The Bush Legacy, or the Modern American Standard?

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Libertarian-leaning Reason.com recently outlined the George W. Bush legacy for future generations. Contributor Jonathan Rauch writes, originally for The Atlantic, that we have suffered over five years of amazing and unrelenting foolishness in national and international policy, and that this administration will leave four serious "headaches" for the United States of America. Two more years, possibly as dreadful as the last six, still remain.

Simply put, these four headaches are moral and financial destitution, accompanied by a dearth of security and good-will for Americans wherever they may be found.

In an age of Congressional and particularly Republican malfeasance and corruption, a majority of Americans of all parties wait for a cooling November breeze to freshen the air in Washington, D.C. That this breeze will come is almost a given.

But a change in Washington political associations will do little to correct our course.

Here’s why. Bush policies at home have led to the maturation and general acceptance of the idea of the unitary executive. The trend began before the Civil War, was accelerated under Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts, and every Cold War President, and has come to full bloom in George the Younger. This extreme increase in the fundamental power of the American presidency brings to mind the big-man syndrome of newly independent post-colonial nations in the 1960s and 1970s.

Perhaps instead of knee-jerk comparisons to Hitler, critics of the current U.S. administration should think of George W. Bush as they watch Forrest Whitaker acting in the new movie, The Last King of Scotland. Or when they recall Lord Acton’s famous observation on absolute power.

Americans do not think about their government or their leaders in historical terms. Without this historical perspective, we do not recognize the imminent end to our once proud history of individual liberty. We may blame the last president, or the one to come, but the already widespread American acceptance of a "legal" and "appropriate" unitary executive has put several heavy nails into the coffin of the Republic.

Rauch points out that the fiscal mess created by the current administration is going to be a tough nut to crack. We have a large and robust economy, we are told, even as we recognize that our most financially overextended government is populated by possibly the most indebted households in the world. Aging households, as noted by Fed Chief Bernanke last week, in a country with an economic growth pattern that is overwhelmingly dedicated to the ongoing health care of that aging population. With the other area of job growth being governmental, under massive federal and state programs related to "homeland" security and military manufacturing, one might perceive something more problematic than one or two, or even three, presidencies.

Two legs of the American disaster are already defined — a peculiar type of bigmanism in Washington, and pervasive — and strangely popular — policies that have encouraged mass pauperism at home and in our occupied territories, and nationalization and militarization of economies we control.

The third leg is the most problematic, even as, to paraphrase an old J-Lo song, it "don’t cost a thing." The founders recognized that freedom from oppressive and militaristic governments would only be sustained where citizens were well-behaved and self-disciplined. They favored private religious establishments and communities to cultivate and develop the necessary citizen of a Republic — a non-aggressive, temperate, rule-based, and law-biding individual.

Whether we examine the personal and political behavior of past and present Presidents, or that of past and present Congressmen, or that of Americans at home and abroad, we see the pervasive absence of self-control, and a predictable contempt for accepted rules of moral behavior. Former Congressmen Mark Foley’s homosexual pedophilia is just a ripple in the tide of public figure indulging their baser desires while feeding at the public trough.

George W. Bush wishes to torture, and so he proceeds apace with Congressional consent, and with pre-loaded pardons for himself and his staff for war crimes. Congress seemed more than pleased to present the big man with retroactive immunity for criminal charges of Geneva Conventions violations. Our soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen, many without a sturdy moral or intellectual upbringing, creatively rationalize and conform to degradation on a battlefield. A battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq, and maybe even Iran, where, if they know only one thing, they know that these particular fights in the Middle East truly do not matter to the average American, and are ultimately irrelevant or even detrimental to American well-being. This understanding will lead to destroyed lives and slow suicides for decades after these young men and women return home.

In terms of military officers, former Army Times contributor Fred Reed accurately if painfully observes that the American officer corps has for some time been "armed Moonies," unable to act on moral or factual evidence, unwilling to save either their men or their country.

The third broken leg on the American experiment is our fundamental moral ambiguity — a country where a publicly "saved" and evangelical President proceeds to proudly violate domestic law, ignore the Constitution whenever it is inconvenient, and launch wars of destruction on non-Christians and Christians alike, in the name of "what is right."

A tragedy occurred not long ago in an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Five young girls were murdered in their one room schoolhouse by a disturbed man. The Amish reaction — a primitive Christian reaction — has been one of extreme sadness, and also one of forgiveness. That there is no violent response, no demand for blood and vengeance, surprises no one more than the average American.

And this is the modern American standard — financial, Constitutional and moral bankruptcy. George W. Bush may be our Neroite standard-bearer, but we can’t completely blame him or his presidency for what we ourselves have embraced, welcomed and promoted.

America won’t change in November, even as Congress begins to awaken from its slumber. America will gain her honor and her liberty only when Americans themselves recover their original distrust for oppressive government, their practice of thrift, and their basic good neighborliness.

Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. Archives of her American Forum radio program can be accessed here and here. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here. This article originally appeared on MilitaryWeek.com.

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