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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

George W. Bush: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

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The other night, I had a difficult time sleeping. Eventually, I realized why. I was furious at George Bush.

To be clear, this wasn't a case of living in the past and not getting over it. This was seeing the damage still being caused.

Pretty much everything George W. Bush touched shredded the United States of America. That's not my opinion. When George Bush left office, 81% of all Americans thought the country was "pretty seriously" going in the wrong direction. "Pretty seriously" doesn't mean taking a bad turn, it's "Er, dad, we're driving off a cliff." That's why Mr. Bush ended with a 32% approval rating.

Yet even leaving office, George Bush has continued to do damage to America. He's the gift that keeps on giving.

The economic meltdown is Barack Obama's responsibility to fix. But that means there was a disastrous economy that needed fixing. George Bush was given a $127 budget surplus and left behind a $455 billion deficit. He doubled the national debt. George Bush's destruction of the American economy caused the near-depression that the nation will have to painfully dig out for a very long time to come.

Yet that is not the only lasting damage from George Bush's presidency. Nor the worst.

Though he campaigned against "nation building," America has been mired in rebuilding Iraq for six years -- after we ourselves tore it down. A nation that did not attack us. Did not have WMDs. Did not have an al Qaeda presence. Yet George Bush's legacy in Iraq continues to haunt America's economy, haunt the loss of 100,000 lives and haunt America's place of respect in the world. And even when we finally pull our troops out, our responsibility will remain there for decades to come.

Yet that in not the only other lasting damage by George Bush's presidency, either. Nor the worst.

Because worst may be that he came to office on a lie that he was a "Uniter Not a Divider." A "Compassionate Conservative."

The seeds of division that he planted in America see their flowering today. Contradictory charges of socialist on the one hand and Nazi on the other, cries of terrorist and traitor, rallies of teabag parties and birther movements, bullying tactics at townhall meetings to deny others their free speech, and the growing presence of firearms at rallies -- such a breath of disunity as these requires formation from an earlier time.

George W. Bush did more to foster fear, hatred, distrust and division than any politician since Joseph McCarthy. You are with us or you are a terrorist. You are with us, or you are a traitor. You're for God, or you're the Devil. It was his fostering of division that allowed Congresswoman Jean Schmidt (R-OH) to call honored war veteran John Murtha (D-PA) a coward. That allowed the GOP to paint three-time medal winner John Kerry traitorous. That allowed Ann Coulter to "joke" about killing Supreme Court justices and Congressmen.

They are the shamed parents of today Michelle Bachman (R-MN) calling all Democrats in Congress traitors. Of Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) mimicking the lynching of Democrats. Of Glenn Beck "joking" about poisoning the Democratic Speaker of the House.

It is perhaps the worst legacy of many from George W. Bush that lingers to this day.

It is a legacy of discord that Sarah Palin carried, suggesting that Barack Obama "pals around with terrorists," amid unanswered cries of "kill him." That she carries to this day, divisively suggesting that Democrats want to kill our elderly with non-existent Death Panels.

It is a legacy of mean-spirited division that allows commentator Tammy Bruce to spew, "We have trash in the White House." That allows Townhall.com commentator Burt Prelutsky to write about the Obama children's new dog, "will she be the First Bitch or will she have to settle for second place?" That allows Glenn Beck to sneer that the President of the United States is a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people."

It is this legacy intentionally planted by George Bush, to use people's fears after 9/11 and create a wedge that has let people who would otherwise skulk alone feel empowered in their hate.

It is a world so divisive that a self-described "proud right-wing terrorist," can be hailed by his congressman, Wally Herger (R-CA), as a "great American."

When daily we hear Glenn Beck cry that American mothers won't be able to defend their children, when Bill O'Reilly repeatedly smears George Tiller as "Dr. Death," when Sean Hannity writes a book whose title equates evil with terrorists and liberals, it's no wonder when the divide grows wider because the malevolence feels it is protected.

And so it's what allows a white supremacist gunman to open fire on tourists and kill a guard outside a Holocaust museum. What gives support to a neo-Nazi inspired to kill three Pittsburgh policemen. What lets Dr. George Tiller to be murdered in church.

And all of it was given voice, aid and comfort by the George Bush Administration. Empowering hatred.

After 9/11, the world joined in support of America. It was the closest there has been to world peace in our lifetime. And George Bush took that and callously, calculatedly shredded it. Because he is a Divider, not a Uniter.

He created a division today so deep that an elected United States Congresswoman, Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) feels empowered to call publicly for a "Great White Hope" in the Republican Party.

And it all stems from George W. Bush. The gift -- one of just many of his, from the economy to Iraq to dividing America -- that keeps on giving.