Trying to explain what was wrong with the Bush Era feels like trying to vomit up a cannonball. I don't think my jaw can stretch that wide.
Seriously, where does one even begin? Abu Ghraib? Ahmed Chalabi? Mission Accomplished? The "Battle of Iraq?" Valerie Plame? No-bid contracts? The billions of dollars the Pentagon can't account for, and apparently never will? The Department of Justice firings? The blue Iraqi flag? The staged press conference? The fake Thanksgiving turkey? Terry Schiavo? Freedom Fries?
I can at least say this for Bush: he *didn't* plant any WMDs in Iraq.
But really, Bush himself wasn't the problem. Bush was a cipher, the perfect vacuum at the center of a perfect storm -- an ideological superstorm which rotated, like some slow, sick, wobbling hurricane of raw sewage over America for 8 years, like some brown, shitty version of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. This Neo-Conservative Superstorm, as I'll call it, had three major sources of energy feeding it:
a) a panicked population in need of a Protective Patriarch,
b) a Republican party crowded with brazen and reckless ideologues,
and most significantly:
c) A network of Conservative Think Tanks with deep pockets and a fearsomely coordinated army of media pundits.
As for the first two factors: I'll leave the question open as to how so many Americans could be so gullible, or how so many elected officials got it into their heads that they were entitled to do WHATEVER THE FUCK THEY WANTED simply because they belonged to God's Own Party. Stampede voters and the thieving fuckwits who prey on them have always been with us. Nothing new there.
What is new and unique about these past 8 years was the rise of the Conservative Think Tanks. To explain who they are, how they operate, and what kind of mischief they've caused, is to try and throw up the mother of all cannonballs.
Think of the Conservative Think Tank system as a parody of the university system; a network of "institutes" all founded to support an ideology, whose "scholars" write "reports" and conduct "studies" which surprise! -- all re-affirm the correctness of their institute's ideological premise.
If you're thinking of "Creation Scientists" whose papers are "peer-reviewed" by other Creationists, you already understand how Think Tanks operate. It also helps to picture a crowd of lunatics clustered together, peeing down each others' legs.
What do Think Tanks primarily produce? Policy. And who are their clients? Government officials (but even here the distinction blurs, as think tank "fellows" are often appointed to cabinet or advisor positions while elected officials are often groomed and funded by Think Tanks from the beginning of their political career.) The invasion of Iraq, to take a famous example, was crafted by Project for a New American Century in 1998 (but you already knew that, right?). These policies are supported by the Think Tanks' own "reports" and "studies" whose footnotes, on careful observation, reference studies by other, ideologically-aligned Conservative Think Tanks.
And, well... you get the idea. Cherry-picked intelligence. "Greeted as liberators." "Plan B is to make Plan A work." Caesar will only hear what is pleasing to Caesar. Lunatics pissing down each others' legs. Etc.
What made 2005 the bleakest year of my life was the realization that I lived in a Post-Truth America. The Neo-Cons had created an environment where truth not only didn't matter, truth was outright impossible. If I don't like the facts, I'll invent my own facts was the apparent motto of the Bush White House and indeed the whole Conservative movement. And it *seemed* that the majority of Americans were okay with this. Could you, for example, have found ten people who agreed that WMDs were (or were not) discovered in Iraq? Could you have found ten people who agreed that Saddam Hussein was NOT responsible for the attacks of 9/11? When the administration itself was incapable of giving a straight answer to these questions, there was no way of establishing the truth or falsehood of any lunatic belief at that time. It was like watching a burglary in broad daylight, where none of the neighbors -- in fact, not even the homeowner being burgled -- was interested in calling the police.
And as Bush's cronies amble away into the sunset today, their pockets still bulging and jingling, I find myself wondering: "If a law is broken, but nobody cares to press charges, was a crime actually committed?"
All my life I've heard Baby Boomers bitching about Nixon, even after he was dead. I used to wish they'd just GET OVER IT, but now I understand their bitterness. It wasn't what Nixon did that infuriated them so much. It's what he got away with. Nixon was nudged out of office by a momentary gust of public disfavor over a botched burglary attempt -- not, say, a Congressional investigation into the bombing of Cambodia. There was never a thorough reckoning of the misdeeds of Nixon's White House, just as there will probably never be a full accounting of the perversions and swindles of Bush's presidency. To the majority of Americans, Bush will be that guy who invaded Iraq and wrecked the economy.
But I guess that's the good news: as today's events testify, the Neo-Con Superstorm eventually blew itself out. Exactly how and why, I don't fully understand. It's like the alien war machines toppling over at the end of War of the Worlds because the Martians all died of natural causes. Strangely anti-climactic, but WTF, they're dead all the same. Perhaps it doesn't matter that 30% of Americans STILL believe Saddam Hussein planned the attacks of 9/11. As today's events testify, a majority of Americans aren't buying the Think Tank New American Empire bullshit anymore. When all is said and done, jingoism doesn't put food on your family.
Hm. I think I've worked out the epitaph for the Bush administration:
All circus and no bread.
And yes, I know. It was no circus to the armless Iraqi kids. It was no circus to the families of dead American service men and women. I know, I know. Like I said, my jaw can't quite stretch wide enough to puke up this cannonball.
Tonight, let's raise a glass, to ourselves, for surviving the Bush Era.
And let's raise a second glass to those who didn't.
Addendum 1.21.2009: Apparently somebody *did* manage to vomit up the cannonball: Hugh's List of Bush Scandals. Gods bless the Internet!