STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH
While President, Ronald Reagan did the following:
- Firmly established racism as the center of the modern Republican electoral strategy, confirming that the Nixon "Southern Strategy" of 1968 would be permanently ensconced there;
- Firmly established anti-choice as the Republican position of choice in the matter of belief as to when life begins;
- Introduced ahistoricity into American politics for good;
- Created the myth that tax-cuts can lead to prosperity and reduce federal deficits;
- Permanently ensconced, in the number one position in the GOP political playbook, the electoral strategy built upon the success of the "anti-tax" Proposition 13 in California in 1978;
- Established the modern Republican approach to federal spending: cutting it on everything they possibly can except the military, prisons, corporate farming, the extractive industries and favors for wealthy contributors, while reducing tax revenues to the greatest extent possible with tax cuts for the rich, leading to the creation of massive federal deficits that only got much worse under George W. Bush;
- Established mean-ness, every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, as an acceptable attribute;
- Established the precedent that (Republican) Presidents can break federal law and get away with it with the Iran/Contra scheme that directly violated a piece of federal legislation called the "Boland Amendment," which prohibited such actions;
- Canceled, to the extent he could, all federal government contracts for the development of energy sources alternative to fossil fuels;
- Showed that a not-very-smart, mildly educated, and generally ignorant man can become an acting President if he is a right-winger who can command big campaign contributions from corporate special interests, is telegenic, speaks well from cue cards, and has the right agents, managers, and promoters (sound familiar?); and
- Showed that a man with a serious mental illness can be maintained in the Presidency if he is a Republican and has the right agents, managers, and promoters.
Listening to the mainstream media, any prominent GOP and many prominent Democratic politicians, and any representative of the Propaganda Channel (Fox "News") like Sean "What Would Reagan Do?" Hannity, none of this appears. He is "The Great Communicator" (the cue cards are never mentioned), the "Morning in America Man" (whose fiscal, tax, and monetary policies have led directly to our present state of national decline), the man who told Gen. Sec. Gorbachev to "tear down that wall" (even though it was not his to tear down), and the winner of what will someday be called "The 75 Years War (1918-1993) Against the Soviet Union by Western Capitalism."
And so it is fascinating to watch the same process start for George W. Bush, on the occasion of the publication of his book, Decision Points. So far at least, the "un-friendliest" interview has been with NBC's Matt Lauer (which in fact wasn't all that unfriendly but did push Bush a bit here and there, as on the use of torture. To my knowledge, Lauer did neglect to mention that the use of torture violates international treaty obligations and thus is unconstitutional under Article VI.) The rest of the list of interviewers is dominated by the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity, the Heritage Foundation's "A Team." At least part of the latter interview took place in an SUV (nice symbolism there, huh?) with Bush driving and doing most of the talking as well. (Well at least he wasn't texting while driving.) You know, the message is, he's just "regular folks" (even though he attended both Yale and Harvard). Yes there is indeed the "aw shucks" thing.
In this context, it's fascinating to see the comment of Uwe-Karsten Heye, the spokesman for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the time of the invasion of Iraq: "We noticed that the intellectual reach of the president of the most important nation at the time was exceptionally low. For this reason, it was difficult to communicate with him. He had no idea what was happening in the world. He was so fixated on being a Texan. I think he knew every longhorn in Texas." But boy, that "fixated on being a Texan" thing sure got him votes.
The biggest mistake that Bush admitted to was that during the Katrina Disaster he just did a fly-over instead of landing at Baton Rouge (the state capitol). Of course it did happen that the then-governor was a Democrat and Bush didn't do working-with-Democrats too well. Remember "you're either with us or against us?" No? Well neither do much of the mainstream media even while they are telling President Obama, who has already given away the store, that he's just got to work better with the Republicans. As to the much larger Katrina-related question of what the federal response should have been and wasn't, Bush doesn't seem to waste too much time.
As for decision-making, consider the "WMD thing." Bush tells us that "everybody" thought there were WMDs in Iraq (The Progress Report, Nov. 9, 2010). And the talking heads just nod. No one mentions that the most experienced WMD inspector, the UN's Hans Blix, who had his boots on the ground and had said that he was fully satisfied with the level of cooperation being provided to him by Saddam Hussein, kept saying "no, none yet." He also said that if the CIA had any additional information they should please share it with him. Apparently that email got lost somewhere in the CIA's email in-box. As Richard Clarke, the National Security Council official responsible for al-Qaeda when Bush took office, told us, it was obvious at the very first meeting of the NSC under Bush that he had already decided upon attacking Iraq. He was just looking for an excuse. Not mentioned. And so on and so forth. We just don't hear about this stuff, at least not yet.
The image being presented is of a sunny, happy, regular fellow, who made no serious mistakes himself. Any mistakes that did occur were the fault of his staff, who repeatedly "blindsided" him.
At the end of his Presidency, Bush was the last popular holder of the office in the modern era. As is well-known, he got the U.S. into two very long wars, expanded the national debt by several orders of magnitude, plunged us into what seems to be a state of permanent deficit spending (with the military and interest payments being the two largest elements of the federal budget), created the legislative basis for the establishment of a dictatorship (the Patriot Act, still on the books), presided over the massive widening of the gap in both wealth and annual income between the ultra-rich (famously described at a fund-raising dinner by Bush himself as "my base"), and everyone else, decimated financial and environmental regulation leading to well-known outcomes, and so on and so forth.
Air-brushed out. Of course the air-brushers are helped by the fact that the man appears to take no responsibility for the perilous state of our great nation to which his policies have so monumentally contributed. He is either completely unaware or has conveniently forgotten that under his leadership virtually nothing went right for the United States.
Now why the air-brushing, so soon. After all, except for Reagan hagiographers like Peggy Noonan, it took a while for the present glowing image of the man to appear. I think that it comes down to three letters: "J.E.B." Apparently, "Jeb" Bush, generally acknowledged as the "smart one" of this generation of Bushes, was going to bide his time, and let time soften the Bush image created by GWB, until 2016 before making his run for the Presidency. That was also assuming of course, that Barack Obama would win a second term. First, that eventuality seems increasingly unlikely as Obama increasingly plays right into the GOP playbook for getting rid of him (staying on in Afghanistan to satisfy the generals and giving in on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy). Second, the GOP establishment has made it abundantly clear that there are two words that scare the living daylights out of them: Sarah Palin.
With the present field of potential candidates, she will win the GOP nomination for she can turn 'em out in the primaries. The problem is that she is already an odds-on favorite to lose, big, in the general election, even against Obama. But just consider her present opposition for the GOP nomination: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, the Christian Reconstructionist (and yes that would come out) Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and what have you. Not what you would call real exciting for the GOP/Tea-Party faithful who will show up in droves in the primaries. Palin and her troops would just blow them out of the water. Just look at what they did in the 2010 GOP Senate primaries in Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, and Delaware. But Jeb Bush? For the GOP, Right and Far-Right, the name is magic, Palin to the contrary notwithstanding. Karl Rove will be getting on board very quickly. If he could make GWB President, through the primaries in 2000 and then two general elections, just imagine what he can do with a Bush who, far-rightist though he is (remember Terry Schiavo), at least has some brains inside his skull.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for Truthout/BuzzFlash (http://www.truth-out.org/, http://www.buzzflash.com), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville Post (http://www.greanvillepost.