I stayed up till 2 am last night to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama on live television. Two million cheering fans packed the Washington Mall and turned the quadrennial domestic ceremony into a global celebration. Reporters and pundits talked ad nauseam about the historic significance of the first African-American president. But this transformative moment in history defied narration and words. It speaks for itself.
As one administration ends and another begins, I can finish my obituary of George W. Bush’s failed presidency.
|A historic inauguation
Bush is not a terrible person per se. In fact, W seems to be an all-around nice guy. In the 2000 presidential election, the Republican machine sold the boyish Texan to the American public as the kind of Joe Six-Pack you wouldn’t mind sitting next to on a plane, in contrast with the professorial and sometimes awkward Al Gore. Weeks of cliff-hanging vote recounts and millions of hanging chads later, the average Joe stumbled into the Oval Office and began running the country like a dude. Overnight, a football-watching, beer-drinking, pretzel-choking Ugly American became the leader of the Free World.
W never belonged in Washington. It was like putting a bus driver in the cockpit of a 747. Our average Joe mangled his speeches, fumbled in front of world dignitaries, and froze when a national crisis broke. Ordinary people too would have stumbled under the same intense media scrutiny and daily bombardment of partisan politics. That’s why ordinary people don't become president. That’s why we leave it to extraordinary people like Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to pick up the mantle.
Unfortunately for W, national crises kept landing on his desk. Our average Joe naturally turned to his ex-president father and Washington old hand Dick Cheney for help. Unfortunately for W again, Bush Senior never got over his 1992 loss to Bill Clinton, and Cheney turned out to be the evil Sith Lord. With neither the experience nor the intellectual capacity to understand, let alone solve, complex policy questions, the president succumbed to the artful persuasion of unscrupulous advisers and dropped the ball on nearly every major issue.
Domestically, America has regressed on every front: social security, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and energy independence. The country's social insurance program is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Millions remain uninsured and find themselves one medical emergency away from losing their life savings to hospital bills. Grades are falling across the nation and inner-city schools are as lawless as Chicago in the 1930s. Bridges and highways are falling apart, sometimes literally. From coast to coast, citizens scramble to adjust their daily routine to gasoline prices that soared and plunged at the whims of OPEC and commodity speculators.
Internationally, America’s reputation has hit rock bottom. The military superpower and economic engine of the world has become a wounded behemoth, universally hated and diplomatically ostracized. Asleep at the switch, the Bush administration let the deadly sub-prime virus spread in his country and infect the world, leaving Iceland bankrupt and the rest of the European economies seriously weakened. Then there are the failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a double-trouble that turned America from a tolerable Big Brother to a schoolyard bully. The star-spangled banner has never been burned more frequently or desecrated more spitefully in the past eight years than in any other time in its history. It would make Betsy Ross roll over in her grave.
|Never quite fits in
W’s first term was a patchwork of monumental blunders and embarrassing gaffes. The world might have forgiven America for its collective lapse of judgment in 2000, but handing the lone ranger a second term was as unforgivable as it was unbelievable. You know what they say about being fooled twice. Shame on you, America!
Better late than never, however, citizens eventually came to their senses last November and told the Republican Party that enough is enough. Struggling to salvage his tattered legacy, W defended himself in his farewell speech last week. “You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made, but I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions," he said, sounding like a fifth-grader who flunked his math test but wanted credit for attempting the questions. Just the same, our average Joe must be relieved to be finally out of the White House and content with spending a quiet retirement at his Texas ranch, riding horses and brushing up on grammar and spelling.
America’s love affair with the average Joe is over, and it has been a costly lesson for the country. But if luck is on America’s side, President Barack Obama will spend his first term undoing all the damage his predecessor did and focus his second term on restoring the country's international image. Perhaps that was the one only good thing that W did for America: he created such a hunger for a liberal leader that it opened the door for an African-American president. If the liberals’ prayers are answered, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be elected the first woman president in 2016 and continue Obama’s work to nurse America back to health. But I shouldn't get ahead of myself. I should count my blessings.
So I did. On 20 January, the Obamas moved into the White House and renewed the American Dream. At the precise moment of 12:05 pm Eastern Standard Time when Obama took his oath as the 44th President of the United States, I finally exhaled.
|The world's most unpopular nation