All The President's Men -- And Some Women

Dec 30, 2008 at 4:41 pm

"Really, he’s not as bad as you think."—-

As if they could possibly pull the wool over a jaded public’s eyes one more time, many of George W. Bush’s advisers and friends have been in full spin mode during the past few weeks trying to convince the American people that his presidency wasn’t nearly as disastrous as most think. In fact, they insist, it was groundbreaking and will be remembered well by historians.

Nevermind an economy that lies in ruins, destroyed by avarice and an unwillingness to enforce regulations.

Nevermind an Iraq War that has no clear endgame, helped recruit terrorists and harmed the United States’ reputation throughout the world.

Nevermind a soaring budget deficit and a federal government that’s larger than ever, all the while it seems unable to provide basic functions like disaster management.

No, Dick Cheney wants to assure people everything Bush has done is legal. Karl Rove alleges Bush reads books, lots of 'em. Condoleezza Rice believes future generations will thank Bush for the groundwork he’s laid in the Middle East. And Laura Bush says it’s not nice to throw shoes at her husband, clucking like a school marm that the fact one can be hurled suggests democracy has come to Iraq.

Why all these people have so much time to give interviews while the world is wracked with crises at home and abroad is a mystery, but I guess we shouldn’t be surprised given the administration’s spotty record so far.

In a sense, the efforts remind me of how John McCain and top Republicans acted in the last presidential campaign. They kept assuring voters that a McCain Administration would be different from Bush’s but, when pressed for details, they couldn’t explain how. McCain liked Bush’s economic policies, supported the Iraq War and a “go it alone” foreign policy. At the end of the day, they were hard pressed to list one significant way in which they differed from Bush, although they certainly steered clear of him while campaigning.

Two other recent accounts, however, provide a more realistic assessment of the past eight years and their consequences.

The first, an oral history of the Bush Years that will appear in February’s issue of Vanity Fair, has former administration officials, foreign leaders, campaign strategists and others giving a more sobering view.

Dan Bartlett, Bush’s ex-counselor, said the handling of Hurricane Katrina destroyed whatever trust the American people had left in Dubya. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, compares Bush to Gov. Sarah Palin, a neophyte easily manipulated by Cheney and others. And the list goes on and on.

The second account, an op-ed column in a Chinese newspaper, states what’s obvious to the rest of the world but diehard U.S. patriots refuse to acknowledge: Bush has presided over the diminishing of this nation’s clout and aided its decline as a superpower, while players like China, Russia and India are gaining in worldwide influence.

Bush’s presidency is nothing if not similar to the character arc of Chauncey Gardiner, the main character in Jerzy Kosinski’s novel Being There, who was played to perfection by Peter Sellers in the 1979 film of the same name.

Chauncey is a slow, rather dull-minded gardener with limited intellect and experience whose proclamations are misconstrued to hold more meaning than they do. Bedazzled by his simplicity, a circle of Washington insiders refashions Chauncey for the public and eventually prepares him to run for president.

In one memorable scene, as Chauncey speaks on national TV, a maid who has known him since childhood blurts out that, “he has rice puddin’ between his ears.”

The novel and film end before the dullard runs for office. In reality, unfortunately, our very own Chauncey Gardiner made it into the Oval Office