The Post-CheneyBush "Restoration"
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
June 26, 2007
(Boston, June 26, 2034) -- Pulitizer Prize-winning historian Isadora
Tribe's much-awaited "The Restoration Years: America in the Post-Bush
Era" jumped to the top of the best-seller lists almost immediately. The
Harvard professor and I spoke in her Cambridge home about the
revelations in that volume.
BW: Why don't we start with the title of the book? Why "Restoration"?
Tribe: George Bush the Younger, as many may remember, was, in historical
terms, a kind of usurper of the crown. Not only was he installed into
power and "re-elected" by fraudulent means, but he was, how shall we
say, a bit over his head in the job. He knew nothing, he didn't want to
know anything, he ignored those who did know something. In short, he
surrounded himself mainly with incompetents and mean-spirited ideologues
like himself, and tried to keep all his administration's outrageous
behaviors totally secret from any meaningful oversight.
The reason why Bush was adjudged widely as "the worst president ever,"
even during his tenure, was a direct result of his years of unnecessary
wars and chaos, bungling on a monstrous scale, the mangling of the
Constitution, ideological extremism, and out-and-out corruption and
larceny. In other words, he and his cronies laid waste to the
institutions of our democratic republic.
When he was finally gone, nothing less than a thoroughgoing cleansing of
the foul-smelling stable was in order. That was "The Restoration" era,
years of undoing the great damage his administration has foisted on the
country. Restoring our country's commitment to Constitutional rule and
to sanity and realism in our foreign policy -- that was the Herculean
job of his successors.
THE GOOD, BAD & UGLY
BW: That sounds so harsh. Don't you have anything good to say about
the man and his administration?
Tribe: One shouldn't ignore the possibility that Bush sincerely believed
himself to be, or at least convinced himself that he was, operating for
the "good of the country." But even if one accepts that possibility,
rather than out-and-out moral corruption and hunger for power, Bush's
definitions of "good" and "country" flowed so narrowly out of such a
circumscribed class-stratum, education, and limited experiences, that
they bore little relevance to how almost everyone else interpreted those
So the short answer to your question is no. History and his own
contemporaries judged him to be so reckless and incompetent with the power
at his command that he brought the United States into severe disrepute
around the globe. He nearly wrecked the economy in the process, laying
humongous debts on succeeding generations. Even his own party's leaders
and members of Congress deserted him in his final years in office,
feeling he did great damage to the country's vital interests. History
has rendered its judgment: His administration was an ugly stain on our
country's garment of decency.
BW: I seem to recall that even in his worst times toward the end, he
still maintained the support of about one out of four citizens in
Tribe: Yes, there was a die-hard faction of the population, mainly
centered around religious fundamentalists, who stuck with him, since
they believed, as did he himself, that he had been anointed by God to
lead this country into righteous rule. But that means that 75% had lost
faith in him and just wanted him to depart the scene as quickly and
quietly as possible. They felt even more negatively about his Vice
President, Dick Cheney, who presided over a shadow government within the
In other words, the citizenry longed for a Restoration of the rule of
law and calm, orderly, competent, open government, operating not from
the extremes but from the middle outwards, sometimes more to the right,
sometimes more to the left.
ALWAYS RE-LEARNING FROM HISTORY
One would have thought that the country had learned its history lesson
from the lawless behavior of Richard Nixon three decades earlier, but it
would take the Bush catastrophe to convince Americans never to permit a
president to amass so much power and control.
Still, even with those Restoration laws in place, here we are 25 years
after a disgraced Bush left office and we still have to remind ourselves
that there always are demagogues who try to cut corners with the
Constitution and the rule of law, and who try to frighten the population
into wars of choice. The lesson is that the fight to preserve democracy
inside America has to be waged every day, every generation, lest the
forces of authoritarian self-righteousness once again rise to power.
And, since even the best-intentioned politicians find themselves abusing
the power they possess -- as Lord Acton said: "Power tends to corrupt
and absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- we must be alert to the
necessity of cleaning out our political parties at regular intervals.
When appropriate, we also must be open to the founding of new alliances
and parties, as happened in the final years of the Bush Administration
when liberals and progressives from the Democratic and Green Parties,
and traditional conservatives and business executives and military brass
from the Republican Party, united to set the Restoration in motion and
to return to the checks-and-balances system of government established by
our founders and which had worked so well for several hundred years.
PEEKING BEHIND POWER'S CURTAIN
BW: How do you explain why true conservatives and corporate leaders
and military officers deserted their leader in such great numbers?
Tribe: The historical record shows that there were practical reasons for
doing so: While a few huge companies reaped windfall profits from
CheneyBush policies, the overall economy really couldn't return to real
health with the debt-anchors dragging it down as a result of the
trillions of dollars spent on unnecessary wars of choice. The troops
were stretched so thin fighting all these wars of imperial aggression
against native guerrillas that the military leaders rebelled in order to
protect their troops and their services from more such adventuring
abroad. The pre-eminent position that America had enjoyed for so long on
the world stage began to deteriorate rapidly, with its negative impact
on our exports, the health of the dollar, our economic stability, our
lack of respect abroad, and the concomitant rise of other major
countries such as China and India and the South Asia/Russia Alliance in
But the Restoration also can be explained this way: The powers that be
in American society, those corporate and political forces that truly
control the economy and parties, have freedom to carry out their agendas
so powerfully because their goals and strategies are essentially hidden.
But Bush and Cheney and their cronies, with their bumbling policies and
their arrogant in-your-face tactics, tore away the veils and revealed
all too clearly the faces of those powers-that-be and what was really
going on: the corporate theft on a massive scale, the rapacious
imperialism abroad, the manipulation of the mass-media in hiding the
truth, the ignoring of the rule of law and the Constitution, etc.
Therefore, it was to the advantage of the elites to dump this
incompetent, reckless crew and replace them with the usual type of
smarter, more malleable leaders.
OPPOSING POLITICAL THUGGERY
BW: Can you help us understand why it took so long for that momentum
to build in the body politic?
Tribe: Part can be understood by the laws of inertia and entropy, part
to how skillfully the CheneyBush Administration and the corporate
mass-media that supported them bamboozled the public, part to how the
citizenry accepted this misinformation for a long, long time, out of
fear and confusion. But deeper than that, I think a key factor was that
the opposition was incapable of dealing with the kind of smashmouth
tactics practiced by Bush and Cheney and their politics-guru Karl Rove.
Throughout most of American political life, the various parties had
fought each other long and hard but generally with a certain respect for
the other side, and with a tendency to come together eventually
somewhere in the middle in order to get things done. But the Roveians
decided to play a different kind of politics, aimed at the utter
destruction and marginalization of their opponents in order to establish
permanent one-party rule from an extremist ideological position.
It was a kind of political thuggery that was more reminiscent of
Stalinist Russia and Hitler's Germany: the Constitution was mangled,
laws passed by the legislature were ignored, effective oversight of the
leader was non-existent, the advice of military specialists was
overridden, elections were manipulated, ideology ruled all.
Under the reign of Cheney and Bush, torture and secret prisons and "the
disappearing" of perceived opponents were commonplace. Bush was given
(or simply grabbed) near-dictatorial powers to rule as
"commander-in-chief" in a permanent "wartime" setting, free to violate
whatever laws were in force for everyone else. (This included ignoring
the 600-year-old legal tradition of habeas corpus -- appearing before a
judge to verify that arrests are legal.) In effect, the democratic
presidency had become the feudal monarchy, and for a country that had
established itself in opposition to a brutal king, this contradiction in
American political life could not last forever.
Most Americans, coming from a long tradition of more genteel political
battles, for the longest time didn't know how to confront this
mendacious, authoritarian juggernaut that was rolling across the
Constitution and distorting so many of the governmental institutions.
Though the progressive blogosphere had agitated against the CheneyBush
administration early on, it took a long while before the general public
caught on (aided by the constant revelations of new and more
reprehensible scandals) and the opposition built to critical mass. It
was those new alliances that created the critical mass of opposition
that led to the demise of not only the Bush Administration but the rapid
decline of the ideological fanaticism and faction behind it.
The important thing I want to emphasize is that the United States under
Bush and Cheney came mighty close to a totalitarian, fascist society.
Had the Democrats, buoyed by public outrage, not stood up to the Bush
Administration and confronted them time after time directly and with
courage, there might well not have been a Restoration period in American
history. Withdrawing funding for the Iraq War, and the initiation of
impeachment proceedings, appear to have been the precipitating factors
that fomented the essential momentum for the swift exit of Bush and
Cheney from the scene. Without those moves, American democracy might
well have been strangled, and even more destructive wars abroad might
have been initiated.
"HARD IMPERIALISM" DAYS ARE OVER
BW: Finally, Professor Tribe, could you sum up what your historical
research reveals for our own time?
Tribe: The forces of worldwide change were manifesting themselves before
Bush and Cheney, to be sure, but their Administration hastened the slide
of American power and dominance in the world by their lack of creativity
in dealing with these changes. They relied on the long-discredited and
ineffective "hard imperialism" that did little but reveal their
technological might's inherent weakness in dealing with the many
low-tech nationalist rebellions.
Thankfully, Restoration leaders toiled intelligently and mightily to
undo much of the great damage done abroad, and to right the ship of
state domestically as well, returning to the type of Constitutional rule
that shone as a beacon and model for many societies abroad. It took more
than a decade and a half to undo most of the damage done to our
political system, but most citizens would agree that it has been well
worth the difficult effort and has diluted the impact of worldwide
But even in our more enlightened times, there still are, there always
are, those forces frightened by major change and determined to try to
control society through more draconian, authoritarian measures. They
exist in all three major parties. We all must resist that
backward-looking movement with all our might, lest we return someday to
a situation as bad or even worse than what history has revealed about
the administration of Bush the Younger.
Copyright 2007, by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught
government & international relations at universities in California and
Washington, worked as a writer/editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for two
decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
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