"I have seen the enemy and he is us"

>> Thursday, January 22, 2009

Over at Esquire, Tom Junod has a pretty brilliant and brutal essay, "What the Hell Just Happened? A Look Back at the Last Eight Years," which delivers what is likely to be among the best of the early post-mortems1 on the Bush years. Are the past eight years George Bush's fault... or ours?

Indeed, what defined the Bush presidency, what made it unique, was its isolating air of mutual disappointment. His second term began with the providential defeat of his effort to put Wall Street in charge of Social Security, and from then on any news story that referred to a "major victory" for the president, a major triumph, was not referring to an initiative he put forth on behalf of the American people. It was referring to an expansion of his personal power, or what became known as the "unitary power of the executive." This is what he fought for, unstintingly, and this is what he won. And yet if you want an image that captured the consequence of our executive being truly unitary, you could do no better than the speech he gave in September 2005, after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans and his presidency — the eerie speech he gave in front of an empty church, against the backdrop of an empty city. He was only one man, and although he expanded the presidency like no one since Franklin Roosevelt and the federal government like no one since Lyndon Johnson, he wound up history's most expansive absence.

It's the isolation of a president who defined his presidency in terms of his own power that makes the question of our relationship to him so difficult to answer, and so rarely asked. To what extent can the American people claim ownership of — or responsibility for — President George W. Bush? What terms and conditions of his service did we agree to? And if his presidency was both personally and historically transformative, were we, the people of the United States, also thereby transformed?

Jefferson famously wrote that he trembled when he reflected God was just.2 Maybe we didn't get the President we needed in 2000 and 2004, but the President we deserved? And if the new President lives up to his promise and potential, will we show we deserve him, or will we again prove otherwise?

Something to think about, and lose sleep over, I suppose.

Anyway, the Junod piece is powerful, provocative, and worth a read. Head on over and take a look at it.

1It won't be one of the definitive post-mortems; time will have to pass and perspective acquired. But for January, 2009, it's pretty damn good.

2Notes On The State Of Virginia (1782), 289.


Leanright,  Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 11:59:00 AM EST  

We can only look back to the past and live into the future. Perhaps those of you who did not appreciate anything in the past eight years, can rejoice in the fact that your man (our man) is now in the White House. Don't lose sleep.

Look Forward.

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