In an interview with USA Today on the occasion of the opening of his presidential library three months ago, former President George W. Bush said something that continued to linger with me and only just now have my teeth and typing fingers got slowly unclenched. "There's no need to defend my myself," he commented, and then later added, "I did what I did, and ultimately history will judge."
Never mind that this is the pathetically wimpy way out, not saying anything on your behalf and hiding behind a future when no one today will be around to see the results. What bothered me is that it's something that Mr. Bush always did when he was president, laying it all on the steps of History and letting poor History take the brunt and be the judge -- all the while the problems he created from started a war based on a lie, massively increasing the deficit, destroying the economy, and ignoring a PDB that we would be attacked by airplanes and more, were crumbling the nation around us. No, no, he didn't have any opinion on that, let history judge.
Yeah, history. It's a funny thing about history, y'know. Because yesterday was the 12th anniversary of George Bush ignoring the Presidential Daily Briefing that was headlined, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." How's that for history, Mr. Bush?
And he's still doing it. He's still trying to burnish his tarnished legacy. Still ignoring the reality of the damage he caused while hiding behind history. Well, we're in "history" now. And it isn't pretty.
But beyond even that, in his interview he also, once again, admonished people not to forget "the lessons of 9/11." Again, this is an old Bush sleight-of-hand magic trick, trying to scare people and divide them, taking no responsibility for his actions, but hiding behind the actions of others. But the thing is, he's right, we shouldn't forgot those lessons -- however, the lessons we should not forget are very different from what he thinks, and are lessons he himself never learned. The lessons of 9/11 are that we should not ever trust the word of a leader without demanding investigation and accountability. That we shouldn't attack a nation without provocation or actual imminent threat. That we should follow the Constitution and let the Senate declare war. That when we do go to war, we should plan first and know what end we want, and have an actual exit strategy. That we should never torture, for far too many reasons. That when the nation faces a threat, we should work to unite us all, rather than divide for political purposes. And when the world wants to unite with us, we should do so to help make a better, safer planet. There were a whole lot of other lessons like this, but that's a good start.
Yet for all that, amid the "Let's whitewash the George Bush Presidency Tour," I still keep going back to Mr. Bush's cowardly, standard mantra -- "History will judge." Given that this was the president who himself pompously kept declaring we all live an Era of Personal Responsibility, it is so bizarrely irresponsible for him to keep shoving everything off on History. Let History judge. History will tell us what to think. History, History. History. Always wait for History to judge.
In the words of Mr. Bush's own patron saint of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, There You Go Again. And again and again and again.
And it's all made worse, you see, because, well...History has judged. Four years ago, on January 9, 2009, I wrote the following interview with History for The Huffington Post. With Mr. Bush's comment, and with the George W. Bush Presidential Library now having opened (get in line to see if the shelves stock My Pet Goat), and three months breathing space now leaving enough "history" to see that the "Whitewash Tour" from Mr. Bush and his Apologists has made itself and its intent clear, it seems appropriate -- and responsible -- to post it again here.
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History Finally Judges George Bush
Throughout President George Bush's time in office, he has refused basic introspection by insisting repeatedly that it's not for him to say how his presidency will be judged, that it's up to History.
"I'll be frank with you," he again told ABC's Charles Gibson recently. "I don't spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don't worry about long-term history, either, since I'm not going to be around to read it."
Of course, avoiding a question is the opposite of being "frank." Then again, perhaps this is just a family tradition, since his wife has equally chimed in, addressing the other day whether her husband is the worst president ever: "I think history will judge and we'll see later."
It occurred to me, therefore, that if George Bush -- and circle -- are, in fact, leaving judgment of himself to History, the only alternative is to go straight to the source. As a result, with the Bush presidency winding down, I have invited History to be a guest commentator today and respond for itself.
Hi, everyone. This is History. Happy New Year. I would like to thank Mr. Robert Elisberg for the opportunity to address you. It was very gracious. He is a good soul and quite a dashing fellow, even though his picture doesn't suggest it.
I've been asked to comment on how George W. Bush will be judged by History, a reasonable request since -- well, I'll be the one doing the judging.
He will be judged really, really, really badly.
I mean, honestly, did any of you think differently? Someone who admits that he's unconcerned with the future is telling you he doesn't care if he screws it up. And therefore is destined to.
How could anyone possibly think George Bush would be judged well by me?! It's sort of insulting, actually. Just consider who have I have available for making comparisons -- Moses, Aristotle, Lao-Tze, Caesar (Julius and Sid), Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Gandhi, Roosevelt (Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor), Larry Gelbart and Martin Luther King.
George W. Bush? He falls somewhere between Steve Guttenberg and Larry Mandinelli.
But okay, I know people have high standards for History and demand details, so let's look at going to war in Iraq, just for starters. Fine. The Sunnis and Shi'ites have been fighting each other for probably 800 years. (I lose track, it's been like forever.) Did George Bush think he could get in the middle of that, and I wouldn't notice? I'm History. I notice these things. All I have to do is look in the mirror. All he had to do was pick up any history book. This was really dumb, and as History, I always judge "dumb" poorly. Same reason I knocked down the guy who came up with New Coke. But at least that didn't destabilize the world, and 1.3 million human beings didn't die.
Yes, yes, I know. Mr. President Bush likes to suggest that History might determine if there are benefits from all this someday. Well... I've determined that. It's balderdash. If you bludgeon someone to a bloody pulp, after he recovers from years of rehab you can't claim credit for all his subsequent successes. If Sunnis and Shi'ites ever stop fighting in Iraq, it will be despite George Bush, not because of him. It will be because that's how life operates.
And that's the way I mainly judge the Bush Administration.
(Not fair, you cry! Fair? You want fair? I have everything in life bombarding me. Don't waste my time with insignificances. I'm History. When you hear "Napoleon," what do you think of? How low the tax rate was during his reign -- or his defeat at Waterloo? That's History. That's how History judges. I'm a Big Picture kind o' guy.)
But just for fun, how do I judge the rest of it? You really want to know? Really? Okay, you asked.
The economy. Oh, my, not good. Not good at all. Speaking as History, I tend to judge the collapse of a society's financial system as a negative. There's just no way to put a smiley face on that. Trillion dollar deficits are seriously bad. Hey, I'm just saying. And I'm History.
Global warming. I'll admit a bias, I've always liked science, but then, being History, I've seen it all. Galileo is one of my faves. The zealots who persecuted him remind me of the Bush record on global warming. You may not remember the Ice Age, but I do. You do not want to see another. It wasn't as cute as the movie. Trust me.
Hurricane Katrina. Normally, I wouldn't remember this, except that I love jambalaya and Dixieland jazz. That's why, sometimes, I can never forget certain natural disasters -- Pompeii, Krakatoa, the Lisbon earthquake in 1755. When you destroy something priceless, you pay. No one should think you can wipe New Orleans off the map, and History won't send you a bill.
Torture. C'mon, you have to ask?? Four hundred years later, and the Spanish Inquisition is still trying to live it down. In purgatory.
But at least George Bush "Kept America Safe," I hear some of you crying. Sorry, History remembers 9/11 and under whose watch it happened. And those 4,200 Americans who've died in Iraq. And that whole "collapsed economy" thing.
Teri Schiavo. Good news. George Bush will come through okay with this! This was so small and petty and venal that I blissfully won't remember it.
More good news. History will judge George Bush kindly for creating an environment so disastrous that Americans of all people got over their prejudice to elect the first African-American president.
Anyway, hopefully that settles the question how I judge George Bush (as if there really ever was a serious question). But it's always nice to touch base with all you good folks. Thanks again to that fine Mr. Elisberg for giving me the platform. I will look upon him kindly.
Have a wonderful New Year. Know that I'm always there for you, and you always have History at your back and waiting for you in your future.
And go Cubs!! Here's hoping. One day...
Robert J. Elisberg's new novel The Wild Roses, a comic adventure in the spirit of The Three Musketeers but with three women, is now available here in paperback or as a Kindle eBook. His other writing can be found at Elisberg Industries.
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