Give the devil his due—July 14, 2006
I've written two positive columns about President George W. Bush during the past five-and-a-half years. One extolled his running prowess. The other praised him for aiming for Mars as long as we're spending billions on space travel anyway. Mostly I've belonged to the growing chorus of Americans outraged by Bush's unprecedented mix of cronyism, cynicism, arrogance, dishonesty, lack of curiosity and general incompetence. I still think he should be impeached for any number of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Yet, something's changed, and fairness demands that chronic critics acknowledge it.
Sometime between Vice-president Dick Cheney shooting the old guy in the face and the indictment of Scooter Libby for obstructing justice in the Valerie Plame case, I believe somebody or something got to Bush. He's mending his ways, or at least appears to. Consider....
* On June 15, he announced he was setting aside millions of acres of ocean, coral reefs and islands near Hawaii as a national monument, virtually guaranteeing the survival of thousands of species for decades to come. Never mind that he seemed clueless about what he'd just done: “The oceans… provide food and recreation,” he said, somewhat off-point. This would've been a great setting for acknowledging global warming as a serious problem.
* On June 25, he did just that. "I have said consistently that global warming is a serious problem. There's a debate over whether it's manmade or naturally caused," Bush told reporters. He added that it's time to move beyond that debate and find real solutions. The truth is that Bush has suppressed frank and open discussion of climate change ever since he's been president, and he's fought against nearly every sane move proposed to deal with the issue. Still, with fires setting new records out west even as I write this, and glaciers in retreat everywhere, it's reassuring to hear an oil-based president admit the obvious.
* He previously did it in his latest State of the Union Address, in which he borrowed a line from the old novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., stating, “America is addicted to oil.” And while he's done next to nothing to address this addiction—aside from making regrettable treaties promoting nuclear fuel and technology—any former addict will tell you that admitting the problem is half the battle.
* After the gunslinger approach used in Afghanistan and Iraq it's been startling to hear Bush promote patience and peaceful solutions to challenges posed by Iran and North Korea--original members of the “Axis of Evil.” On July 6 Bush said, speaking of North Korea, “We want to solve this problem diplomatically, and the best way to solve this problem diplomatically is for all of us to be working in concert.” Diplomacy takes time, he added. Sometime in April Bush backed away from secretly pushing for the use of nuclear weapons in Iran in the event of U.S. air strikes to take out that country's nuclear facilities, according to Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker. Could it be that Bush is actually giving peace a chance?
* Months ago Bush ceased ignoring our bleeding border with Mexico.
* Just this week, the Department of Defense issued a statement that from now on we will abide by the Geneva Accords when it comes to dealing with prisoners at Guantanimo. Whether this means Medieval practices such as water-boarding, attack dogs and sexual humiliation will be relegated to the trash heap of American history is another question, but one may hope.
* And just yesterday, as this is written, the Army announced it's firing Halliburton as a major contractor for providing food and other goods and services to our soldiers. Instead, that $15 billion contract will go to several other companies. Does this mean war-profiteering is at an end? Hardly, but the system's biggest abuser has been taken down a notch.
Surveying the above list, one wonders what brought about such changes. Maybe somebody showed Bush the issue of Rolling Stone magazine nominating him for Worst President Ever.
Maybe Bar or Herbert Walker Bush administered tough love out behind the old plank shed. Could be Laura indulged in some frank and earnest pillow talk.
Getting Karl Rove out of the White House might've made a difference. Possibly the new White House chief of staff clipped the strings of sometime puppet-master, Dick Cheney. Maybe the approach of Bush's 60th birthday made him more aware of legacy.
Whatever wrought the changes has provided welcome relief. It's true that most days still bring outrages, and that it will take years for this world to recover from damage inflicted by the Bush administration. Still, it's as if a surgeon looked over a long untended patient and said, “Let's remove the most obvious tumors first.”
I don't know about you, but I feel better already.