Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dealing with George W. Bush

One of the greatest features of a democracy with a well-crafted constitution is that it offers various legal tools for dealing with incompetents and bullies like George W. Bush. Unfortunately, one of the disadvantages is that democracy takes time. George W. Bush should never have been reelected. All the problems that the American people are now seeing with some degree of clarity were evident before the 2004 presidential election, though it should be pointed out that 59 million people saw the problem—it's unfortunate that 62 million saw something that wasn't there.

These days, we are in something of a constitutional crisis; the paramount issue is keeping Bush from dragging the United States into a deeper war and completely destroying the vision of foreign policy, flawed as it is, that has existed since Franklin Roosevelt. It is evident that Bush and Cheney wish to replace the old foreign policy with something far worse or so crippled that reformers will takes years to repair it.

Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory has some thoughtful insights into the Bush and Cheney regime:
The reason Bush violated the law when eavesdropping is the same reason Lithwick cites to explain his other lawless and extremist measures -- because he wanted purposely not to comply with the law in order to establish the general "principle" that he was not bound by the law, to show that he has the power to break the law, that he is more powerful than the law. This is a President and an administration that are obsessed first and foremost with their own power and with constant demonstrations of their own strength. Conversely, what they fear and hate the most is their own weakness and submission to limitations.

For that reason, the weaker and more besieged the administration feels, the more compelled they will feel to make a showing of their power. Lashing out in response to feelings of weakness is a temptation most human beings have, but it is more than a mere temptation for George Bush. It is one of the predominant dynamics that drives his behavior.

His party suffered historic losses in the 2006 midterm elections as a result of profound dissatisfaction with his presidency and with his war, and his reaction was to escalate the war, despite (really, because of) the extreme unpopularity of that option. And as Iraq rapidly unraveled, he issued orders that pose a high risk of the conflict engulfing Iran. When he feels weak and restrained, that is when he acts most extremely.

Bush officials and their followers talk incessantly about things like power, weakness, domination, humiliation. Their objectives -- both foreign and domestic -- are always to show their enemies that they are stronger and more powerful and the enemies are weaker and thus must submit ("shock and awe"). It is a twisted world view but it dominates their thinking (and that is how our country has been governed for the last six years, which is what accounts for our current predicament). As John Dean demonstrated, a perception of one's weakness and the resulting fears it inspires are almost always what drive people to seek out empowering authoritarian movements and the group-based comforts of moral certitude.

When talking about Bush and his abuses of power, Richard Nixon is a good comparison and John Dean has been very helpful with illustrating a number of issues including the tendency of conservatives to give in too easily to authoritarianism, but I think the last character to specifically behave like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was Senator Joseph McCarthy (and by extension, J. Edgar Hoover who quickly changed course after McCarthy's fall (...or appeared to)). What made McCarthy so dangerous was that he specialized in fear, the use of fear for bullying and increasing his power. But eventually McCarthy was reined in without using some of the powerful legal tools available. Keep in mind that McCarthy was never convicted of anything. No serious effort was made to arrest or impeach him. But he was exposed for what he was and he was censured—and power inexorably slipped from his hands. Of course, it helped that even President Eisenhower finally turned on him.

Hurricane Katrina still remains one of the keys to the Bush presidency. Katrina absolutely left no doubt of Bush's incompetence. When his political team doesn't have days or weeks to carefully craft a phony message, Bush is helpless. His first real reaction when the American people made known their displeasure with his performance was to behave like a bully and demand the right to call out the military the next time such a disaster hit; bullies always want more power when their incompetence is profoundly exposed.

The way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. When bullies behave like Tom DeLay (I am the government, he reportedly once said) or like the current crew in the White House, the pressure must be maintained. It might help, though, to make sure Bush begins to think about a pleasant retreat to Crawford, Texas, or if investigations begin to turn up too much material, his huge family ranch in Paraguay.

In the winter of 2007, after six years of profound recklessness and incompetence, a certain degree of urgency exists. Bush keeps talking about his historical destiny which is nonsense, of course. But Congress does have an historical obligation to check Bush's abuses of power. It's in the Constitution, a document written by people very familiar with abuses of power.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Well said. George W. Bush more or less exiled to Paraguay works for me.

I'm not really familiar with Paraguay, but if it follows the too-typical Latin American economic, social and political configuration, I suspect Bush would find it very copacetic.

8:03 PM  

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