Editors Note: In early 2008, as our president becomes an increasingly “lame” duck — too irrelevant to be attacked by the Democrats with any real fervor and too much of an embarrassment to be mentioned by the Republicans — I feel a sense of nostalgia for the good old days of the Bush Administration. So here’s one last parting shot for the president who’s been a boon for op-ed writers from sea to shining sea. Dubya, I miss ya already.

What Were We Thinking?

As the commemorative calendars count down the days remaining in one of the worst presidencies in U.S. history, no retrospective of the third millennium thus far would be complete if we didn’t pose the question someone should have asked back in 2000: What we were thinking when we picked the wrong Bush at the turn of the century?


Not that the Republicans should have nominated W’s somewhat smarter brother, Jeb, or his somewhat sleazier brother, Neil. But wasn’t anyone aware that — like a red-shirted freshman quarterback — George H.W. Bush, our 41st president, still retained four years of eligibility? Why did we settle for a bumbling amateur, when his father’s resume made W’s look like Rodney Dangerfield’s?

Much has been written about the psychological pressures on Bush 43 to surpass his father’s legacy. As his term winds down, it’s now safe to say that any comparisons with W’s tenure will make dad look like Lincoln or Jefferson.

For both Bush presidencies, the signature event was an invasion of Iraq. Bush 41 accomplished his mission in 100 hours. W’s has festered for more than five years, and John McCain, the presumptive heir to W’s foreign policy fiasco, claims he won’t be surprised if Iraq II lasts 100 years.

Following what’s come to be known as the “Pottery Barn rule” (“You break it, you own it”), Bush 41 withdrew rapidly in 1991, leaving Iraq intact and America’s prestige enhanced. And he convinced the Saudis and Kuwaitis to pick up most of the expenses.

Regarding Iraq, W considered Bush 41 “the wrong father to appeal to” for advice, preferring to discuss his crusade with “a higher father,” in addition to the neocons and “chicken hawks,” most notably Dick Cheney. This team has us mired in an endless occupation, with a small and ever-shrinking “coalition of the willing,” a depleted treasury, a battered military and tarnished prestige worldwide.

Bush 41 would seem to be the more-plausible wartime president. During World War II, he volunteered to be the youngest fighter pilot in U.S. history. In contrast, W used dubious national guard service (aka the Dan Quayle deferment) to stay out of harm’s way during the Vietnam era. While still in his teens, Bush 41 was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his 58 combat missions. At age 30, W was awarded a DUI for driving drunk during his Paris Hilton phase. But W was elected twice, and Bush 41 served only one term, so the American people have only themselves (and Ralph Nader) to blame.

W and Dick’s aversion to military service should have dimmed their cachet as co-commanders-in-chief, but almost half the voters chose them over Vietnam vet Al Gore in 2000 and weren’t bothered by the “swiftboating” of John Kerrey, an actual war hero, in 2004. Perhaps W’s successful swiftboating of John McCain during the 2000 South Carolina primaries (before Karl Rove had even defined the term) convinced conservatives that such politics wouldn’t offend their base.

Former Texas Governor Ann Richards famously said that Bush 41 was “born with a silver foot in his mouth” — a reference to his sometimes mangled syntax. However, this more accurately describes the oratory of the self-proclaimed C-minus student currently handling America’s “nucular strategery,” who makes his father sound like Demosthenes.

Texas Democrat Jim Hightower famously said that Bush 41 was “born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple.” This is patently unfair: Although he surely benefited from his family’s wealth and power, his pre-presidential resume included service as a congressman, ambassador to the U.N., chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China, director of the CIA and vice president.

McCain is already denigrating Barack Obama’s thin resume; however, Republicans had no such reservations about W, whose only political experience was six years as governor in a “weak” system, where his duties were seriously limited. His ignorance of foreign affairs was well-known in 2000; less obvious was the fact that his reputed budgetary experience in Texas was mainly the responsibility of his Democratic lieutenant governor.

In a moment of candor, McCain conceded he doesn’t know a great deal about the economy, but a McCain administration would have to work overtime to match W’s mishandling of his fiscal obligations. Bush 43 follows a philosophy — out-of-control spending, huge tax cuts for the wealthy and monstrously unbalanced budgets — that his father once sensibly labeled as “voodoo economics.”

Bush 41 inherited hemorrhaging debt from the Reagan profligacy of the 80s, but he eventually showed the discipline and courage to raise taxes sufficiently to stem the bleeding. W inherited a burgeoning surplus from the fiscal sanity and Clinton prosperity of the 90s, but showed neither discipline, nor courage, cutting taxes to fund his wars and pander to his base.

Ever the fundamentalist, W has clung to that old-time religion of the GOP 80s: borrow-and-spend and wait for the Second Coming to balance the budget. Even Reagan, now canonized on the Right, would be awed by the size of W’s born-again deficits, which make St. Ronald look fiscally responsible.

Reprising Hightower’s baseball metaphor, Bush 41 was born on second, but crossed the plate on his own merits. His son, surely born on third, was awarded home on a balk call by the Supreme Court. But when he reached the plate, he didn’t know enough to touch it. Thank God, we’re finally in the bottom of the ninth.

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