Good-Bye Cheney and W.
I fibbed Friday when I said I’d bid farewell today. Because faring well is the last thing I wish for you and the cabal that put and kept you in power for eight agonizing, atrocity-laden years.
Good-bye to your rip-offs, your malice, your arrogance, your ignorance, your outlawry, your denial, your deceit, your cronyism and your stubborn refusal to cease pushing the envelope in the department of shameless villainy. Goodbye to the administration you constructed of turdiness and explained with truthiness. To your smirk and your snarl. To your conscienceless cruelty. Good-bye to your corruption, your vanity, your world without grays. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye, you insufferable despots, and good riddance.
But never farewell.
Only 38 hours left for you to wreak your last bits of damage on the Republic. What do you have in mind? Pardon your pals? De-list another endangered species or two? Sign one more no-bid defense contract? Ignore a new tragedy? Approve one more tortured legal rationale?
Even at my age, when time feels accelerated, it’s as if I’ve been waiting forever for this moment, to be free of your embrace. Wondering half the time whether you’d treat us to a third war. Pondering day after day what past outrage would come to light, what fresh violence you would visit on the rule of law, what new measure you would approve to make your fellow fat cats happy that they placed you at the helm.
While I wondered and pondered these matters, sometimes in rage, sometimes in tears, I also crossed my fingers that your final trip as America’s chief executives would deliver you from the White House and the Admiral’s House to a pre-trial hearing. Just hoping, obviously, not expecting. But given all the other astonishing things that have occurred during my lifetime, or in just the past eight years, I thought: why not? You knew all along, however, that this wasn’t going to happen.
With a bayonet called 9/11, you prodded others – Republicans, Democrats, some lawyers and even legal scholars – to sign off in advance for your war crimes. Now, with the pair of you almost out the door, with impeachment finally and unalterably off the table, most of those with any clout to dig into your years of misconduct are either reluctant or fiercely opposed to doing so. Afraid, perhaps, of what and who their investigatory net might drag to the surface. Worried, as General Hayden has complained, that a probe into the past will force future officials to look constantly over their shoulders before they engage in unethical or inhumane behavior. Thus, Nixon was right. Practically speaking, on some issues, if the President or Vice President does it or says it’s okay to do, it’s not illegal.
So off to Dallas and, will it be, Dubai?
As seriously as I take the counsel of our new President to move forward, a piece of me will never be able to follow that advice as long as you - following the path of some of your predecessors - escape an accounting and accountability for what you’ve done, evade the penalties we force on street thugs to atone for the far lesser damage they cause.
So, much as I am focused on what comes next in America, hopeful that our multiple crises get handled with an eye toward change, not changiness, a piece of me will not let go of my desire that the incoming administration will find the time and heart to make you eventually pay for your crimes. Whether you’re at home or on the road, watching football or playing golf, I want you and others on your crew to peer constantly over your shoulders, uncertain that all your memorandum mumbo-jumbo will keep justice at bay. You take comfort from what’s been said so far? You think you’re perfectly shielded from prosecution? Thankfully, you can only answer that with a "probably." Unlikely? Sure. Laughable? Maybe. But not impossible. My fervent hope is for you to mull that uncertainty every day.
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As close observers have known for decades, it wasn’t in you, Mister Bush, but if you hadn’t remained yourself, hadn’t kept to what you’d always been, had really stood as tall as you pretended, you could have been an okay President. The timing suited that outcome.
But, as your old friend Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for your 2004 reelection campaign, told Vanity Fair recently:
He was given a great, great window of opportunity where everybody wanted to be called to some shared sense of purpose and sacrifice and all that, and Bush never did it. And not for lack of people suggesting various things from bonds to, you know, some sort of national service. Bush decided to say that the best thing is: Everybody go about their life, and I’ll handle it.
There’s this West Texas thing in him, which is the – you know: Bad people are comin’ to town. Everybody go back to their house. I’ll take the burden on. Which, you know, may work in a Western town, but doesn’t work for a country that wants to be part of that conversation.
Not so sure that’s a West Texas thing in you, or just too many gunslinger movies. But we caught a glimpse of this perspective from another angle in your remorseless final speech last week. The bitterness and self-pity of the spoiled rich man’s son was palpable when you said:
I remember standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center three days later, surrounded by rescuers who had been working around the clock. ... As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our nation. I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe.
Thus, even in the final moments of your Presidency, you could not resist adding more lies to your gigantic pile. Added to your lies about the health of the first responders and others who dug day after day into that rubble you stood atop for a few minutes. Your lies about how invading Iraq increased rather than decreased our safety. And to the truly pathetic lie about how you didn’t play golf anymore because it was inappropriate while American soldiers were dying.
We did try to go about our lives as before. But you made this impossible what with your sending off our fellow citizens to kill and die in one botched war that should have been a police action and one that should never have happened at all. What with your attempts to dismantle chunks of the Constitution and dilute protections dating back to the Magna Carta. Your letting New Orleans go under and then showing up for another of those hollow cheerleading speeches filled with promises that are broken before the echo dies away. What with the destruction you caused in education, scientific independence, health care for veterans, oversight by the SEC and FAA and EPA and MSHA. Your stepped-up giveaways of public land. Your dismissal during two terms of 1256 of the 1273 complaints by whistleblowers that they had been retaliated against. Your saddling the nation with an extra trillion dollars in debt to reward your buddies in the top 1%. Your year-long denial of the on-rushing economic catastrophe now plaguing us.
You told us to go shopping and you would handle everything. And you certainly did. The consequences surround us.
Topping that long, long list are the dead who would not be dead were it not for the war you initiated out of bravado and doctored evidence. Thousands of dead Americans, and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and others. Deaths in any war are terrible enough, but sometimes there is no choice. Deaths in an unnecessary, fabricated war, however, count as nothing short of murder. No amount of your self-pitying, thrust-upon-me lamentations can ever justify those murders or the maiming of more than a million soldiers and civilians that you and your bloody-minded buddies and enablers visited upon the world.
Less than two days from now, a new guy will take the office you have used for plunder and connivery. It’s going to be a joyous day, an historic day, as the first African American recites the oath of the Presidency, the oath you repeatedly betrayed.
He’s a confident fellow. But, unlike you, he appears to know the difference between being confident and cocksure. He hasn’t told Americans he’ll handle everything himself. Unlike you, he’s said we all have tasks to undertake and sacrifices to make if we expect to really emerge from the problems we face. Problems – domestic and foreign – that your Presidency and previous ones did so much to create or so little to remedy. He’s touted a "bottom-up politics" of renewal. That’s a message we needed to hear years ago. Some of us progressives, especially us left-progressives, are determined to make sure that these words don’t calcify into nothing more than a campaign slogan. We seek to give them life. To never let the new guy forget that we’re on his side as long as he’s on ours.
Once the new guy takes the oath, we’ll be able for the first time in three decades to look to the future rather than fight yet another round in the incessant rearguard actions needed to salvage the FDR legacy and hold onto the hard-won gains that you and your predecessors have chipped away at for so very long. That’s a new role for many of us, something that will require a new mind-set and take some getting used to.
We’ll have our differences with the new guy. We already do. Particularly when it comes to foreign policy, whether in the Caribbean or Palestine. Or how best to build a decentralized environmental-industrial complex to rival and ultimately overwhelm the military-industrial complex that has distorted our nation’s priorities and wasted its resources for six decades. We’ll have some battles in other arenas, too, no doubt, on health care, on energy, on globalization, on the stranglehold the plutocrats have maintained over large segments of both parties. Some of the inevitable compromises will make us smile. Others will make us bite our lips or spur us to grind the enamel off our molars. Obstructionists and sell-outs will try to undermine and sabotage us. A few people will tell us we’re irrelevant, purists, dogmatic. Some will tell us to shut up and go away. But that’s the way it’s always been even in the best of times.
Years will pass before we’ll know whether this new guy will turn out to be one of our better Presidents. Not a savior, but a true leader, meaning a listener as well as a talker, a doer not a phony decider. We already know that you, Mister Bush, have been one of the very worst. But in a few hours, you and Dick Cheney will be gone. Too bad you can’t take along all the havoc and destruction you’ve caused during your reign.
Good-bye and good riddance, but never farewell.