Maybe time heals all wounds, but I never thought I’d see George W. Bush normalized in my lifetime. Back at the turn of the millennium, my liberal friends and I were up in arms that America had elected the worst president in its history. And why wouldn’t we be? Bush was staunchly anti-choice, appointed incredibly conservative justices, and, of course, used discredited information to drag this country into a war with Iraq. He’s responsible for the senseless loss of thousands of lives and millions of dollars. Not to mention all the due process and civil liberty concerns presented by the PATRIOT Act and Gitmo. Oh, and Katrina! Turns out doing nothing while your frat buddy over at FEMA fumbles around isn’t the best way to prevent close to 2,000 people from dying. But look around: despite all of this, Bush is clearly on the mend.
Now if you want to be wrong and painfully unfunny, you could take a page from Bill Maher’s sticky book and say that’s because Dems cried wolf about how bad Bush was. Last week, Nancy Pelosi pushed Ann Coulter out of her way to snuggle up beside Bill when she said she never thought she’d pray for the day George W. Bush was president again. Have you seen the “Miss me yet?” t-shirts with George’s grinning puss on them? Maybe not, but I bet you’ve noticed that last year’s photos of him sharing hugs with Michelle Obama have given way to today’s Ellen DeGeneres gigglefest. Bush appeared with Ellen to goof around and discuss his love of painting portraits of injured soldiers. What’s not to like? After all, no world leader who’s into painting could be a bad man, right?
Anyway, the talking point for children and those hostile to fully formed thoughts is that today’s Republicans are just so bad that Bush looks good by comparison. Much like Bush’s entire legacy, that argument is riddled with stupidity and lies. The truth is, with the exception of a few issues, the modern Democratic and Republican parties are so aligned that forgiving Bush is a way to pretend the currently hobbled and ineffectual Dems aren’t so bad after all. Instead of being a further rebuke of Trump, praising Bush is a way of conditioning the public to expect less in a post-Trump world. A return to the good old days when Dems and the GOP squabbled over juicy issues like prayer in school and abortion while finding common ground in their goal of ridding America of both the middle class and memories of a single day without war.
It’s hard to remember—especially for those who only became politically conscious in the last eight years—but there were lots of things we hated about Bush. Sure, he was a born-again, anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion Evangelical candidate, but that was not all that stirred the average liberal’s ire. After all, Bush liked to call himself a compassionate conservative, and was usually good about not appearing overtly hateful, falling much more into the “love the sinner, hate the sin” category. We assumed replacing Bush with a Democrat would fix that. To some extent it did, but 2008 was about more than those typical Dem/GOP talking points.
Back then we believed George W. Bush’s America was nothing short of an affront to democracy. Bush had misled a nation into a war of which we’re still feeling the ramifications. Was it for oil? Was it payback for Saddam Hussein disrespecting his daddy? These are all things you can discuss in a terrible conversation with Michael Moore, but that’s not the point. The point is thousands died, millions were spent, and we were no more safe because of it. And then there was Guantanamo Bay (“Gitmo”) a detention facility where the Bush administration argued due process didn’t apply because it wasn’t located within the United States. Waterboarding and torture weren’t off limits. The NSA and the executive office’s powers to spy on citizens were expanded through the PATRIOT Act.
Obama campaigned against all of that and all those issues helped propel his victory. But in none of those areas did Obama undo what Bush had done. Despite his promises, Obama did not close Gitmo. He also one-upped Bush when it came to waging war: America was at war every single day of his presidency. He wasn’t just cleaning up Iraqi messes either. With the backing of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama went looking for new wars, following the fantastic regime change example of Iraq by intervening in Libya.
And what about the PATRIOT Act and all our concerns that the war on terror killed American due process? Well, after claiming he found the constitutionality of certain provisions worrisome, Obama signed NDAA which allows terror suspects (potentially including journalists whose crime was interviewing Al-Qaeda) to be jailed indefinitely with no right to trial or hearing. And then there were those darn drone strikes.
On the domestic front, Barack Obama appears to have followed the recommendations of Citibank—one of his biggest campaign contributors—in selecting nearly his entire Cabinet before going on to bail out Wall Street and failing to seek jail time for any individuals inculcated in the economy-tanking lending practices and scandals. That sounds really bad, right? Like… Republican bad.
But maybe that’s the point. Republicans aren’t so bad after all. I mean, we still hate the mean, sexist, racist ones like Trump. Of course, they’re awful, but there are good ones too. Good ones like George W. Bush—sure, he had sexist, racist policies too but at least he wasn’t as mean about it. Besides, a cool guy like Barack Obama should have been enough to make America realize all the things we hated under Bush—things like pro-corporate-America polices, constant war, and the unbridled Orwellian powers of the executive office—weren’t so bad after all. If Obama did it too, maybe it was cool from the start! He sure showed us there was nothing to worry about. Or maybe Bush is resurging because he stopped publicly saying gays shouldn’t get married all the way back in 2008 after his Presidency ended. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still explaining marriage was just for heteros until 2013.
Once you pretend the Democratic party isn’t hopelessly mired in a centrism that perpetually loses local and national elections, I guess there are a lot of reasons George W. Bush isn’t so bad!
Donald Trump has to go and he will go. If nothing else, the American people vote for change in one way or another when they’re in pain. And we’re still in tremendous pain. The question is with what or who will we be replacing Trump? If the mainstream media and the Democratic party itself is prepping us to long for the days of George W. Bush, what do you think they’re preparing us for? Seems to me the only choice we’ll be given is another Republican or Democratic version of Dubya. And I’m sorry, Nancy Pelosi, but I’m not praying for that.
Gladstone is the author of the
Internet Apocalypse Trilogy
of novels on Thomas Dunne Books. He has written for publications including Cracked, Slate, and Thrillist.