With the inauguration of Barack Obama approaching and the merciful coup de grâce that it provides for the entire Bush era, I've been trying to come up with a way to properly put into perspective the last eight years of American history. I've wrestled with the best possible means of conveying the enormity, the totality, of George W. Bush's catastrophic failure as president of the United States. I've been looking for the right words to describe the lasting impact that this administration's incompetence, treachery and corruption will have not simply on the way our country is viewed by its own citizens and those around the world, but the damage done to the very institution of the American presidency.
I tried, but I just couldn't come up with a way to put the necessary exclamation point on the whole thing. I didn't think anyone could.
Until yesterday -- when somebody did.
There's plenty of debate raging today over whether the actions of 29-year-old Iraqi journalist Muntadar al Zaidi were completely justified, at the very least understandable, outright despicable, or some combination of all three. Likewise, many are arguing over whether being pelted with footwear is a fitting punishment for George W. Bush; is the sight of Bush ducking for cover as a citizen of the country he's left in war-torn shambles hurls shoes at him something to applaud, laugh at, or be horrified by?
From a practical standpoint, it's indeed a frightening thought that someone could put himself in a position to harm the president of the United States and not be stopped until after the attack; obviously, if al Zaidi had been carrying a weapon more powerful than a pair of size 10s, we wouldn't even be having this discussion right now. There's an argument to be made that regardless of the many sins of George W. Bush, he's still nominally the president and should be afforded the respect that comes with the title. But maybe it's the fact that he wasn't shown even a modicum of respect by his attacker -- that he was shouted down and debased like a common criminal -- which illustrates just what he's done to the office he holds: He's turned it into a global punchline. Bush has taken the most revered position in the world and utterly bankrupted its authority. His failure as a leader is that absolute.
Think about it: Have you ever heard of something like this happening to an American president? Could you imagine it happening to any other president of the United States -- anyone besides George W. Bush?
What occurred yesterday would've been unfathomable in years past.
The fact is that, at this moment and for all intents and purposes, there really is no president of the United States. George Bush isn't simply a lame duck; he's a non-entity -- a completely ineffectual and irrelevant presence who still rides around in Air Force One only as a matter of academic circumstance. He's the ghost president -- stuck in political purgatory, waiting for Barack Obama's oath of office to finally put him out of his misery and usher him and his administration into the light. In the meantime, the enemies that his disastrous policies created see the once-cocksure cowboy stripped of his six-guns and consider it all the proof they need that he's never been anything more than a small man with a big title. As far as they're concerned, not only is he not the sheriff anymore -- he decimated what it means to be sheriff in the first place.
He did it by, among other things, invading Iraq under false pretenses and costing the lives of more than four thousand American soldiers and more than a hundred-and-fifty thousand Iraqis -- Iraqis al Zaidi claimed to be honoring by insulting George Bush in what in the Arab world are the strongest possible terms.
Since yesterday, Muslims and Arabs throughout the Middle East have not simply rushed to the defense of al Zaidi -- they've praised him as a hero. They say that he spoke for the millions of Iraqis and millions more Arabs throughout the region who feel that they've suffered at the hands of the Bush administration's foreign policy for the past eight years. They say that he'll go down in history as the man who stood up and did something many would've thought impossible by lashing out at the president of the United States. They're talking about putting the shoes he threw in a museum as a lasting symbol of defiance.
What Muntadar al Zaidi did has instantly become the stuff of legend.
But I'll bet that as far as he was concerned, he wasn't doing anything but denouncing the man who destroyed his country. He didn't see George Bush as the president of the United States -- he saw him as nothing more than a criminal, a murderer.
And it's not his fault for having that view so much as it's Bush's for abusing his office to the point where it no longer held any value.
I have no doubt that Barack Obama will salvage the good name of the presidency and that he'll be able to do it with almost no effort. In many ways, he already has.
But it's a shame it was ever allowed to be so mistreated in the first place.