01/02/2008 10:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Taking Stock In the Last Year of Bush

It's the day Iowans choose their presidential primary delegates and it's the last year of Bush. But the real question about Bush is not what he'll do this year, or what the Democrats will let him get away with (we know that will be darn near anything he wants) but how permanent the Bush legacy will be.

Bush's presidential legacy is deep and broad and effects virtually everything in the federal government. Every department has been packed with Republican loyalists, far beyond the usual levels of government appointees, and every department has been purged of the disloyal. Promotion throughout the civil service, including at the Pentagon, has been made contingent on how much of a partisan lackey the civil servant is.

The executive has been raised above the legislative and the judicial, government secrecy has been pushed to such extremes that ever having so much as talked to the President supposedly puts you off limits from being forced to testify. The country has taken long steps towards becoming an authoritarian surveillance state complete with small designated areas to which free speech is limited (free speech zones), and 2 million people are incarcerated, most for using drugs that people like George Bush and Bloomberg themselves admit to having used themselves (without penalty).

Meanwhile the country, American businesses and Americans citizens are all, essentially, broke. (Yes, even American businesses are broke: those balance sheets are filled with overvalued assets that are marked to make-believe.) Foreigners are both moving off the dollar and using their dollar reserves to buy up key revenue streams into the future, taking stakes in New York, the city which was once the world's financial center. (London is now the world's financial center now, and Dubai is coming on strong.)

And the country is slamming shut, with onerous visa requirements, paranoid security measures and unremitting official hostility to tourists, would-be immigrants and even students. Once the best and brightest came to America and stayed. Now less and less of them make it past customs and if they do, they sure don't stay after America has made them feel unwelcome. The extent to which America was great because the great wanted to be American remains under-appreciated, but all the countries who used to bemoan the brain drain to America thank the US now from the bottom of their hearts.

If you read the Agonist regularly, you know all this already. So the question is who's going to fix it?

Who is going to say: "Spending 50% of the world's military budget and losing wars to rabble is unacceptable"? Who's going to say: "We have to stop locking up non-violent drug offenders for smoking weed"? Who's going to say: "The war on terror is bullshit, and our paranoia is making us less safe, not more"? Who's going to say: "We need to stop putting cameras everwhere and actually trust each other"?

And who is going to say: "The rich aren't just rich enough, they're too rich, and if we don't reverse this trend we'll not only lose the middle class society we've known, but we'll lose our place in the world, because the basis of American power and prosperity is widely shared wealth and income"?

Sean-Paul and I have both endorsed Edwards in this nomination cycle. Speaking for myself, I endorse Edwards because he either says some of these things, or he seems to understand they're a problem. For me the defining moment in the campaign was when the candidates were asked "do you believe in the war on terror" and only Edwards refused to raise his hand--only Edwards refused to bow down to fear and hatred and stupidity and to the failed policies of the last seven years, which have lead not to a defeat for terror, or even a decline in terror, but to an explosion of attacks.

Edwards is the only one who understands fundamentally that fear doesn't lead to safety, to prosperity, or to liberty. Fear, as FDR once noted, is the only thing you really need to fear, because those who are afraid will give up anything including their dignity, freedom and prosperity, to be free of terror. And yet, paradoxically, giving up everything to feel safe never works. The more you act from fear, the more scared you become. Fear feeds on itself and in the grip of terror men and women do things and condone things, like torture, they would never have done if they had not given in to those who use fear to rule others.

Above all, it is the intentions of those who wield the whip of fear we should fear.

And so, this day before Iowans make their choice, this day at the beginning of the end of Bush, it is my hope that the worst of Bush's legacies, the horrible fear that has made America pull inwards, has led it into the darkness of torture and pre-emptive war (sic), is in its last year too. If the next president is one of the Republicans may God have mercy upon us, and we will need it, because they will rule America through the whip of fear. If it's Clinton or Obama, I fervently hope that they come to see that it's time for an end to terror. And if the next president of America is John Edwards, he may be our best shot to put fear to rest and restore America to us.