe terrorists deserve torture in some cases, and I won’t disagree; however, it is clear that, under George W. Bush, America tortured some innocent people, and in some cases it transported prisoners to other countries so they could be tortured there.
10. Halliburton/Blackwater. These companies are by symbols for the privatization of war. Military contractors, often having no accountability to anyone, have stolen billions, wasted more billions, and kidnapped, raped and murdered in the name of the United States.
11. Guantanamo. While military prisons are routine in wartime, the problem with Gitmo is that it has been set up to hold terrorists as well as the innocent. And because of the end of habeas corpus, there is no way for the innocent to be set loose. In addition, it has undoubtedly created terrorists out of innocent people; even setting loose the innocent has become a grave risk, thanks to George W. Bush. But Guantanamo is not the only place where the innocent are held. Just last month, the U.S. released AP photographer Bilal Hussein after holding him in Iraq for two years without trial.
12. Presidential signing statements. Bush has made unprecedented use of these extra-legal statements in which he declares all or part of a law unconstitutional because (he says) it encroaches on executive authority. Therefore, he’ll sign the bill but ignore the parts he disagrees with. These statements have been used on a limited basis by other presidents in particular situations. But George Bush has claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws. Among them, reported the Boston Globe, are “military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ‘whistle-blower’ protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research. Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush’s assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government.”
13. The Healthy Forests Initiative — would allow more logging and development in our national parks.
14. The Clear Skies Initiative — would weaken many parts of the Clean Air Act to allow more pollutants in many areas. Aside from what these laws do is the Orwellian Newspeak — giving names to policies or laws that are, at best, misleading. (Read: Patriot Act.)
15. Mining safety. Bush cut funding for mining safety and stacked the Mine Safety and Health Administration with industry executives, who fought against better regulations to protect lives and limbs. In 2006, forty-seven coal miners died on the job, the most in any full year since 1995, when forty-seven also were killed. Thirty-three were killed last year. Not all the deaths can be blamed on Bush and his industry-friendly appointees, but most assuredly, some can.
16. The U.S. attorney scandals. In this case, seven U.S. attorneys — Republicans — were fired in 2006. The reasons for the dismissals remain unclear, but allegations were that they were made for partisan political purposes. Anyone who doubts that partisanship (see Monica Goodling) was a factor — which, by the way, undermines the justice system of the United States — has not been paying attention to the way George Bush operates. Investigations into the matter have been impeded, but it is without question that the scandal has eroded morale in the Justice Department.
17. Stop loss. This U.S. military policy amounts to a back-door draft. While legal, it erodes morale, weakens the military and subjects soldiers to repeated danger and the possibility of physical and mental problems. Apparently, a weaker military is a policy of this administration, since it has overextended personnel and refused to provide adequate body armor to troops. In addition, Bush favored cutting funding for Veterans’ Administration, denying crucial medical care to the troops that he sent to war.
18. Alienation of U.S. allies.
19. Cutting of food stamps. This could be an ideological difference, so many might argue it’s not fair game in a list of Bush disasters. However, one aspect of the Bush prescription drug plan related to this issue can’t be viewed as ideological: as reported by Salon, “More bad news about that prescription drug plan: Seniors who use it may lose their food stamps.”
20. “So?” Dick Cheneys’ response to a question noting that the vast majority of Americans believe Iraq was a mistake and want the troops to come home.
21. FISA/illegal wiretapping. Bush still claims that violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is okay because he’s fighting the terrorists. But there’s nothing in the law that prevented wiretapping; it allowed temporary wiretapping until warrants could be issued. That didn’t matter to Bush; he’d rather violate the law when possible.
22. 9/11. Bush and his administration ignored repeated warnings that a major terrorist act was pending on U.S. soil. Richard Clarke said he tried for months to have Bush and Condaleeza Rice make terrorism a priority, but they ignored him. Whether you believe Clarke or not, the fact is that there was a memo about bin Laden being determined to strike in the U.S., and Bush went on vacation to Crawford, Texas, shortly before the Twin Towers fell.
23. Global warming. Bush now admits it’s a problem, although Bush officials trashed science by redacting independent governmentally commissioned studies on the issue. But even though he says it’s a problem he has no proposals to do anything about it in the near term.
24. Health care. More children (9 million) are without health insurance today than when Bush took office. The nation is facing catastrophic health care costs for the next century; Bush has ignored the problem.
25. Energy policy. The records of Dick Cheney’s task force on energy are secret, so we don’t know how much of the nation’s energy policy was dictated by energy companies. But it is certain that it was a great deal; Bush’s pattern in this area is the same as in others; i.e., put oil and gas officials in charge of energy policy; put pharmaceutical companies in charge of drug policy; let health industry lobbyists write health policy legislation. Gas prices have soared and record profits are now routine business for the oil companies; people think their taxes are lower under Bush, but they are paying more for gas, food and other basic necessities - and they are also paying more state and local taxes because of federal budget cuts.
26. Immigration. For Bush or against him on this issue, it can hardly be argued that he has put forth a successful policy.
27. The Pentagon information apparatus designed to praise George Bush’s war by touting military officers — paid by private contractors — as objective observers. This was a deliberate attempt to lie to the American people through a compliant and incompetent mass media.
28. Plants in press conferences. Jeff Gannon, a right-wing gay escort, was given press credentials and allowed to lob softball questions at Bush during White House news conferences.
29. A weaker America — we are weaker militarily, economically and on the world stage than the day George Bush took office. Some Republicans seem to fear Democrats because they say the Democrats want to destroy America. But it is hard to imagine a series of policies that have done more to hurt America than those forced upon us over the last seven years. Three-fourths of Americans know the country is on the wrong track, yet half of them support “more wrong track,” as Bill Maher put it. This is because the Republicans are very good at distracting large numbers of people from the disasters that this administration has fostered. One method they use is that they claim that criticisms of policy, particularly war policy, amount to criticisms of America. I want to make it clear that this tactic won’t work here. The above criticisms are not criticisms of America; they are criticisms of George W. Bush. It is because I love this country that this list was compiled. It was George Bush, not America, who brought us to this place.
30. A divided America. After 9/11 Bush had that rare opportunity to unite the nation, and the world, to defeat terrorism. Instead of using this goodwill - instead of bringing us all together to fight a common enemy — he squandered it. A generation has been lost to Bush’s petty petulance and his unilateral, misguided use of executive power. One would think that most conservatives, and most Republicans, would worry about expanded executive power. But many of them haven’t. One wonders how they will feel about it when a Democrat takes office.
Guy Reel is an assistant professor of mass communication at Winthrop University. He may be reached at email@example.com.