George W. Bush was probably the most extremist president in U.S. history. Mainstream America has always consisted of nearly equal numbers of liberals on the left, moderates in the middle, and conservatives on the right. These are only general groupings, and they each contain individuals who may differ among themselves from one issue to the next. Historically, we’ve moved in the direction the moderates have been persuaded to lean, to the left or to the right. However, Mr. Bush ruled by being “reactionary” on the far right and “radical” on the far left. Traditionally, except for terrorists, the few who support those two extremes have had no noticeable influence.
Conservatives favor meeting new challenges by using methods that have been successful before. On the other hand, Reactionaries favor ending previous changes and returning to “the good old days.” Since the election of Ronald Reagan, the few “haves and have mores” have sought a return to the “Gilded Age” of the 1880’s and 1890’s. That was a time in which the wealth was concentrated in the hands of “robber barons” like John D.Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and J.P. Morgan. Today’s reactionary-plutocrats, like the Koch Brothers, want to return to those days when they were free to exploit labor and natural resources with government support but without government restrictions.
To undo many of America’s greatest achievements, the reactionary Bush-Cheney administration attempted, with varying degrees of success, (1) to privatize our national parks, monuments, and forests and replace their mission of preservation with one of industrial development and Disneyland-type recreation – the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is still being targeted; (2) to prevent the enforcement of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act by placing industry activists in administrative positions; (3) to privatize the Social Security System so it will gradually die; (4) to circumvent the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prevent “undesirables” (minorities who tend to vote Democratic) from voting – several federal prosecutors were fired by Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department apparently because those prosecutors refused to pursue cases of questionable voter fraud; and (5) to permanently replace the progressive income tax, in which the rate of taxation is based on the ability to pay, with huge tax cuts for those with the highest incomes.
Liberals favor using methods that may not have been tried before to solve problems that old solutions aren’t resolving. As with FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression of the thirties, try something – if it works, keep it; if it doesn’t work, fix it or throw it out and try something else. In contrast, on the far left are the Radicals, who want to replace the present system with something totally new. This is where the Bush-Cheney cabal seriously threatened our constitutional system.
To confuse matters even more, these far leftist radicals operate under an ideology called Neo-conservatism. Thanks to Osama bin Laden’s attack on 9/11 and a six-year Republican majority in Congress, the Bush-Cheney bunch was able to use the public’s fear of terrorists to get away with much of its agenda. When Republicans controlled both houses of Congress during the Nixon-McCarthy Era of the late forties and early fifties, we saw the U.S. attempt to defend itself by using the methods of the enemy. Then, our liberties at home were endangered under the guise of fighting communism. Again with Republican control of both houses of Congress, Bush and Cheney threatened America’s moral high ground with their questionable methods of dealing with the “war on terrorism.”
To fight this new perpetual “war,” Mr. Bush endorsed turning to what Vice President Cheney called our “dark side.” They sanctioned eavesdropping on American citizens without court approval. They even abridged our First Amendment right to peaceably protest – citizens carrying placards, wearing buttons, or wearing tee-shirts critical of the Administration’s policies were not allowed to be in the President’s view during his public appearances, and anyone who violated this policy was subject to arrest.
Bush-Cheney’s “dark side” policies contradicted principles the United States has always stood for. They restricted the practice of habeas corpus – which protects an individual from being arrested and held indefinitely without any charges being brought against him. They rejected the Geneva Convention and approved the use of torture – embarrassing us at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. They utilized “extraordinary rendition” – the kidnapping of American citizens and sending them to prisons in countries like Egypt known to practice torture. They also established secret prisons in eastern Europe.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the President’s special committee debated whether to blockade the island to prevent it from receiving weapon shipments from Russia or to use an air strike to knock out the Soviet missile sites. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy argued against an air strike. If his brother, President John F. Kennedy, bombed the island, then civilians could be killed – homes, hospitals, schools, utilities and transportation infrastructure could be destroyed. He wanted to know what his brother would answer when the rest of the world asked why a superpower like the U.S. did not try a more peaceable solution before it attacked a Soviet puppet state like Cuba. It was Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon who turned the tide against war. He admitted that he had never before even considered the moral argument against the air strike, but he conceded that Bobby was right. Dillon agreed, “We have to remember who we are.”
This is where the radical and diabolical Bush-Cheney regime failed us even more than in its overall incompetence and in its other backward, reactionary policies. Breaking American traditions, it seized power with the intention of imposing its own neo-conservative agenda on the American people. It wanted to expand the President’s powers to make the executive branch independent of any constitutional checks and balances. It wanted to use the American military to impose an American empire wherever it wanted. As soon as the Bush-Cheney gang took office, it sought an excuse to attack Saddam Hussein. It forgot “who we are”! In its most egregious act of all, it diverted our attention away from bin Laden in Afghanistan and Pakistan, used evidence it knew to be false or highly suspect, and unnecessarily sent our soldiers into harm’s way in Iraq.
When the Democrats regained control of Congress in the Elections of 2006, at the very least, they should have officially censured Bush and Cheney for their radical and unconstitutional conduct. Since they didn’t, the rise of the Nixonians to the presidency can continue. We may get another extremist who will have no fear of being held accountable and will again take us where we never should go. All future Presidents need to understand what Lyndon Johnson pointed out in his 1965 State of the Union Address: “A President does not shape a new and personal vision of America. He collects it from the scattered hopes of the American past.”
by David Offutt
This is a slightly revised version of an essay that was published October 3, 2007, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.