The Historical Significance and the Failure of George W. Bush

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Len Hart

It was Lincoln who summed up what it was that made the United States not an alliance of separate states but a single nation of “United” states. Our nation was, he said at Gettysburg, ‘conceived in liberty’, an abstract, philosophical idea that had been given practical meaning in the US Constitution. We were, Lincoln said, ‘dedicated’ to a ‘proposition’. ‘Proposition’ is a precise term found in philosophy and logic. Meaningful propositions are provable. They are ‘meaningful’ to the extent they are provable. Bush has no patience with any of that. He does not ‘do nuance’. Our founders did ‘nuance’ and within it is found the source of American liberty: the Constitution. “The Constitution,” Bush said, “is just a goddamned piece of paper!”

Thus –Americans are united not by ethnicity or other characteristics of ‘nationality’. Americans are united by abstract, philosophical principles. The US is existential if not existentialist. It is a product of deliberate and considered ‘choices’. Bush’s failed presidency is already measured by the degree to which his administration exploited our patriotism while subverting the very source of it –those abstract ideas referred to by Lincoln: our very conception in ‘liberty’, our ‘dedication’ to the principle that all men are created equal, the ‘nuance’ wherein is found our nationhood. The United States, though it is still a young nation, is already brought to the brink of its dissolution because one man, though he has derived power from the apparatus of state and nation, has failed to grasp the source of it. The political philosopher David Miller defined a nation is a group of people sharing a sense of common membership, believing that others, likewise, share the sense of membership and belonging. A nation, he wrote, is entitled to a territory; it is capable of acting as a ‘group’ the members of which share a common history, a ‘shared public culture’. It is absurd to presume the ‘defense’ of this ‘shared public culture’ if by doing so, it is destroyed. But –this is what Bush has done. It the measure of Bush’s failure that the destruction of that ‘shared public culture’ so succinctly summarized by Lincoln, articulated significantly by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and, later, by James Madison in the Constitution, have fallen victim –not to terrorists –but to Bush’s presumed defense of it. It was Bush –not terrorists –who dismantled our Constitution with the pronouncement that ‘The Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper’. It was Bush –not terrorists –who declared an end of habeas corpus, due process of law, the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizure, the rights of free speech, assembly and petition. It was Bush –not terrorists –who must surely ‘just hate freedom’. It was Bush –not terrorists –who robbed us what it was that made us a nation! It was Bush –not terrorists –who ‘just hates freedom’! David Miller also stressed the importance of ‘trust’. A history of the 20th Century is replete with stories of nations whose regimes were distrusted by citizens. The obvious examples are the communists regimes of the Soviet Union, China under Mao. The US government while never perfect seemed secure in a system of checks of balances. It was Bush –not terrorists –who deliberately upset the balance. A purely partisan 5-4 Bush v Gore was the harbinger of things to come. Bush v Gore, it is said correctly, made no law. It’s effect was to stop a recount that had it been completed would have elected another man to the Oval Office. The US government has been illegitimate since that date. No one can tell if the US will ever find its way back. The Presidential primaries were uninspiring. The previews of the upcoming Obama v McCain race give me little hope. No one is talking about the only issue that without it nothing else matters: the nature and legitimacy of the government in Washington.

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