The Bush Legacy

Glenn writes: George W. Bush will leave the political stage forever on January 20, 2009. But the right-wing political movement which embraced and sustained him- and which cheered on the damage he has wrought on this country- is not going anywhere. They are, of course, actively seeking his replacement- someone who will be cosmetically different but who will be a loyal and unyielding adherent to the core, defining principles of the Manichean worldview that drove the Bush presidency. Indeed, they are seeking a replacement who will be even more zealously devoted to America's militaristic and imperial role in the world and the domestic liberty-infringing policies it ensures.

Understanding the legacy of the Bush presidency, then, is not merely a matter of historical interest. The challenge America confronts- attempting to contain and then reverse the damage to our country from the last six years- can be met only if we acknowledge what has happened and vigorously debate the questions which we must confront. First and foremost, that entails a candid debate about our increasingly militaristic role in the Middle East and generally in the world; how we are perceived and why we are perceived that way; and whether, as a result of the last six years under George Bush, we have truly been a force for Good in the world- questions that have been all but suppressed by our guardians of mainstream discourse, declared to be in violation of mandated orthodoxies, and overrun by claims of moralistic certainty.

The ultimate paradox of Manichean morality, of the Manichean warrior, is that the most amoral, even morally monstrous, behavior is justified in its name. Those who begin with the premise that they are acting on behalf of pure Good are incapable of recognizing limits of any kind. How can those who are waging a Battle in defense of Good against Evil possibly err? How could limits of any kind on triumph in that Battle be justified? And most of all, how could Warriors for Good possibly themselves ever engage in Evil acts?

The Bush legacy is defined by that paradox. And whatever else one might want to say about the President, there is no denying that his presidency has been extraordinarily consequential. For better or worse, the legacy of George W. Bush is the legacy of the United States. And the only meaningful political question, one that imbues every specific political debate, is whether we want to continue and extend that legacy, or fundamentally abandon it so that we can begin to reverse its consequences.


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