As President Bush slinks off to a much merited place in the dustbin of history, I thought I would take a moment to look back at my own attempt to chronicle the damage he did to us as individuals, a people, and a country. I began my scandals list almost two years ago as a protest against amnesia. I had the feeling that however much I could remember Bush doing, there was a lot more I had forgotten. A constantly changing and never ending parade of cronies, criminals, and incompetents danced before our eyes. They were there, spent their 15 minutes of notoriety and ignominy in the public spotlight, and then slipped away, immediately replaced by others. It all seemed designed to keep us stunned, confused, off balance, reacting to the newest outrage, as we forgot the others. It was the Shock Doctrine as media policy.
Yet I don’t think Bush and his Administration actually planned it this way. That’s because they never really planned much of what they did. Nor do I think they were concerned about any consequences that might stem from their actions. They always assumed that consequences would be borne by others, not them, and so of no importance. Instead I think this was just a serendipitous silver lining to the sheer magnitude of their failure. The Bush Administration screwed up so often and so massively that its disasters began to obscure each other and run together. You might remember Katrina and Brownie but what about Rita and Ike? Even if you were aware at the time of the politics, the cronyism, the broken promises, the poisoned trailers, the scattered population, would it remain clear to you a year or two on?
Perhaps some of us could do it in a few instances but I doubt any of us could do it for all of them, hence the list. It started out as short phrases to jog the memory and convey an idea of the enormity of what we faced. As time went on and the list kept growing, I decided this wasn’t enough. I wanted to show it wasn’t just about memory but also about evidence so I began adding details, names, dates, numbers, and links. (And in this I was aided and abetted by my co-conspirator in truth selise who made all these changes possible.) I tried to have each entry tell its own story. At first, I tried to suspend judgment but this proved impossible. On some items like torture, the facts speak for themselves and carry a judgment from which there is no escaping. In some sense, this is also what happened with the list. After a while, it wasn’t simply a recitation of facts and incidents, it too became a judgment.
To be blunt, the reason there was a need for the list at all was because the media and the Democratic party didn’t do their jobs. The media did not report, underreported, misreported or reported far too late to matter most of what went on in the last 8 years. They fed us narratives filled with talking points, not facts. Access and he said / she said reporting became the order of the day. Real journalism occurred by accident or was perpetrated by a lonely few. Meanwhile the Democrats refused to raise any opposition and found silence and complicity the better part of valor. So to create the list I had to do what all of us in the blogosphere have had to do. I had to pick among the media, unpack, unspin, and deconstruct their narratives. I went to primary sources. And I did this not alone but benefiting from the collective effort of us all.
And what I found horrified me.
Our government has been hollowed out. It is not just the Justice Department but all departments and agencies whose mission it was to help citizens that were filled with Bush appointees whose job it was to dismantle them. Interior became a playground for drilling, mining, and developers, Labor for Big Business, the EPA for polluters, Energy for oil and gas companies, the Pentagon for neocons, the SEC for Wall Street. Nor was it just the top echelons where this rot occurred but went down to the fourth and fifth tiers, to the Monica Goodlings and Kyle Sampsons. And it wasn’t here or there but across the board that this demolition of our government occurred.
Our government has been looted. It began with tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. It continued with the promotion of deregulation and the financial bubbles. It is finishing with us on the edge of depression. While the rest of the economy falls apart the government continues to announce one monster bailout of the financial industry after another.
Our Constitution and the rule of law have been trashed. The last 8 years saw the creation of a Presidential dictatorship: torture, indefinite detention, kidnapping, spying, kangaroo courts, signing statements, illegal wars, and for all these things there was no accountability, none.
What I hope the list conveys in its own imperfect way is that these were not isolated events committed by a few people. This was an undertaking that thousands in the Bush Administration worked on day in day out for 8 years. This was their job. They made a career out of doing in our government, and we were paying them to do it.
And yet, Americans did not take to the streets. Democrats did not oppose. The media cheered on. As I said, my list is a judgment on George Bush. He is the worst President in our history. My list is a testament to that fact. But it is also a judgment on us because we let it happen. Yes, some of us spoke out, but the question that haunts many of us, and certainly me, is could we have done more.