July will be remembered as the month America lost its 43rd president. We lost him not to disease, resignation or assassination, but to himself.
“The heart of darkness is the president,” a government official told the Washington Post. “Nobody knows what he thinks, even the people who work for him.”
There has been a shift in American opinion this summer. It is a move by liberals and conservatives alike away from the misery, rage, tragedy and disappointment of the Bush administration – from surprised or angry to completely dismissive.
Not only is Bush ineffective as a leader – his disapproval ratings are equal to Nixon’s and the opinion of the Iraq war is lowering constantly – he no longer speaks for us, represents our views or has our consent as his mandate to rule. All he has is an election three years ago, since which he has caused decades worth of damage to our nation, namely in the Middle East and on the Supreme Court.
Not only are his approval ratings low, his domestic agenda is incoherent or stalled in Congress. His foreign policy, even aside from Iraq, is impotent. On the world stage he has made neither the right choices – for either the environment or American industry – nor the right friends. His biggest diplomatic accomplishment since 2003, when Libya gave up its quest for nuclear weapons, was when Bush’s father lied to the press about the size of a fish Vladimir Putin caught two weekends ago on their retreat in Maine.
To repeat the charges against the Bush presidency or even count them again is superfluous.
But it was the commuted sentence on July 3 of Lewis Libby that showed us how he thinks – only of himself or not at all.
The decision to commute and not pardon was illogical. The reasons behind the commutation itself were even more so – he cited the unfairness of federal sentencing guidelines that he himself worked to make stricter. The decision showed a man in isolation who does not care how he will be remembered or even how he appears.
It doesn’t even matter whether one thinks Libby should be jailed – he was, after all, convicted of obstructing justice in an investigation that produced no charges of a specific crime – but it does matter that the president would deploy such a scandalous lack of decency and aptitude to get him out of jail as he did.
This was the turning point.
The single gesture did for this country what even Iraq could not: unveil the sheer lunacy and cowardice of our leader, who panders so diligently to an ever-diminishing conservative base that the country can no longer imagine Bush as our leader but as their crony.
The ferociousness of the 2008 presidential primary campaign is telling. Nobody wants to think about who is in charge any longer. We just want to know who can replace him. But this distraction will come at a price.
George Bush, though not much of a leader, is still in charge of something. He may not control the will of the people, but he retains the power over the apparatus of the federal government and the machinations of war. He can still appoint judges to the Supreme Court and can still stumble this country into irreconcilable differences with other countries.
This is why the distraction of the primaries is both disappointing and dangerous.
Sen. John McCain’s fact-finding missions to Iraq have mostly been ways for him to influence his campaign, but at least he is in Washington. The top Democratic candidates, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are delivering speeches in Iowa this week instead of being in Washington for the debate on funding the war in Iraq, which will become, essentially, a debate about when and how to end it.
They will be, of course, saying the same things in Iowa that they would on Capitol Hill, but we need all the responsible people we can get in Washington.
We have already lost our president.
Ry Rivard is a columnist for The Daily Athenaeum at West Virginia University.