Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Raul's Reflection #1

To be thought of as a good man is no great feat. Simply ask the people you know what it is that they think a good man is like, and then be like that.

This requires no special talents or training, but there is one catch. Being consumed by your task of seeming to be good, you will of course never find any time to actually learn how to be good, much less practice what you have learned.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Money and His Fool

The Money and His Fool

by Raul Groom

January 20th, 2009
Richmond, Va

Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need to know of hell. ~Emily Dickinson, "Parting"

Staring at this passage on a cold black night, with the frozen void yawning menacingly above me, I find it hard to believe the words were not written specifically to describe the retirement of the forty-third President of the United States. George W. Bush departs the White House to the same cheers that greet a used-up third-year NFL quarterback in a big-market city like Miami or LA as he's carried to the sideline on a stretcher, his brain quivering spasmodically from the one final hit that ended his brief, unremarkable run at the top of the world. The cheers denote neither appreciation for the man's service nor glee at his demise. The people cheer for no other reason than that the backup is coming in. Someone else is finally in charge.

Inside each fan's lusty yawp of exaltation is a kernel of melancholy, of recognition that something has gone terribly wrong and cannot be put right. A franchise, a city, a people have been driven into catastrophe and ruin for no other reason than that they chose as their leader a man who was not up to the task. One inept person brought low a great machine that had, once upon a time, seemed poised to roll over the world and every damn thing in it.

"The fool and his money are soon parted," it is said. Perhaps in simpler times the equation was so straightforward. In George W. Bush's last wild days as our lame-duck president, we are seeing what happens when the money is parted from its fool.

No president, it should be admitted, controls the economy. High finance is a strange beast, and in a panic any economy, even a well-run one, can founder upon the rocks of uncertainty and fraud. Yet we have seen enough even at this early date to say that the state we find our economy in now is a direct and indeed predictable result of years of happy talk and easy money allowing the wise old men to pretend that the worst, most feckless presidency of all time would have no consequences.

Call it the housing bubble, call it the Bush Bubble, call it what you like - it has burst. The so-called "real economy" lurches to a halt even as the virtual economic wizards unfreeze the credit markets they themselves froze up, with the government picking up the tab for their tireless service of the national interest. Great American retailers run aground so abruptly and completely that major newspapers run well-sourced articles within weeks detailing the degree to which everyone knew all along that the company sucked eggs and could never reform.

It turns out eight years of laughing at the daily spectacle of a glaringly unfit man signing off on every major decision made by the richest, most powerful country in the world has a cost. Fortunately for the Bushes, as always, it is not they who will bear the direct brunt of their profligacy. Instead the grateful taxpayers will bear it, for after all it was their money Bush tirelessly safeguarded by lowering nominal income tax rates. The devoted soldiers will bear it, too, for after all it was their interests Bush zealously represented by making sure that the giant wars where they bleed and die can never end. And the nameless dead will bear it most of all, men and women and children across the world, for after all they can't complain.

The Boy King stands tonight, for one last night, at the head of the most successful political dynasty in American history. Upon the railways of their ancestors the Bush Boys - Jeb, George W., and the old man - did build this endless croaking machine of death and terror that has ruled us for as long as anyone can remember. One would imagine, looking at the wide expanse of history, that it would rule us still tomorrow. But it is not to be.

In the end, one flaw held back Samuel P. Bush's generations-long plan for impenetrable military hegemony over the destiny of the free world. His line could not overcome its own genetics, siring an increasing cacophony of shockingly inarticulate winos with no business running a diner in Connecticut, and culminating in the elevation - to the Presidency of the United States, no less - of the greatest fool ever to set foot on the American political stage.

It is here, at the moment of Bush's elevation to the presidency, that history begins to look a bit murky. Beginning with Bush's highly unusual and unconvincing declaration of victory after the 2000 election, the journalistic record loses whatever tenuous grasp on reality it enjoyed before that moment. Bush's wizardry with the press - unusual, to say the least, for a man with no verbal skills of any kind - was once regularly discussed with great wonder by the enormous glowing heads that invade American television every Sunday like an absurd bloviating platoon of coiffed marines.

It is only now, looking back at his record from a slightly wider angle, that we get a clear sense of why it has been so difficult to record with any true vision the years in which Bush has been President. Bush destroyed the old hoary scold of investigative journalism, much as Nixon had tried and failed to do, by being so awful that he could not usefully be described in any objective way.

Certainly no article that appears on Bush's last day in office in any respectable print daily will include a serious accounting of Bush's ignoble feats these last eight years. It is impossible to provide a balanced view of a record that appears as a Jamaican slum would appear if it were plopped down at the doorstep of a great American city, his achievements an absurd and pathetic shanty town in the shadow of the vast panoramic skyline of his towering failures.

You and I, of course, are bound by none of the strictures of reasonable commentary. We can be serious. The record shows that Bush has started two wars and achieved not a single publicly stated prewar goal in either conflict. Troops remain in harm's way with no timeline for withdrawal. Uncounted thousands lie dead in the streets, casualties of American bombs, American guns, and American stupidity in a region of the world already inclined to view Americans with suspicion before George W. Bush took office.

The record shows that Bush took office an unserious, inconsequential intellect and that he will exit it that way. Taken as folksy comic relief during the 2000 campaign against Al Gore, Bush's many weird verbal gaffes remain by far his most significant contribution to the annals of Presidential speech. His greatest moment in the national consciousness found him holding a bullhorn atop a pile of rubble that used to be the World Trade Center, yet a cursory review of the audiotape reveals that not only did Bush not say anything noteworthy that day, he couldn't even figure out how to work the bullhorn.

Indeed, the record shows that Bush failed to handle any of the major crises of his Presidency with any visible aplomb, and that no management decision he ever made can be credibly said to have done anyone but himself a lick of good. When the Enron funny-money machine that had bankrolled his Texas political career collapsed in a puff of smoke, he couldn't figure out what to do, so he just stopped returning his former benefactors' calls. When the top federal law enforcement agencies approached him with credible evidence that terrorists were plotting a strike inside the United States, he let John Ashcroft push ahead with his plan to crack down on Internet porn.

When a terrorist network holed up on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border turned out to be tough to pin down and eliminate, Bush let the old, crazy Reaganites running the Pentagon talk him into invading Iraq on the pretext that Saddam was reconstituting weapons of mass destruction. Bush avoided any conflict this fanciful notion had with the information-gathering being done done by his own intelligence services by simply declining to read any of their reports.

When a hurricane devastated a major American city, Bush spent the first few days blaming the city's problems on the mayor, then flew into town just long enough to give a reassuring speech about rebuilding. Eventually, of course, he let the federal reconstruction effort die on the vine. Bush reflected on that incident recently when asked if he made any mistakes during his Presidency - he lingered particularly over the question of whether perhaps an earlier and more forceful empty, punchless gesture of support by the most powerful man in the world would have made for better television.

The record shows that through it all Bush remained a hero in the eyes of the press, until six years into his rule things hit an unexpected bump. Democrats took control of both houses of Congress in a historic bloodbath for the governing party. The daily carnival that is American news does make its money off the fortunes of wimps and losers, and at this defeat the bloom finally began to fade and tumble from George W. Bush's rose. In the light of this dawn of renewed press skepticism of our Commander in Chief, some cracks were revealed in the foundation of Bushism. People in the US, it turned out, were not particularly impressed with the worst president of all time.

The record shows that from the ashes of Bush's legend arose an electoral landscape so toxic to Republicans that a wise old avuncular war hero with a triple-digit approval rating among TV pundits went on to lose the Presidency to a black man from Chicago named Barack Hussein Obama, and the election was such a blowout that Minnesota mistakenly elected a beloved comedian to the United States Senate for the simple reason that he was not a big fat Republican idiot.

It is this aspect of Bush's legacy that can produce in even his most ardent detractors at least some glint of appreciation and respect. George W. Bush's last jest as our King Fool is this one - having crudely blundered away a century of shrewd tactics and meticulous planning by the architects of the greatest Machiavellian conspiracy of all time, Bush now takes aim at the very plutocratic power structure that made it all possible in the first place. To put it plainly, Samuel P. Bush's war machine would be rolling through Asia by now had its stewards not given the keys to their late patriarch's idiot inbred great-grandson, whose useless head manifests no more sense than those lifeless grinning skulls within the family's whitewashed mausoleum.

Bush's guilt is indisputable, his culpability limitless. No punishment could exceed the horror of his crimes - even a deranged rant such as this one leaves so many of his misadventures on the cutting room floor. Torture, rampant spying on American citizens, crumbling national infrastructure; none make the cut. To even scratch the surface of Bush's many assaults on decency and goodness is to begin a book of many volumes, whose completion is in the dim and hazy future.

Yet if there is still, at long last, anything that remains high and fine about the American experiment, it is that while we ridicule our failed tinpot dictators into obscurity and humiliation, while we blacklist them from every respectable discussion and remember their toadying visages only in stock footage running over somber documentary montages about abuse of power, whlie we despise them unto death. . . we do not hang them.

Bush will live out his days. We, his subjects for eight years, owe him nothing more, but we owe him that. He was, as they say, the President. George W. Bush 's ancestors, thanks to him, will one day be forgotten. His children, no thanks to him, will one day be forgiven. But the man himself will rot in hell forever. What he did not kill he ruined, and what he did not ruin, he cheapened. He was the worst kind of hack and the vilest brainless monster any of us has ever seen.

He will not be missed.