Friday, January 16, 2009

Last working day of the Bush Administration

This is the last working day of the Bush Administration. Tomorrow is Saturday, then Sunday, then Monday, which is a holiday. Then Barack Obama becomes President, and George Bush leaves the White House, only to return as a guest.

Relish this moment, folks. We have waited a long time for this. It's 4:27 pm Pacific time, or 7:27 Eastern time, which means most of the regular White House staff have left for the day. If they're normal, which is open to debate.

I've been tempted to write that I'm not going to be blogging about Bush again, but of course I will, because there is so much damage to be undone. Besides the obvious policies to be reversed, there are the intangibles - the psychic wounds of the soldiers suffering PTSD, the damage to our standing in the world.

But the worst intangible damage that Bush has done is that too many people think that what Bush did was normal. He changed the debate in supremely unhealthy ways, and it is going to take years to change it back. Some people actually think that there is a debate to be had about whether or not torture is ever justified. The answer is no. Torture is never justified, regardless of the circumstances. But Bush opened up the debate, and made it seem like this is a subject on which honest people have honest disagreements. It isn't. There can be no compromise on some things. Torture is wrong. The President is not above the law.

In the economic sphere, Bush perpetuated two of the stupidest ideas ever to flourish in the American political system, the absurd notion that tax cuts pay for themselves, and that deficts don't matter. Many people still think those ideas are worthwhile. None of us like paying taxes, and taxes can be prohibitive. But we have long since reduced taxes to a reasonable level. 70% income tax is counterproductive and stifles investment. But the difference between 35% and 38% tax on investments is trivial. That difference is not trivial, however, when it comes to balancing the budget.

Many years ago, during the '88 campaign, between George H. W. Bush and Dukakis, I was struck by something as I watched one of the debates. Bush seemed, at one point, like a cornered animal, lashing out because he was threatened with a fatal blow. It occurred to me then that Bush represented a dying breed; the white American male who ascended to the highest ranks of power and prestige because he was born a white American male. Both George Bush's have seemed to believe that they actually earned their power, and the fact that they were born into privilege was irrelevant. I suppose it's a necessary myth for them, giving themselves permission to believe that they really deserve all their success.

They didn't, of course. The day is now gone when being a white American male automatically gives you entry into an exclusive club that denies entry to people who don't look like you. It's still a bit of an advantage to be a straight white guy, but nowhere nearly as much as it used to be.

But there are still lots of straight white American men who are going to be fighting to hold onto the privileges that they have grown used to, that they think of as their birthright. John McCain, who epitomized both the best and the worst of the straight white American male - the honest war hero, but also the erratic, immature son of privilege - was a champion of a dying way of life. The fight is not quite over, but the war has just about been won.

Goodbye, Mr. Bush. We won't miss you. There are enough of us straight white American men left to carry on the better parts of the traditions we represent. But we are thankful that you are taking with you some of the worst.

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