Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bush: "Worst in History"

Much was made this weekend over Jimmy Carter's remark that the Bush presidency was the "worst in history." For decades there's been a tacit understanding in the rarefied world of ex-presidents that one doesn't openly criticize one's Oval Office successors. Indeed, to watch the clips of Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton jetting around the globe in the last two years, one might conclude that the two had long been the best of friends and members of the same party. Sure, Bush and Clinton were opponents in the '92 election and were sharply critical of each other over various policy decisions. Given their polar opposite ideological and social foundations, that's not surprising. Nevertheless, in retirement they've become quite chummy, recognizing the bonding nature of membership in that elite fraternity of U.S. presidents. (A few commentators have humorously suggested that Clinton is the son Bush wishes he had.) Moreover, the meetings of former presidents over the years have taken on an obvious poignancy because so many of those gatherings have taken place at funerals for their peers, as demonstrated at the service for Gerald R. Ford only months ago.

Jimmy Carter, however, has never quite assumed quietly the mantle of "ex-president" in its most traditional sense. Where other presidents have retired to a life of crafting memoirs and tending libraries under perpetual Secret Service protection, Carter emerged from his 1980 defeat against Ronald Reagan committed to making a difference following his departure from Washington.

Historians will likely judge Carter's administration rather benignly, underscoring the perceived "malaise" (one of Carter's favorite terms) that punctuated American society in an age of inflation, high interest rates, and declining national confidence. Moreover, the hostage crisis in Iran will be used again and again by Carter's critics to bolster charges of ineptitude and weakness. Yet Carter will also garner considerable credit for restoring public confidence in the Presidency in the aftermath of Watergate. (Watergate seems rather insignificant now, as we begin to expose the diseased heart of the current Bush administration.) We also can't forget the role Carter played in brokering a deal between Egypt and Israel, as embodied in the Camp David Accords.

In the end, however, history will be kindest to Carter as the ex-president. He has worked tirelessly in the last 25 years on myriad causes, particularly in the creation of affordable housing for low-income Americans through Habitat for Humanity. Jerry Falwell and other right wing Christians assailed Carter in the 1980 campaign, preferring instead the pseudo-religiosity of Reagan. Carter has, by contrast, lived the Christian life in word and deed ever since. (The fact that the "Christian Right" adopted Reagan as its torchbearer in the 80s only highlights the extent to which the Reagan camp successfully duped the Religious Right with an acting job worthy of a special Oscar.)

The current Bush administration has responded to recent remarks with a claim of Carter's increasing "irrelevance." Yet Jimmy Carter has actively demonstrated an integrity to which Bush and his cronies can only aspire. One suspects that their greed and penchant for personal gain at the expense of the public good, will negate attempts to mirror Carter's legacy.

If anyone has a right to criticize openly the choices made by a sitting Chief Executive, surely it's those individuals who have already spent time in the Oval Office, pacing the floor over the difficult decisions that must be made in the exercise of one's Constitutional authority. Unfortunately, George W. Bush doesn't appear to have given much thought to the consequences or constitutionality of his actions. One suspects that his life after leaving office in January 2009 will be spent answering the charges of mismanagement and recklessness that will bedevil his legacy into the next century. We can only hope that by the year 2100, this "worst in history" administration will have been consigned to the dustbin of presidential memory, therein to reside with the legacies of our other inept and ineffectual chief executives.

1 comment:

One Wink at a Time said...

You know me and politics. You're making my head spin. I'm sure this is a well-written and fact-filled piece... ;-)