A Geeky Side of Bush's Legacy that Must Be Overcome

Part of the project of climbing out of the deep, deep pit George W. Bush tossed our nation into has a geeky quality. We need to learn to stop using computers to lie to ourselves.
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Part of the project of climbing out of the deep, deep pit George W. Bush tossed our nation into has a geeky quality. We need to learn to stop using computers to lie to ourselves.

You don't need me to point out the Bush years were poisoned by illusions. We loan-sharked ourselves, pretended New Orleans was dry, and invaded the wrong country.

But take a moment to notice how we all succumbed to the process of wasting the precious time we have on this Earth in order to enter stultifying lies into computers in order to make Bush's illusions seem real.

During the Bush years a great many Americans -- perhaps most -- and in every walk of life spent an astounding amount of time entering phony data into information systems in an attempt to enforce some illusion or another declared from above. Every era has its illusions, of course, but the Bush years brought an unprecedented level of tedium to the process of illusion coaching.

One thing that was weird about the Bush era was the ritualistic "make work" quality of the tedium everyone had to endure. For example, Chief Financial Officers reshaped companies to generate mountains of hard disks filled with Sarbanes-Oxley documentation, while at the same time buying up preposterous mortgage-backed securities, which resided within a monstrous underworld of hard disks containing undisclosed, esoteric contracts. In the old days, executives with sticky fingers would have just committed breezy malfeasance.

Similarly, military and political figures laid out an intensely detailed brief for the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (Fooled me, by the way... ) In the old days, someone would have just fabricated a provocation, as happened at the start of our presence in Viet Nam. I am not saying one wrong way of getting into a war is worse than another. But how did Bush get us all to buy in to his obsession with a phony-work ethic? Why all the tedium?

One possibility is that it's the closest approximation to a work ethic that W could imagine, given his privileged background. Another, more optimistic, theory is that at least putting effort into pretending to pay attention is a positive evolutionary step. Under that theory, faking evidence IS a little better than faking a provocation.

Americans were coached to fill out forms to get mortgages that would blow up in their faces a few years later. In the late Clinton years, by contrast, Americans were able to inflate the dot com bubble with the light touch of online day trading. The dot com bubble might have been ridiculous, but it wasn't tedious and time consuming to inflate. During the Bush years, we had to pretend to be working very hard to inflate our bubble.

The pattern repeated everywhere, at every level. Schoolteachers during the Bush years were forced to teach to the test to create the illusory documentation of "no child left behind." All the teachers I know feel they are doing a less authentic job, creating an illusion of education. Similarly, NASA scientists had little choice for a while but to create doomed research proposals as if they were part of an illusory mission to Mars. Doctors have been spending a preposterous portion of their time on paperwork wars with insurance companies. These companies attempt to get the doctors to enter data into the system that enforce the illusion that each patient only needs a predetermined level of care.

Our hard work to create illusions in the Bush years didn't amount to much. What a waste of time! In each case above, the reality would have been preferable to the illusion.

The Bush White House put far more effort into responding to the illusion generated by the tedious fake documentation (invading Iraq), than to a horrific, genuine provocation (9/11.) We chose the worse of two evils, when the lesser happened to be the truth. 9/11 was awful. (I was there, by the WTC.) But an attack from Iraq with weapons of mass destruction might have been worse. But it was never in the cards, as it happens.

The pattern repeats in each case: Making informed investments makes more money than buying toxic debt. Getting people into plausible mortgages generates more profits, taxes, and a wealthier populace than getting them into traps. Treating a patient when needed costs less than delaying treatment until there's an emergency.

Bush, and by extension, the nation he governed, did not live in denial, but in anti-denial. He preferred the worse case, because that means there would be more forms to make everyone fill out.

The Bush years have been like a ritual performed by a tribe that believes that whatever is the most tedious must be the most real.

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