Hey, when Oliver Stone makes a movie about you, W, it's a final sign you're history, either as tragedy or outrage. Cheer up, sometimes both.
It cuts coming from another Yalie, doesn't it, a drop-out at that. As a character study, I've often thought this president was the worst of two worlds: a sense of elite Eastern entitlement without the intellectual rigor and Texas bravado minus the bigheartedness.
His name is seldom spoken by presidential contenders John McCain or Barack Obama. The Republican national convention up north was canceled the night he was slated to speak because of some weather down south. Members of Congress run their campaigns away from him as fast they can. He's hardly let out of the Big House, unless it's a sheepish walk over to the Treasury in a desperate attempt to contain the financial crisis, his farewell gift to us. He dare not go to the public square.
It's a strange Washington sensation, as if he died while alive, well, fit and living in the White House. His name is George W. Bush and he's the president of the United States. But nobody knows him anymore. His public approval ratings are 24 percent which is, as a top advisor to President Clinton remarked, "Nixon territory." It's not even wise or well to speak ill of him, though. Bad luck or the wrath of goddesses will be visited upon you.
So it's not too early to write the Political Obituary of George W. Bush. Usually journalists save these to run in January and they read like elegiac eulogies. (Ask David Broder, master of the art.) But after a long war, a tough presidential campaign and the hard times of 2008 -- to be sure, there will be no golden glowing goodbyes to the king-like Bush who practically seized the land by primogeniture.
His eight-year reign has been nothing but trouble since a high cotton mark of Clintonian peace and prosperity. Obsessed with outdoing his Dad, the senior and moderate Bush, this president signaled his refusal to reach out to work with the better half of the electorate that voted for Al Gore. He appointed arch-conservative John Ashcroft to be the Attorney General -- who actually defied him years later and defended the constitution on his hospital bed. Good for you, John.
His stance toward the Kyoto global warming treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was a brusque: Forget about it. Our global leadership and respect among our allies started waning even before September 11th, when he spurned the world's sympathy and started fixing for war.
The 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and on the Pentagon were hardly his finest hour. As mountains of ashes and dust settled on white-hot mass graves, he referred to the doers as "folks" and flew for hours before landing in Nebraska. Then with Dick Cheney, the vice president as prince of darkness (a gentleman according to the Bard) the plan to invade Iraq was quickly formulated. A grieving, scared and numb nation had no idea what was in the works before it was too late. In his most cynical act, the president and his men invaded Iraq under false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction -- and just as wrong, used the unrelated terrorist attacks as a pretext. The press went along for the embedded ride.
But Bush loved that war, his Iraq war, not his father's sissy one. Dead or alive, he'd capture Saddam Hussein, even if he had to trample over an entire country's citizens, institutions and ancient treasures to do it. The United States has a lot of civilian blood on our hands, and we don't even know how much, thanks to him.
Katrina was the domestic twin of Iraq and a failed foreign policy. Tipping Air Force One's wings over a drowning city was exactly the kind of cavalier gesture Bush almost always gets away with -- not this time. Americans saw one of our most beautiful, beguiling cities go under with our own aghast eyes and a hapless administration that let it happen on their watch. Truly he was a man without a plan. The unforgettable late summer of 2005 connected dots between the war abroad and the disaster at home. Snapped into watchfulness, we had three more years to live through.
To count the days, some people bought watches ticking down until Jan. 20, 2009 at high noon. To fill in the picture, we learned of the gruesome interrogation techniques and detention conditions the government and military inflicted on suspected terrorists. The United States stands for some things, we like to teach our children, and torture isn't one of them.
This president didn't even do the grace notes or festivities right, except his favorite T-ball game event. He and Laura Bush hosted only about a dozen state dinners over the years, the Washington Post noted, fewer than any president and first lady in recent decades. He's not one to stay up late past his bedtime.
He is a far too simple man to be president of the United States, coupled with three traits that made for a real rough ride. He's stubborn to a fault, remarkably uncurious and churlish to those he sees as the Other. From the start, that was most of us. He never governed from the center and can't change a losing game, even now, as the free market and Wall Street crumbles all around. You can see how much he longs for the Crawford ranch to clear some brush. Or go shopping, what he told us to do seven autumns ago.
When I see an aggressive SUV driver with a flag sticker and a dog, an easy recipe for a Bush voter, I silently thank them for the wreckage we're clinging to now.
Rest easy, Bush will lose no sleep over the state of the nation. In fact, as he pointed out to Bob Woodward, another Yale man, he won't be around to read what history has to say about his place. True, but now he can always watch the Stone movie and get a preview.
Jamie Stiehm is a political journalist in Washington.