The Changing Legacy of George W. Bush

The Changing Legacy of George W. Bush

Time Changes Perspectives

Time has a way of changing how we see things. With an ever speculative media and lowering of the bar in our general cultural zeitgeist, it’s only natural that our hearts soften and we yearn for an escape to the past, blissfully ignorant of the fires once ignited in us. We see things differently because we forget, we forgive, we re-evaluate, and re-prioritise our claims to what holds important today. In a broad sense, this has helped out former President George W. Bush a great deal.

Once the ire of liberals and humanitarians around the world, George W. Bush has managed to shift his appeal and image to that of a happy-go-lucky, maybe he wasn’t-so-bad-after-all kooky figure. Perhaps one of the most controversial US leaders of all time has somehow become the least controversial of the former living occupants of the Oval Office.

That might sound a little extreme but when you consider the current climate of divisiveness in the US, it makes sense. Obama and soon Trump represent polar opposites and are each pinatas for the other side due to their current relevance (and in Obama’s case, race). Bill Clinton… well, we wrote a piece on him earlier this year delving into his legacy but to surmise briefly- Epstein, Clinton Global Initiative, Hillary, women, etc. And then there’s Jimmy Carter. While he’s my favourite president, he’s few others’ and has remained a punching bag for “ineptitude” in conservatives and some liberals’ minds since he left office (unfairly I might add).

The Likability Factor

George, like his father, has mostly stayed out of the limelight since leaving office and for this reason, doesn’t grate people as much. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder, etc.) When he does appear in public, it’s usually for a non-partisan cause like supporting veterans or promoting humanitarian relief. When interviewed, he will explain and reassert his opinion that what he did in Iraq was important but he also seems content that “history will judge” his efforts. In other words, he’ll defend himself without becoming too defensive, like Bill Clinton has. Plus, he’s able to joke about himself (“most people didn’t think I could read, let alone write a book”) and has shown he’s not as partisan as once believed, becoming friends (or at least friendly) with Bill and Michelle Obama. Plus, he’s taken up painting which seems a bit quirky for someone like him.

So, in that sense, he’s re-established his likability factor which was probably his strongest asset against the rather dry Al Gore in 2000. This successful rehabilitation rendered a 61% approval rating in a CNN poll in 2018, compared to 33% upon leaving office. And he’s even been able to appear on Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen. I can only imagine Trump being invited to some wretched right-wing podcast in the coming years.

Iraq

Likability is just one thing, however. Have his actual acts as commander-in-chief been vindicated? The answer is basically no, although the emphasis has shifted away from what was important in the 2000s. Where the war on terror once occupied the headspace of many Americans there is now a miasma of issues relating to what side you are on. While partisanship has developed bitterly over the last three decades, it’s so much more intrinsic to the nature of politics than even then. Basically, concerns for warfare abroad have been replaced with grisly notions of civil war at home.

That doesn’t mean Iraq is forgiven. In the 2016 Republican primaries, no candidate (except poor Jeb) backed their former leader’s venture into democracy. Four years before that, George wasn’t even present at their convention. So, the Republicans have basically tried to make their supporters forget he was ever a thing. The Democrats meanwhile, have pushed against their own for supporting the war effort back in 2002-3, using it as bait against the likes of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. All in all, it would be fair to say, Iraq probably wasn’t a great idea.

On the other hand, some of Obama’s critics have argued he withdrew from Iraq too soon and that helped facilitate the rise of ISIS. His defence would counter some sort of pushback was inevitable and he was merely fulfilling the obligation of the American people but ultimately, enough room has been left for some blame there.

Afghanistan was a less controversial affair so that’s not been as much of an issue for George, besides relaying the popular assertion that he was a warmonger. And to many, he is seen as a war criminal who should have been trialed or impeached for what he did, particularly with regards interrogative measures in Guantanamo. He and his team have always asserted that they took any necessary precautions to avoid another attack on America, which they point out, didn’t happen. Critics remember the one time it did, of course, and argue that his administration took advantage of the patriotic frenzy following September 11th to pursue goals that were long in place, particularly with Saddam Hussein.

Ten years before, the Gulf War had been a triumphant effort. George H.W. Bush’s approval ratings had skyrocketed for the way he handled foreign affairs but he had played his cards with more caution, not moving beyond a liberation of Kuwait (to the dismay of many). Sanctions and warnings were placed against the Iraqi dictator and a resolution passed with bi-partisan support later on in the 90s which suggested there was actual cause for war should they put a toe in the wrong place (which Saddam did). Of course, principles and ambitions don’t mean much without proper strategy and when your intelligence amounts to nothing. In this regard, even George W. Bush admits things could’ve gone better. No WMDs were found and in 2007, he decided to send a surge of troops in order to relieve the chaos that developed in the aftermath of the liberation effort.

Establishing democracies is not easily done and the absence of a dictatorship does not immediately resolve all problems. Iraq developed into a mess, whatever the president’s intentions, and for this, it’s highly unlikely he will be forgiven.

Other Agendas

With that said, it wouldn’t be fair to omit some of the accomplishments of George W. Bush. For one, his PEPFAR (AIDS’ relief) program in Africa was one of the greatest relief efforts America ever heralded, making him especially popular there. His Medicare expansion proved a fruitful endeavour. So too did his No Child Left Behind program, which aimed to hold schools with sluggish standards to account (though criticised for making teachers teach for the exam).

Anyways that’s that. So… there was also his slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which brought his approval ratings to an all-time low and led to accusations of racism on his part. Gay marriage also became a red-hot subject for the 2004 elections under his tutelage, but not in a positive sense. And yes, the 2008 financial crash. Now, of course it’s not fair to place the blame solely on his administration. That bubble had been expanding since the 90s. However… only a year into his presidency, after successive years of a surplus, America was in recession. And he provided, as Republicans always dream of, a massive tax cut, going against much of the work Clinton had built on. Some of this comes down to political perspective but surrounding yourself with controversy and chaos rarely bodes well for one’s resume.

The Legacy

Historians, in their presidential rankings, generally place George W. Bush close to the bottom 10, if not among them. As briefly touched on, this was not an easy or steady presidency. In his defence, it never was going to be with the attacks of September 11th. He was dealt, undoubtedly, a tougher card than his predecessor and had to make some tough decisions, that could’ve gone either way. In this respect, I’m more sympathetic than most. If we think of these world leaders as playing on a chess board, partially obscured with fog, then it can be pretty difficult to navigate your next move.

With that said, it hasn’t gotten any worse since 2009 for George. His party may have severed ties with him (on an official capacity) but the majority seem to have taken a shine to this man. Maybe it’s because they forget easily. Maybe they think he was a good guy, waylaid in his efforts. Maybe they suspect Cheney was really in power. Maybe it’s because he seems so amiable compared to the current occupant. Maybe his candour, since leaving office, appreciated by the likes of Obama, has become symptomatic of something lost in US politics today. There’s all sorts of possibilities.

It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing that this legacy is changing so quickly. Commonality and closing the political divide is certainly important; in that respect, when he teams up with Bill Clinton, it’s understandable why people are happy to see him. On the other hand, he who forgets history is likely to repeat it and in some measure, it feels a bit insulting to trivialise this man’s legacy given the death toll and destruction afflicted under his watch. Popularity, in other words, is no replacement for competency.

Maybe, to toe the line, it’s as simple as one of us thinking what we would have done in his shoes since unlike so many other world leaders, he seemed like one of us.

Presidential Debate Tips For Trump & Clinton

Presidential Debate Tips For Trump & Clinton

On Monday, the 26th September, Clinton and Trump will engage in the first of three national televised presidential debates. Anyone who caught the back-and-forth between Trump and Jeb or Trump and Cruz or Trump and Rubio during the Republican primaries will understand just how pivotal these forums can be. Simple gaffes can destroy a candidate’s legitimacy. Poor phrasing can undermine a crucial point they want to convey. Even the wrong body language can result in severe repercussions. So what should Clinton and Trump take note of? We here at the Walrus thought it would be worth taking a trip down memory lane.

Kennedy vs. Nixon (1960)

This race heralded the first national televised debate, as the young and charismatic John F. Kennedy squared off against the raging jowls of Richard M. Nixon. Whilst many Americans, listening to the debate on their radios, felt that the Vice-President succeeded in offering a better vision for America, the television viewers felt differently. A wearisome, sick Nixon simply came off as less confident and able on the black-and-white screen. Kennedy, on the other hand, understood this medium in the way FDR understood how the radio could be used to communicate. He spoke clearly and held himself firmly- a man who was comfortable with nothing to hide.

Trump, of course, is no stranger to the televised medium and despite his outlandish hairdo, comes across as quite a unique and exciting figure to beheld. Hillary however, whilst experienced, often appears stiff and calculated, like she’s reading from a prompter.

Ford vs. Carter (1976)

Jerry Ford was one of the most affable presidents America ever had. He didn’t boast the sharpest of wits however, as evident in one of his and Carter’s national televised debates, when he stated that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” Carter wryly smiled whilst the stunned moderator, Max Frankel, responded, “I’m sorry. What?…” This performance only served to reflect and reaffirm the credibility of Chevy Chase’s SNL Ford; a bumbling, awkward man barely getting on by in the job. It may have been a just a little slip, but it cost Ford dearly in the media and public’s perception of him. Trump, in particular, should take note here. He may have gotten away with his random gesticulations in the primaries but Clinton, unlike most the GOP, is hawkish and ready to pounce on any little mis-step.

Carter vs. Reagan/ Mondale vs. Reagan (1980 and 1984)

Ronald Reagan was hardly the smartest of US presidents either but he was a great communicator. He had a way of brushing off criticism and making his opponents feel a bit overbearing. Against Carter, we saw this when he said “there you go again,” in response to a criticism the President made about Reagan’s stance on a past healthcare bill. Against Mondale, we saw this when he quipped “I will not make age an  an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” In that brilliant soundbite, he not only pushed aside any genuine concerns about his age, but also posed a good counterpoint and reinforced his likability as a humorous man. So if Hillary could crack a few more lines like “you heard none of this at the Republican convention and Trump went on for 70-odd minutes- and they were odd,” that would be just dandy. This kind of reflex is perfect for the Youtube generation.

Bush I vs. Clinton vs. Perot (1992)

Don’t look at your watch! The Commander-in-Chief George HW Bush made this fatal error in a three-way debate against Slick Willy and a more credulous billionaire than Trump. While Bush may have had pressing matters on his hands, this quick, likely subconscious act, reflected the media’s perception of him as a man both out-of-touch with/ not interested in the common man. Bill, in contrast, not only didn’t get distracted, he stood up and walked out from the center of the stage to make eye contact with the people asking questions. He is of course, in a league of his own, but it’s worth noting nonetheless that you must always respect the time given for these debates, even if they are repetitive and pointless.

Gore vs. Bush II (2000)

To borrow a term from W’s lexicon, Al Gore misunderestimated his opponent. Whilst the second Bush was clearly nowhere near as clever as the Vice-President, he did manage to come across to a great many people as a likable and relatable individual. Gore tried to pounce on his basic understanding of the issues with a multitude of condescending mannerisms. At one point, he walked over to Bush as if to confront him man-to-man on a question he felt he gave the better answer to. At another point, he loudly sighed. It’s not exactly fair but the public do like an underdog and in this case, they gave Bush II enough wriggle room for the contentious count-up that followed. In this year’s case, it may be tempting for Hillary to act this exact same way, but there is a line between humouring your base and offending the other. Reagan understood this; Gore didn’t.

 

And so Clinton and Trump should now be well prepared for September 26th if they have read this. Naturally we have only scratched the surface but it is clear from these cases that a winning personality and sharp wit does the job best. Hillary has the latter and to some- let’s call them progressively challenged people- Trump boasts the former. We may be given stiff, unintelligible, and ambiguous answers next week but one thing’s for sure, the entertainment factor will be huuuuuge. 

 

 

Ten Years On: An Inconvenient Truth Remains

Ten Years On: An Inconvenient Truth Remains

It seems America is not the only nation that can boast its share of Climate Change denying morons. Last week, most of you will have heard Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae’s bamboozling testimony on the case of Global Warming. You will be glad to hear that there’s nothing we have to do anymore to save this world because God, of course, controls the weather. How could we have been so foolish? As much as the voters of Kerry should feel ashamed of themselves for having enabled this crackpot’s rise to power, we should remind ourselves first that these ludicrous distinctions hold a great weight and advantage in the arena of politics. Let our focus now turn back to America; where the stakes are considerably higher.

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Healy-Rae’s election should also prove the point that just because they’re not in a party does not mean they’re smart.

 

It is now ten years since Al Gore’s groundbreaking documentary, An Incovenient Truth, was released and as Bill Maher put it recently, we are perhaps in need of that sequel, An Inconvenient Truth 2: What The Fuck Is The Matter With You People? Out of the three candidates remaining in the 2016 election, one of them firmly believes that Global Warming is a hoax. Can you guess who? The trouble is that such views create a dialogue, in tangent to the more crucial debates we should be having, in which areas to build turbines and on what level our investment for renewable energy should be, i.e. the specifics. The question still remains as to whether we can really trust the 99% of scientists who believe in the accelerated rise of global temperatures or to what degree  human influence has been felt. And the Republicans who begrudgingly accept this theory (that is essentially consensus) have simply adopted the defeatist viewpoint that ‘well… it’s too late, innit?’ For many it seems this reality is too daunting. They’d rather bury their heads in the sand.  Well that reality is upon us already; California is drying up, the Great Lakes of the US-Canadian border have reached record lows, and worst of all, the melting of Arctic ice has caused our beloved walruses to seek salvation off the coast of Alaska- where Sarah Palin lives!

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We here at the Washington Walrus are fond of these guys. For those of you who aren’t, polar bears and fish will also be gravely affected.

 

To be fair there’s been some progress. President Mic-Drop, for example  stood against the Keystone Pipeline and last year’s Clean Power Plan called for 30% more energy renewal generation by 2030 with a 32% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels. Economically, this makes sense too in that renewable energy will be the future. Obama’s plan is still not good enough though, considering scientific projections. A lot can happen in 14 years too: we may yet see President Yeezus and the great Kardashian Deficit of 2022; we will certainly hear about more politicians putting big money ahead of the environment; and naturally (with a pinch of irony) a barge load more of pollutants and fossil fuels will be ejected into the atmosphere. So just as President Kennedy ambitiously called for man to walk on the moon before his decade was out, why shouldn’t Obama or the next president switch that 30% to 50% and begin to prioritise the foremost issue of our day; the one which should dominate this election cycle because it the one which cannot wait.

Al Gore said ten years ago: “Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, the electricity we use, the cars we drive; we can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero. The solutions are in our hands, we just have to have the determination to make it happen. We have everything that we need to reduce carbon emissions, everything but political will. But in America, the will to act is a renewable resource.” Since that great renegade Carter before him was thrown out of office for tearing up the flag with his “Energy Programme,” America has fallen back on its worst habits of greed and self-consumption. Sacrifice is not a word anyone likes to hear but the eleventh hour has by this point surely been reached. So whilst we must never pay respect the likes of Healy-Rae, we must accept that their assertions are crucial in the greater scheme of things.

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Al Gore in 2006- forever standing by his slide shows.

 

Andrew Carolan