Book Review: A Tragic Legacy

The Bush presidency has fundamentally transformed the way we speak about our country and its responsibilities, entitlements, and role in the world. In reviewing the pre-Iraq "debate" this country had both on television and in print, one of the most striking aspects in retrospect is the casual and even breezy tone with which America collectively discusses and thinks about war as a foreign policy option, standing inconspicuously next to all of the other options. There is really no strong resistance to it, little anguish over it, no sense that it is a supremely horrible and tragic course to undertake - and particularly to start. Gone almost completely from our mainstream political discourse is horror over war. The most hears is some cursory and transparently insincere - almost bored - lip service to it being a "last resort".

A Tragic Legacy, Glenn Greenwald p. 129

I'm working my way through Glenn Greenwald's excellent new book, A Tragic Legacy, on how Bush's good versus evil mentality destroyed his Presidency and fundamentally altered the political system of our country.  I'm not done yet, but I want to note a few things about his account as I'm going through it.  The first few chapters are largely devoted to the rise and fall of Bush's Presidential influence, as well as his relationship with the conservative movement that put him in office.  What's unique about Greenwald's book, and, I suppose, his blog, is how much credit he gives to conservatives, and how he offers so much good faith to their arguments and follows them as far as he can, until they collapse on themselves.  Peggy Noonan's embrace of Bush, and later repudiation, is a kind of delta of how weak and isolated Bush has become.  Greenwald takes people like Noonan seriously, and in doing so, allows them to prove his case all the more strongly.  I often wish I could pay attention to arguments from conservatives as faithfully as Glenn does, as it's really an art form to discredit them.

Reading about Bush's Presidency with some distance is a strange experience, since the events are so clearly etched in my memory.  And yet this book puts distance between the reader and Bush, almost as if he is out of office.  And with that distance, I'm beginning to appreciate just how destructive his Presidency has been, how thoroughly he has corrupted our system of laws and our political fiber.  When put together like Greenwald has done, it sort of feels like another country, only one whose history is very familiar.  Bush is accurately portrayed as a President whose sole motivating ideology is a sure-fire belief that whatever he does is good, and any opposition or disagreement - even by former allies - represents an evil that must be crushed.  The vicious behavior towards enemies is actually a need for enemies, a Manichean culture devouring itself.

I have some disagreements with Greenwald, in that I believe that the sadistic mindset of Bush was no different than that of Reagan, and that the conservative movement has never been moored to any consistent set of principles except a ferocious will to dominate the disempowered, even in 1960 or 1964.  But reasonable people can disagree, and the stunning legacy of Bush and his worldview of inerrancy is important to understand.  We have a lot of work to do, and what Bush did in eight years, and what the conservative movement did in forty, will take many lifetimes to reverse, if we can reverse it at all.  

Anyway, since I am an avid fan of Greenwald's blog, and I think it's a good idea to promote thinkers and writers who have emerged in spite of the establishment and through channels on the internets, I'm going to do a few separate reviews of 'A Tragic Legacy'.  The fight over Bush's Presidency is ongoing, with a possible war with Iran in the cards.  But even if we manage to prevent that war, the 'stabbed in the back' canard, which is extremely powerful, will be used to resurrect the conservative movement nearly instantaneously.  That's why when Bush leaves office, the fight over his legacy will be ongoing, until the movement that put him there is fully discredited.

Tags: A Tragic Legacy, Glenn Greenwald (all tags)

Comments

14 Comments

Re: Book Review: A Tragic Legacy

yep, I remember the first time my dad threw him under the bus. "he's as big of a wimp as his father," my dad said, denouncing the conservatism of the man he'd defended for years. how else to believe that conservatism is still viable than to come to the conclusion that Bush isn't one of them.

by Todd Beeton 2007-06-25 08:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Book Review: A Tragic Legacy

'Conservatism'....

Let's call it what it really is: A vile stew of racism, jingoism and xtian frenzy whipped into a large helping of American exceptionalism.

''Conservatives' need to be exposed for what they are....

Bad for our nation and our souls.

by Pericles 2007-06-25 08:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Book Review: A Tragic Legacy

I go back and forth on this one. I know a few conservatives who genuinely care about uplifting the poor. They volunteer their time at local charities or with their church, and some even raise money to go on mission trips and do good work in other countries.

The only problem is they read a Milton Friedman or a Charles Murray book and now totally reject  the idea of government programs aiding in social mobility. They think government programs breed dependency, and don't put a lot of faith in the good intentions and aspirations of others (or the more nuanced among them blame the government for destroying such ambition).

I think the way we succeed in destroying such a movement is to expose its failures and discredit it intellectually. We have to constantly question our own programs and beliefs to make sure we're doing the best thing. And let's face it--the conservatives haven't always been 100% wrong. Remember welfare to work? With the expansion of earned income tax credits, it ended up putting more money in people's pockets as well as getting them into the workforce. But there are still major problems: we need better access to early childhood education, better schools, better nutrition, better access to college, universal health care, etc.

We are in a place in the history of our nation where we have a chance to discredit conservativism much like we did with the New Deal and the Great Society. But the way to win isn't to whip out slurs at the people who disagree with us (it didn't work for the conservative hate-mongers like Rush, Anne, the GOP Congress, the Bush Administration, etc.). We have to demonstrate competency and build unity and consensus around our ideals, much like FDR did in the '30s and LBJ did in the '60s (before the Great Society was shot down over the battlefields of Vietnam).

by Max Fletcher 2007-06-25 10:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Book Review: A Tragic Legacy

I want to second your remarks.  It is pointless and ineffective to demonize conservatives (I admit it is kind of fun) and treat them like the enemy (well, most of them).  When people do this, they are acting like the worst of the right- and then where are you?  You have to take them on argument by argument and by making a better case, you win the day with the American public.  You will never destroy conservatism, but only marginalize it through by offering better ideas and selling them better to the public.  The disastrous Bush Administration has given us a rare, clear opportunity to shift the country back to Democratic principles.  

We the American public are responsible for Bush because we voted for him twice and we- the public and the press (Greenwald's focus)- are largely silent and apathetic by allowing their almost unparalleled arrogance.  People skilled enough like Greenwald are able to push back a bit.  IMO, Greenwald represents the best of progressive blogging and if he were to show an occasional sense of humor, he could eventually move on to a larger audience and more influence (Frank Rich's slot at the NYT?).

by mboehm 2007-06-25 11:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Book Review: A Tragic Legacy

I want to read the book but I think there is a big difference b/w Bush II and Reagan.  I fought Reagan's policies very hard both in college and as a young adult.  I worried that his hardline policies were going to result in nuclear destruction and I was appalled by the tax breaks for the wealthy.  However, I never felt Reagan was "undemocratic" like Bush II.  Maybe it was the brake of a Democratic House throughout his Presidency, but I always felt that Reagan and most of his team (Oliver North et al excluded) respected the democratic process.  Maybe I am niave but I don't ever remember the feelings of disgust and at times fear I have had in the past 6 yrs.

I was too young to remember much about Nixon but I feel that this has been my generations Nixonian era where every lever of power is used to defeat political enemies.  Discussions of imperial Presidents, domestic spying, etc.  It sounds and feels like something right out of 1972.

by John Mills 2007-06-25 08:40PM | 0 recs
Bush is the culmination of what started...

under Reagan.  Reagan just did it with a smile, but his policies were no less abhorrent.  Ed Meese was no less a sham of an attorney general than Gonzales.  If 9-11 had occurred under Reagan, it would be no different than under Bush.  Perhaps there would have been less incompetence.  But remember, besides the trickle down economics that was later acknowledged as a lie, resulting in borrow and spend policies, Reagan gave us Iran-Contra, a clear assault on the Constitution.  That shows how much Reagan held the law in esteem when it conflicted with his goals.  Luckily, there was enough of a Democratic check on him.  If he controlled the government like Bush has until now, 1984 would have not been just a novel by Orwell.  

by citizen53 2007-06-25 10:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush is the culmination of what started...

All true but I think Bush is more Nixonian than Reaganesque.  It may have been that Nixon was so close a memory the Reagan people didn't dare pull the political enemies crap Nixon did but I just don't remember the Reagan-Bush I era having this feel.  I hated what they were doing from a policy standpoint and fought it but I never felt, even during Iran Contra, that democracy was under assault.  I have felt that frequently in the last 6 yrs under Bush II.

by John Mills 2007-06-26 03:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush is the culmination of what started...

In terms of disrespect for the constitution, perhaps, but politically Bush is much more in line with Reagan's policies than with Nixon's.

by Englishlefty 2007-06-26 03:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush is the culmination of what started...

Agreed on policy.  Bush shows disrespect for the Constitution like Nixon and as much as hate Reagans and Bushes policies I find that the most troubling aspect of this Presidency.  

by John Mills 2007-06-26 03:44PM | 0 recs
Conservatives Have Principles

When it serves them.

And they say they have principles whenever you ask.

Or whenever you don't.

But principal is their principal interest and bond.

Don't ever sell them short on that.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-06-25 10:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Book Review: A Tragic Legacy

I don't believe any of the good vs. evil rhetoric spewing from the mouths of any of the republican cultists. This rhetoric is pure manipulation of the masses tools. Its been used by phony shaman, snakeoil salesmen, and power whores since the dawn of man.

bush is a mindless frat-boy. he does what he's told, likes no one, and believes in absolutely nothing except satisfying his own puerile bullying fancies.

cheney is a psychopath, ruthless power monger and broker. I believe sadism is the greatest driver in his psyche.

the family values republican cultists are greedy, manipulating whores, everyone of them.

not a one of the republican cultists believe in good or evil or know what either is. They are all ruthless, cold, soulless empty vessels of human beings looking only to get their way and to oppress those less fortunate and less ruthless than themselves.

indulging in analysis of bush, cheney, and the cult of republicanism using their words, taking them at face value (as if they ever mean what they say) as Greenwald does is extremely self-indulgent, misleading, and incorrect. And as bad as giving credence to their words is, it is wishful thinking for they are far colder, far more ruthless and destructive than most are imagining. In being soulless, there is in fact no limit on the suffering they could inflict on humanity.

by gak 2007-06-26 04:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Book Review: A Tragic Legacy


Perhaps, I will go out and buy Greenwald's book, but more than likely, he has went "easy" on Bush.  Now, if it were my particular interest to to "assess" Bush, and write accordingly, I would title my book:  "The Bush Bigotry Biz:  Personality and Propaganda".  And why?

Life comes down to character traits or lack of as metric tools, and using government to advocate, indirectly of course, vote fraud and voter disenfranchisement, speaks eloquently of and for him.  To disrespect your fellow citizens and to use the levers of power to achieve and reinforce one's history for having been a graduate of Lee Atwater's School for political fragging, proves, at least to me, that Bush and Cheney have intentionally elevated this art form to a political science.

So, one can take an assessment on an issue by issue basis, and see these character traits in political action.

But to use the "macro" view, for the past six and half years, Bush has yet to set a solid foot on any Rez in America.  Consequently, his schematic was to distance himself and his "bad" public policies from America's racial and ethnic populations, and where there has been any intersection, has been at the margins.  Thusly, he represents his constituency without ever having represented America. And the Native America view is that he has a "hole in his heart!"

But I am comforted by the fact that should there ever be a tax or surcharge visited on Conservatives for their Invasion of the Wrong Country, you can bet that you will not be able to find a Conservative or an "enabler" that will subject themselves willingly to this tax or surcharge for repaying the due bill that will be visited on our grandkids.

by Jaango 2007-06-26 06:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Book Review: A Tragic Legacy

The Bush/Cheney regime is only an epi-phenomenon.

It is the result of a phenomenon that is even more serious than the regime itself.

That phenomenon is the deliberate deformation of what was a flourishing democracy in America and its transformation into an unconstitutional authoritarian regime by political and economic elites over a 30 year period acting under the aegis of the Republican Party.

The Bush/Cheney regime's brand of international terrorism and torture, best expressed in their  illegal invasion of Iraq to get control of its oil, was made possible by the concerted efforts of these elites to deform the American political system and subvert the sovereignty of the American people.

They did this by:

1) Joining with anti-democratic Democrats to gerrymander the majority of electoral districts in the country to prevent insurgent candidates from running against the parties' favored sons

2) Flooding the political process with corporate campaign contributions and lobbyists to buy the votes of our elected representatives in both major political parties

3) Fabricating divisive cultural wars in order to capture an electoral base, which the Republican Party and their elite backers did not have 30 years ago, comprised of religious fundamentalists.

Most significantly, these elites used and continue to use their concocted culture wars (and post 9/11 scare tactics) to divert public attention from their primary agenda, that of enriching the giant corporations which are the driving forces behind them, especially the oil and defense industries.

The core challenge is not so much to get rid of the Bush/Cheney regime and the self-destructed Republican Party, but to restore popular sovereignty and a constitutional democracy to a country whose electoral and legislative processes are no longer controlled by the people.

With the federal government headed towards insolvency because of tax cuts for the rich and $700 billion being spent annually on defense, and with both the Republican and Democratic candidates for president in 2008 appearing to be in the pockets of corporate campaign contributors, it is going to be a long hard fight.

Given the deliberate deformation of the American political system over the past 30 years, it may very well be impossible in the foreseeable future for the American people to elect a government that truly represents their will.

by Nancy Bordier 2007-06-26 08:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Book Review: A Tragic Legacy

Yes, and the mainstream media has also turned from being a sometimes skeptical and challenging force to a completely fawning accomplice of these shenanigans. We need to take back the media too.

by RandomNonviolence 2007-06-26 09:33AM | 0 recs

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