April 21, 2003

FOOL THEM ONCE...

The Most Dangerous President Ever: How and why George W. Bush undermines American security (Harold Meyerson, 5.1.03, The American Prospect)
[W]here, in the panoply of American presidents, do we situate Bush? He's not the first president to try to reconstruct the economic order. But the president who really attempted a general fix -- Franklin Roosevelt -- did so because the old order was plainly collapsing. No such situation exists today. Worse yet, what Bush is proposing is to erect a new economy by giving more power to the shakiest element -- the private-sector safety net -- of the old.

Just over a century ago, William McKinley set America on the course of acquiring a colonial empire, setting off a debate over America's proper role in the world every bit as impassioned as the one raging today. McKinley's path was a radical departure from past practice, but the United States was still a second-tier power. The shift did not destabilize the world. A half-century before that, James Polk plunged us into war with Mexico over considerable northern-state opposition (including, in the later phases of the war, that of Congressman Abraham Lincoln), but at that point, America was a third-tier power.

The three presidents who sought to build a multilateral framework for international affairs were Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Wilson's plan was killed in its crib when Congress refused to ratify our entry into the League of Nations. Roosevelt's and Truman's contributions -- setting up a structure of international law, bringing prosperity and freedom to Western Europe, cementing alliances with other democracies, containing and eventually defeating Soviet communism -- are the enduring triumphs of U.S. foreign policy. Bush seems bent on destroying Roosevelt's and Truman's handiwork, however, and substituting a far more grandiose version of Polk's and McKinley's, in what is distinctly
a postcolonial world. As with his assault on Roosevelt's New Deal order, he professes to replace an architecture that may be flawed but certainly isn't broken -- in this case, with an empire not likely to be backed up by the consent of the governed.

None of these presidents, great or awful, seems quite comparable to Bush the Younger. There is another, however, who comes to mind. He, too, had a relentlessly regional perspective, and a clear sense of estrangement from that part of America that did not support him. He was not much impressed with the claims of wage labor. His values were militaristic. He had dreams of building an empire at gunpoint. And he was willing to tear up the larger political order, which had worked reasonably well for about 60 years, to advance his factional cause. The American president -- though not of the United States -- whom George W. Bush most nearly resembles is the Confederacy's Jefferson Davis.

Yes, I know: Bush is no racist, and certainly no proponent of slavery. He is not grotesque; he is merely disgraceful. But, as with Davis, obtaining Bush's defeat is an urgent matter of national security -- and national honor.

Our thanks to Mr. Meyerson for clearing up last week's controversy over the assertion that he'd compared George W. Bush to Nathan Bedford Forrest because of Forrest's association with the KKK rather than his military prowess. One doubts even Harry will continue to argue that Mr. Meyerson's motives were innocent. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 21, 2003 5:39 PM
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