Book Review: A Tragic Legacy
by Matt Stoller, Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 08:00:36 PM EDT
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.