Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bush's State of the Legacy Speech

Reading the State of the Union speech from last night, I couldn't help but think of that line from the Rich Little interview from last week,

"They don't want anyone knocking the president. He's really over the coals right now, and he's worried about his legacy."
I think that is the lens through which that speech needs to be considered, it's all about Bush's legacy.

For seven years, Bush had a rubber stamp congress allowing him to do everything he wanted, his way, no oversight. After 2001, all he had to say was "9/11, 9/11, 9/11, terrorists, terrorists, terrorists." and he was given a completely free hand to rule as a king. But now, with his approval in the 30s in some polls, (he's less popular now than Dick Cheney, and consider that genital herpes is more popular than Cheney). Now any agenda he brings to the table will be met with strong opposition and he has little of that political capital he thought he had two years ago. Since the SOTU address is really about presenting the executive's desired legislative agenda for the year, the bit of political theater we saw was posturing for posterity.

From "look at me, I'm making history by saying MADAME speaker," to "have you met my friend Serge? C'mon give him a chance, send him to Iraq with his buddies," to "2,4,6,8, ethanol is really great," what we got was an attempt to preemtively strike at those who would place this President in the anals of history.

There is no doubt that Bush knows that Iraq will form the backbone of his legacy and that ain't lookin' quite so good.
"Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure."
Like someone flipping a coin and losing -- alright 3 out of 5, no no, 5 out of 7,... ok, how a bout 13 out of 25... -- the President knows that it is an albatross on his legacy and is hoping that by bringing in more albatrosses, maybe they can all fly away together.

The nod to global warming was interesting. A major shift from previous claims, he said,
"America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment — and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change."
I refuse to go down as the last President to deny the existence of global warming. We may not do much, but for the sake of the legacy, we'll now admit it exists and make a bid for being seen as the start of the solution, not the end of the problem.

So the question after last night, then is, what will Bush's legacy be?

I think that the political state of the nation that Bush has created after these last several years is, in important ways, a much healthier one than he inherited from Bill Clinton. Part of Clinton's legacy was a short-term acceptance by people across the political spectrum that there was no real difference between the parties -- and to a large extent they were right. The distance between term II, Dick Morris triangulating Clinton and Bob Dole was not that significant. Bush and his people, on the other hand, worked very hard at being as divisive as possible, making sure that there became a massive chasm between the parties. Bush has re-established a two-party system in America. The ramifications of it were not what the architects of the plan had hoped. They were cackling about a Republican permanent majority just a few years ago as a result of the bifurcation of the country, now they are looking at Nancy Pelosi with a big ol' hammer.

But it goes one step farther. I think what Bush has left us is a much more politicized nation. You really don't hear the cynicism that you heard in 2000. There is a much more prevalent sense now that politics matters. The government isn't some big ship whose course can't be changed. It does matter who is the captain. Anecdotally, people close to me who were never much for politics are suddenly much more politically aware. People who were aware are now active. There does seem to have been a ratcheting up in participation.

Finally, and this is purely a hope with no evidence to back it up, perhaps it will be commonly accepted after W's departure from the world scene that "he's the guy I'd rather have a beer with" is an insufficient criterion for selecting the leader of the free world. Maybe next time, we'll all think "This is a difficult and important job. Hey, this time, let's go with the smart one."

Other thoughts on bush's legacy and how the world will be different after his term?