The Guardian has a little supplement today in which various writers reflect on the main characters and themes of the Bush years. The novelist Richard Ford gets the big one, and claims to have learnt three things from the 43rd President. (He also earns his billing with a fantastic quote from Wallace Stevens: “We gulp down evil, choke at good.”)
We must not elect a stubborn man again. Stubbornness is the eighth deadly sin (or it ought to be), since it so easily disguises itself as firm, even admirable, resolve… Second, many Americans love to fantasise that it’s smart to elect a rich guy, since (the thinking goes) a rich guy won’t need to steal from us. But that’s just wrong. He just steals different things. … Third – and last – we have to quit electing these guys (and gals) who say they hate government, but then can’t wait to get into the government so they can “fix” it.
The highest indictment to be made against the Bush administration is that it used America’s greatest national tragedy as an excuse to accomplish a long-held neoconservative geopolitical aim. That was a venal lie, and Rummy was in the thick of it.
There’s a depressing list of his other crimes and foolishness, but space precludes mention of Rumsfeld’s role in creating the culture of torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and other unidentifed detention centre.
Condoleezza Rice comes across as someone whose “real ideology was succeeding.” (I hadn’t known before – maybe I wasn’t paying attention – that her father opposed the collective activism of Martin Luther King, believing in self-advancement through individual excellence.) But there’s a touch of sadness at the wasted talent:
For all her culpability, there’s an element of pathos to her story as well. Had she attached herself to a better person than Bush, her knowledge, drive and poise might have been put to good use. She might have bettered the world along with herself.
The most surprising thing in the piece about Cheney is that he’s been going on the radio telling people how nice he is (definitely a hard sell): ‘He told a radio interviewer: “I think all of that’s been pretty dramatically overdone. I’m actually a warm, lovable sort.”‘ More to the point though, he seems to have forgotten nothing and learned nothing from his days in the Nixon Administration:
When in late 2005 the Bush administration’s wiretapping programme was revealed, the vice-president pointed immediately back to that dark time: “Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area.”
Finally, and this is a genuine surprise, the supplement ends with one huge positive achievement; the substantial impact of the President’s PEPFAR programme against AIDS in Africa, apparently partly a legacy of Colin Powell’s time in the State Department (“a shining moment in George Bush’s rule, but he rarely talks about it’).
Dr Francois Venter, head of the HIV Clinicians Society in South Africa, is one of a number of Aids doctors who is almost disbelieving in his praise of Bush. He said: “I look at all the blood this man has on his hands in Iraq and I can’t quite believe myself but I would say it’s a bold experiment from the last people in the world I would expect to do it, and it is saving a lot of lives. You give these tablets to people and they resurrect themselves. To intervene on such a scale and make such a difference is huge.”
The picture is in the public domain.