Um...if you're one of these tiresome linear thinkers, this pile of semi-cheery nonsense I just wrote is not for you. Maybe just turn around and go back to wherever you like to employ your Dunning-Kruger Defense, instead. Everyone admires the irony of that.
Links go to actual news pages that I liked on this subject.
And so, resquiat in pace, President Bush the Elder. I’m not here to talk of my love and high degree of admiration for this guy. But his “legacy,” if he ends up with one, won’t be whatever he did with Reagan’s administrative leavings, or even, probably, the taxes on wealthy people he promised they wouldn’t have, though if you read about the math on that, it might interest you in our current context.
His legacy will be largely that he served as the last Republican president before the era that we are currently in during which most of the country moved a fraction of a degree left while the GOP wagon train launched itself to the right, partly in the name of a tiny God and partly because they paid with their souls financially for the chance to spread their tiny views like a pox blanket over the rest of us, and we are paying for that now.
Don’t you love a good mixed metaphor?
GHW Bush was certainly no more conservative than was his White House successor, Bill Clinton, someone about whom I won’t be writing a gentle substanceless eulogy. Ideology in those terms was so different 30 years ago, it’s nearly surreal to look back on.
Lately when I read comments from people going on about libs and their President Clinton, I know we’ve descended into reactionary territory. That guy was no more liberal than was, well, George H.W. Bush. But what can you expect from people who think that there is no middle ground between Godless Socialist Communism and The Wonderful Wild American West in which we all battle on an even playing field for all the gold that’s just lying at our feet should we care to pick it up? Why do they think that? Well, people believe whatever makes them feel better about themselves, and that includes you, too, you smug “progressive.” Stop pretending it doesn’t, right now, or we won’t get anything done. But also there might have been lead paint involved.
Bush became president during a time when it was extra important for the U.S. to look like it had its act together. The post world war order in Europe was beginning to break apart, and here at home all the game-playing with middle east politics was exposed, and smart people began to wonder why Chinese landholdings in Montana and other western states was on a sharp rise. And there were already signs President Reagan was losing his grip on a focused reality.
President Bush tried to be an old-fashioned peace time president in appearance, and I like that in a leader. Behind the scenes, sure there was another story. There always is. If you think this isn't true about all of them, pull your skirt down; your naive is showing.
Maybe it’s when I was born and grew up, but I don’t remember ever expecting much from a president other than the ability to do well at the international state dinners and to not let Congress run riot over the rest of us.
I have a very dim memory of President Johnson; mostly what I remember of the evening news from that era is fighting scenes in Vietnam. I remember the moon landing a little while after that, and I remember the different President Nixon speaking about it. But unlike so many of my friends who were at that age reading edifiying works of literature, I spend most of my preschool time riding around on my dog and digging in dirt, so all that distant grownup stuff was on some other plain.
I began reading when I was six. I didn’t exactly learn how, though I did love my phonics workbook at school. I loved the science of it. No, it was just that I didn’t read anything and then I read everything. That is to say, I could read everything, but didn’t; when my current friends who read at two or three go on about reading Jane Eyre at eight, well, I had way too many Nancy Drews, Bobbsey Twins, and world mythology, and biographies about explorers and 19th century businessmen to be bothering with what turned out to be “literature.” But I did love the newspaper. They had a kid’s section sometimes, and there were comic strips, which confused me because I thought comic was supposed to mean funny, but I did read them, and the advice columns; you got Ann in the morning Times and Abby in the evening Star, and I read the grocery ads, and sometimes a famous person died and if he was famous but not world-shakingly so, the news item would generally be found in the bottom right corner of the front page.
And so I am pretty sure, though my recall is not perfect, that the death of Jim Croce is what caused me to start reading about Watergate. Jim Croce's headline was beneath one about Nixon's tapes, or what-have-you. That was in September, 1973, and I’d just started third grade. It was a hard year for me, maybe sometime I’ll try to piece some of it together, but what I remember about it are these items: learning the multiplication tables, having an Indian Unit, we got to have a substitute teacher for a long time which was nice because the regular teacher didn’t like me and Mrs. Richardson did, but, I think because of her and perhaps an overly optimistic view of his training, having to visit the school counselor for a few Mondays while he failed to figure out what was wrong with me, and Watergate.
I read about Watergate every day in the newspaper. I didn’t understand quite a lot of it, but it fascinated me all the same. I knew the players like you might know a baseball team.
And so that informed my view of the presidency pretty much. I remember when Nixon resigned and we got Ford, instead, who was rather more together than a kid might know from Chevy Chase impersonations, but mostly just hanging in there til he could be Electoral Colleged out, and then there was Carter, and Congress resented him, and that was something to learn about and try to understand, and later I tried to learn political science as a college course but didn’t get to take it very far because of this whole thing, never mind about that now.
Reagan was certainly unlike presidents before him in many ways, and partly that was because of the shrinking of the global stage, and partly because he was an entertainer, and of course a lot of things all collided together to create that era we look back on like it was a TV series we all watched, with greedy people and secrets and cliffhangers and everything. Plus, his administration planted the seeds for the 1994 Republican Revolution, and cannot be forgiven for that, but in between, we got President George Herbert Walker Bush, and I will “confess” to you now that I voted for him in 1992 against Clinton because I believed that whatever was going on behind the scenes, the things he said about the surface we lived on were largely true and just the sort of middle of the road state we ought to remain in for just a little while longer*, and I wouldn’t have trusted Clinton as far as I could throw him.
I think Clinton being elected accelerated those wacko reactionary Republicans’ path to the fore, while a second Bush term would have held them off, because the nature of Congress changed just enough to keep fighting for that whole tax bugaboo the Rs were so angry about, but at the same time, we had other things to focus on that were much more in Bush’s wheelhouse than Clinton’s, and boy, did that become apparent pretty swiftly.
I’m tired of typing now. I love my six year-old MacBook Air, but the i key doesn’t stay in place well, and the e and n now need more of a touch than I’m used to needing to give a keyboard after all these years.
Also, if I write much more, it’ll turn into how much I disliked the Clinton presidency rather than a particular liking for the Bush one. In the 90s, Hillary would have been a better president in domestic terms than Bill, and that’s all I’m going to say about that, but people have this strange idea she’s some kind of liberal, so that would never have flown then, plus I don’t think her foreign policy ideas at that time would have worked any better than his. I could be wrong about that.
So anyway, President Bush. If you set aside the nature of the office in terms of dealing with a bloated and diverse 50 state economy, and all the other trappings of it, and the squirrely legacy he inherited from Reagan, that was a guy who knew what was going on in the world and could probably have done a bit more work that ended in our favor, given a little more time. And that’s my whole point here; I’m eulogizing the second term he didn’t have, because that’s the thing I think will matter most in future history. He'd have made us mad sometimes and gotten some things wrong, but a different Congress would have formed through the rest of the decade. And we just might not have ended up with the subprime mortgage disaster.
But I suppose you could say nearly all of them, up to that point, could have achieved more and better stuff given an honest opportunity. And I think President Obama tried to turn the ship around to get back on that course, but of course, here we are, and who knows what happens next? I guess what I mourn for is a couple particular aspects of the world we inhabited back then; the pre-1994 world before all the definitions were turned on their heads, and the Benetton Future still looked shiny and optimistic. We sensed we were headed for a kind of futuristic dystopia, but I don’t think we expected to be living in it quite so soon.
*No. Don't make that phrase about not needing social change or more equality. That must always be on a forward trajectory. I'm so irritated realizing this needs to be said that I'm not even going to explain to you what I meant by staying on that course for a little while. Be smart and figure it out yourself.
Here's a Sugar Cubes album.