Editorial / San Francisco Chronicle – 2009-01-19 22:48:41
(January 18, 2009) — It is hard to imagine that one US presidency could leave more wreckage than George W. Bush’s did during his eight years in the White House.
By his own yardsticks, his administration was an abject failure. He was a divider, not a uniter. He was “the decider” who led the country into a war of choice on what proved to be false pretenses.
His administration was neither compassionate nor conservative. It ran up record deficits while giving tax breaks to the wealthy and creating a culture of government neglect that left some Americans trapped in a netherworld of neglect after Hurricane Katrina, and continues to keep all of us gripped by the angst of an economic system that remains on the brink of collapse.
This was a president whose election was assured only after the US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, settled the more than monthlong dispute over the Florida outcome. He immediately began to govern as if he had a ringing mandate.
The defining event of the Bush presidency came on Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and turned them into missiles against the icons of US financial and military might.
More than 3,000 died that day, and the world was transformed. For a fleeting moment, the American people — and global sentiment — rallied around Bush. But that opportunity would soon be squandered.
For the neocon factions within the Bush administration, the 9/11 attacks opened the opportunity for two goals it brought into office: To force a regime change in Iraq, and to expand the power of the executive branch.
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney went on the stump in 2002 to sell the notion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had a connection to al Qaeda. Neither proved to be true. Still, America went to war, and American troops remain in battle to this day, many billions of dollars and more than 4,000 US lives later.
The threat of terrorism became the rationale for other Bush administration assaults on American values. The Bush White House pushed the limits of the law to establish warrantless wiretapping, military tribunals, indefinite detentions of suspected “enemy combatants,” torture techniques on detainees and a legal no-man’s land at Guantanamo Bay.
Bush expanded and redefined the use of “signing statements” to effectively declare that he — as president — can pick and choose which laws he will enforce or ignore.
Just don’t call Bush a conservative. The last Clinton administration budget had a surplus of more than $100 billion; the fiscal 2009 deficit could approach $700 billion.
Bush was a disaster on the environment in many ways, but in none more critical than in his belated acknowledgment that climate change was real and was a serious threat to the planet. This nation essentially lost eight years in addressing the most profound issue of our time.
In the final weeks of his presidency, Bush moved to undermine the Endangered Species Act. The Bush administration also let politics trump science in other ways, such as its resistance to stem cell research and myriad family-planning programs.
Politics also pervaded this administration’s oversight of the Department of Justice. Its attempt to fire nine US attorneys appeared targeted at those who were not regarded as conservative enough.
When strong hurricanes struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, what seemed to be a slow and disorganized response reflected badly on the Bush White House. The public relations damage was compounded when Bush toured Louisiana right after Katrina and commended Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown for a “heckuva job.” The awful hurricane aftermath, in which we saw hungry and frantic Americans scrambling through the chaos, became an indictment on the competence of the Bush administration.
“He kept us safe” is the mantra of the Bush loyalists. Indeed, terrorists did not strike again after 9/11. But the Bush policies did, leading us into war, depriving our liberties, exploiting our natural resources and allowing the construction of financial houses of cards — while seizing new executive powers at every turn. This nation is deeper in debt, gloomier in outlook and weaker in global stature than when George W. Bush took office.
This has been a disastrous eight years.
Key Events During President Bush’s Tenure
Dec. 13, 2000: The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, stops the Florida recount, assuring George W. Bush of the presidency.
Jan. 20, 2001: Bush is sworn in as 43rd president.
Sept. 11, 2001: Al Qaeda hijacks four airplanes, and more than 2,700 people are killed as they crash into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
Oct. 2, 2002: Congress gives Bush the authority to use military force against Iraq.
March 20, 2003: A coalition of U.S.-led forces invades Iraq.
May 1, 2003: Bush delivers his “Mission Accomplished” speech.
Nov. 2, 2004: Bush is re-elected, narrowly defeating Sen. John Kerry.
Nov. 7, 2006: An anti-Bush wave helps Democrats gain 31 seats in the House of Representatives, giving them control for the first time since 1994. The balance of power in Washington shifts.
Oct. 9, 2007: The Dow Jones industrial average closes at 14,164, which remains its all-time high. It soon begins a precipitous decline.
Oct. 3, 2008: Faced with a severe financial crisis, Bush signs a $700 billion measure to purchase failing bank assets, the largest bailout in U.S. history.
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