Tuesday, January 20, 2009

So long and thanks for all the mess

PhotobucketI don't hate George W. Bush, really.

I am fundamentally optimistic about people, and even at 37 years old I still find myself surprised when they live down to your expectations. So it was with Bush -- I didn't vote for him, didn't think much of the smug daddy's boy, but after all the agony of recounts, etc., I was willing to give him a shot. It's kind of hard now to remember that somewhat more idyllic pre-9/11 world, but what I recall of the 2000 election was real disappointment -- Al Gore is a terrific man and would have been a terrific president, I believe, but he was a lousy, slow-reacting candidate, much like John Kerry. Bush out-folksed them. I was disappointed, but I wasn't horrified. Another mediocre Bush like his dad. How bad could it be?

I certainly couldn't have imagined how poor Bush would be. Even though I moved away from America more than 2 years ago, I've had to live with the quasi-burden of being linked with Bush many a time -- one man once started berating me about "my" President, as if we hung out together at the BBQ or something. Having lived overseas, I can totally affirm the impression that Bush has radically hurt America's image overseas. He's confirmed the worst suspicions many have and made them forget about the all the fine, trailblazing things about America.

Despite all the reasons I've got, though, I've always found it hard to hate Bush. I feel sorry for him more than anything, for the damage he's caused and the willful blindness that's led us into it. I wouldn't call him stupid, either – merely stubborn, incurious and ideological to the extreme. Maureen Dowd had a fine line in her Bush kiss-off column in The New York Times: "W. was immune to doubt and afraid of it. Obama is delighted by doubt."

Some of it wasn't Bush's fault -- I have never believed all the 9/11 government conspiracy theories -- but it was his consequence. Great presidents have almost always risen to the crises given them -- Lincoln, Roosevelt -- while the ones regarded as the worst have looked history in the eye and failed. There's a reason few people remember who James Buchanan, Warren Harding or Franklin Pierce were. Bush took things like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the economic climate and made them all worse through inaction, miscalculation or outright incompetence. His legacy will be echoing for a long time.

I don't hate him, though. I hate what he's done and how he's made people think my country isn't as good as place as it really is, as it really can be. Contrary to what some folks think, liberal expatriates can and do love America too. Barack Obama's got the weight of a million expectations on him starting tomorrow, but y'know, even if he doesn't deliver, at least the adulation and optimism he's unleashed has had a kind of cleansing effect. Is it over the top, the Obama hyperbole? Well, sure, but at least it's washed the taste of the last 8 years out.

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