As the Bushes clear out of the White House and the Obamas move in, itâ€™s easy to get caught up in the euphoria of a new era dawning. President Obama represents a new generation, a multiracial man in a multiracial society, and his election and inauguration have already energized the country.
The country and the world, meanwhile, are happy to be rid of Bush, Cheney and their cohorts. The general consensus is they leave office as one of the worst administrations in U.S. history.
Itâ€™s tempting â€” and frankly easier â€” to regard Bushâ€™s failures as resulting from incompetence and political zealotry. He won the presidency in 2000 via a 5-4 Supreme Court decision after losing the popular vote to Al Gore, and it was mostly downhill from there.
We knew Bush had been a good-for-nothing most of his adult life, failing at the various oil companies set up by his fatherâ€™s friends. His only business success resulted from a windfall he received after the Texas Rangers baseball teamâ€™s value soared thanks to a publically-funded stadium.
Bushâ€™s litany of failures over the past eight years will long be remembered: the attacks on 9/11, the aborted war in Afghanistan, the disastrous war in and reconstruction of Iraq, political takeover of the Justice Department, unauthorized eavesdropping on and surveillance of Americans, Hurricane Katrina, official approval of using torture against our enemies, the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and, while all of this happened, using anti-gay marriage initiatives across the country to pit citizens against citizens to win votes and elections.
Over the years we made fun of Bush and laughed at his mangled speech patterns, regarding him as a hapless fool. Some people thought he was being controlled by Cheney, that he was a puppet of darker forces he was too stupid to recognize.
As the transition occurred this week in Washington, D.C., an interesting movement has begun to raise talk of holding the Bush administration accountable for its egregious behavior. Some have talked of indicting Bush, Cheney and others for war crimes for their authorization of torture, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has discussed holding hearings on the Justice Departmentâ€™s politically-motivated hiring and firing practices.
Obama so far has said he wants to focus on the future, not the past, indicating he might be uncomfortable diverting any attention away from plans to boost the economy and to tackle other pressing problems. It would be a mistake not to investigate the Bushiesâ€™ wrongdoings.
In the midst of our 401k plans losing money, our houses losing value and our jobs in jeopardy, you and I are feeling like weâ€™re mere pawns in some huge game being played by untouchable giants. Wall Street firms screw up their investments and get bailed out, no questions asked. Bush administration officials screw up wars, hurricane relief and business oversight and walk away, no questions asked. Some are even awarded medals.
If you tortured someone or spied on your neighbors, would you be arrested? Of course. If you fired someone from a job because he didnâ€™t agree with your political agenda, would you be sued? Of course. If you forgot to pay six years of income taxes, as incoming Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner allegedly has done, would you be in trouble? Of course.
But not when it happens to certain people: the rich, the elected, the connected. If youâ€™re in that club, you get away with it. If youâ€™re in the general public, as you and I are, you pay for your mistakes.
If President Obama truly wants to bring about real change in America, as heâ€™s long promised, he needs to address the helplessness so many of us feel about our lives and the world around us. Applying the nationâ€™s laws to everyone â€” including CEOs, investment bankers and expresidents and vice presidents â€” would be a good start.
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