February 26, 2014
Ross Douthat has written a piece for the Atlantic entitled “Redeeming Dubya,” in which he argues that “The idea that history might rehabilitate George W. Bush seems too ludicrous to be seriously entertained” is probably wrong. Like other presidents whose actions seemed beyond redemption, Bush II’s actions will find justifications in the future.
Given the rehabilitation of Richard Nixon I have little reason to doubt that Douthat is correct. But I don’t think Douthat understands why these phenomena occur.
It is not just a recalibration of the actions of presidents that lead to these rehabilitations. It is a requirement of our political system, of what we take to be conventional wisdom. If we were to really take stock of how most of our presidents have behaved, that is, if we were to be honest with ourselves that Nixon, for example, was not only “a crook” but was far worse, a pathological liar and probably a psychopath, we would have to begin to wonder about the worth of our allegedly “best in the world” democracy.
That is, we should not be shocked that the world is full of such psychopaths. This is to be expected. But we should wonder at the fact that our political order seems to draw these types into it, rewards them with power, even great power, and then rewards them further for how they use these powers. In brief, were we to be honest in our assessments of our presidents, we would have to begin to question what seems to us now unquestionable, viz., the worth of the political order that was created in 1787 and that has been adapted to its present form.
Douthat mentions, for example, Teddy Roosevelt and his actions with regard to the Philippines and the insurrection there after we defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War, actions which were described by Mark Twain at the time as inhuman in the extreme. But Douthat, like others, seems to think that these actions were aberrations, perhaps the product of Roosevelt’s idiosyncrasies, his elitism. But what if they were not aberrations. What if they were the product of a type of human being, an inhuman human being, who was drawn into our government and rewarded precisely because he was a inhuman human being? Now that is a horse of a different color, is it not?
So, yes, Shrub will in all likelihood be rehabilitated. And we will be enable to go on thinking that all’s well that ends well, that our political order is quite satisfactory, and that we Americans are just “fine and dandy.” Anything else would require thought and that is something we Americans prefer to avoid at present.