Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pessimism day, 2: the USA

If you want real hardcore pessimism, try the League of Ordinary Gentlemen:

The Towering Legacy of George W. Bush

by Jason Kuznicki on October 23, 2012

Conventional wisdom errs when it says that George W. Bush was incompetent. He was a president of overwhelming influence, the most effective chief executive since FDR. We live in the world that W. created, for good or — mostly — for ill.
Weirdly, Powerline’s John Hinderaker, of the first and I believe only Time magazine Blog of the Year sort of… well… he was completely, absolutely, right:
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
Four years out of office, W. still can’t get anyone to notice. Electing Barack Obama was supposed to be a repudiation of his predecessor’s policies, and in many ways I wish it had been, but the truth is that it’s been nothing of the sort. W’s policy innovations have been so popular among the governing class that there have been few serious challenges to them from any corner at all. When these policies, all of them less than twelve years old, are challenged,the challenger is typically presumed to be a crank.

Why exactly is W. still viewed as an incompetent? And why, if his policies are so much in demand, is he still personally so unpopular? The man appears to have delivered exactly what the American electorate wanted, and he’s made it stick, and it’s what the American electorate apparently still wants, and they only disagree about whether it’ll be blue bunting, not red. (Could one of these colors ever mean something different from what it did just a few years before? Of course it could. Just take a look at W., who made it happen back in the day.)

One would never infer Bush’s accomplishments from his reputation. A poll conducted this month found that America’s favorite recent presidents were Ronald Reagan (38%) and Bill Clinton (34%), and that’s maybe unsurprising. But despite two terms of good economic times — and being at war — George W. Bush garnered a meager 1%. The same poll showed him tied Obama, at 28%, as the people’s choice for our worst recent president.
So what gives? And where’s the monumental architecture? I’ve got two answers. And honestly, I sort of hate both of them...

The second reason is that while many of us apparently like W.’s policies — they still poll pretty well — we Americans generally aren’t so comfortable with the sheer fact that we like them. We don’t like what that fact says about us: America used to be a much freer nation, and by that we mean: Most of us at one time knew better. We were more self-confident. At ease. Unsurveilled. A bit more able to trust. We’d defeated the Soviets, defeated the budget deficit, invented the Internet (and let’s not quibble just now about who exactly did it, or how, or with what aims in mind), and we were well on track to get our entitlement systems in order and make them solvent again.

Then something terrible happened, and we were told that it all had to go away. Confidence and freedom were dismissed as ignorance and naivete, or worse, as evidence that you were on the other side.

People thought that way for a while because they were — we all were — genuinely scared. There’s nothing wrong, in moderation, with being genuinely scared of things that are, let’s face it, genuinely frightening. Nowadays the emotion just doesn’t fit so well anymore, and yet the policies are in place now, and they’ll be very hard to change. Vested interests are seeing to them, caring for them, making sure we remain afraid, just afraid enough that we won’t bother fighting too hard. The various aspects of the Bush legacy are here to stay, and all that’s left is quibbling about the details.

Imagining that we might be better — that we might do without the constant, free-form authorization of war against any and all; that we might not need Gitmo; that unreviewable targeted killing of American citizens anywhere in the world is an abomination; wow, that we might even be able to balance the budget — all are extremist views now. Not to be taken seriously.

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