If asked to name the central hallmark of the Bush presidency, as it enters its eighth and—God grant us—final year, I'd say without hesitation, one word.
More than stupidity, more than arrogance, more than profiteering, the Bush tenure has been marked by cruelty. This is not a charge I make lightly. What else explains the unrelenting thumbs in the eyes of peace advocates, environmentalists, diplomats, human rights organizations, not to mention all the polar bears, whales, dolphins and, yes, human beings Bush has effectively wounded and sometimes executed without just cause.
Nearly everything Bush has done as a president smells either of explicit cruelty or an inability to feel the sufferings of others.
And so it was again, Tuesday, Jan. 15, when Bush announced that he was granting waivers to allow the Navy to ignore court orders and continue using sonar in densely populated ocean canyons and other migration paths of whales, dolphins and other creatures off the coast of Southern California. In doing so, Bush superceded court orders designed to protect whales and dolphins from bleeding ears, brain damage, migration disruption and other bad effects of so much sonar.
The reason? Why “national security” of course, what else? You see, the Navy is busy fine-tuning its anti-submarine warfare techniques in order to… what? Just whose submarines are posing an immediate threat?
In fairness, there's just no telling, considering how many weapons we're selling around the world. As Maureen Dowd wrote last week, “Blessed is the peacemaker who comes bearing a $30 billion package of military aid for Israel and a $20 billion package of Humvees and guided bombs for the Arabs,” referring to Bush's tour of the Middle East, ostensibly in search of peace, dontcha know?
Most news coming out of the trip, however, involved Bush beating the drums for some kind of stern action against Iran. In doing so he poked his thumb in the eyes of his own spy agencies, which announced late last year that Iran was nowhere near developing nukes. But then Bush has never been one to let reality get in the way of his need to maximize profits for cronies and maximize pain for enemies.
Whether it meant covering up the truth about global warming, the effects of mountaintop removal on our springs and rivers and their teeming wildlife, old-growth forests in the Northwest or the plight of women in Iraq.
In looking back at his strange and illustrious career, evidence is everywhere that Bush is motivated by a cruel streak.
As a child, he used to stuff firecrackers in the mouths of frogs, light them, and then toss them into the air to watch them explode, according to childhood witnesses quoted in an article by Nicholas Kristof in the May 21, 2000, edition of the New York Times.
Such evidence, buried deep in puff-piece stories, should have been warnings to us all. You don't put animal abusers in top positions of power. Many an expert on human behavior will tell you that animal torture is indicative of deep mental disturbances that can surface as public or private dramas years later. Others address such issues more simply.
“Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable,” Tennessee Williams wrote.
Evidence suggests the people in charge of our country and our world are either guilty of deliberate cruelty or else they're just incapable of empathy. How else do you explain the network of secret prisons complete with water boards, ceiling restraints, whipping wires, attack dogs, electrodes, and worse? How else do you explain efforts to legitimize such instruments during the past seven years, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they're counter-productive?
Research it yourself. Look up Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The lies we forced that mentally deranged man to tell during “aggressive interrogation” became a centerpiece in our case for the bombing, invasion and occupation of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of corpses later, Congress shamelessly rubberstamped such techniques.
Cruetly? Lack of empathy?
How else do you explain photographs of Condoleezza Rice laughing and joking with the leader of Israel even as his American-made missiles were reducing much of Lebanon to rubble a couple of years back?
During Bush's short tenure as governor of Texas he oversaw the execution of 131 inmates, more than any other governor since capital punishment was made legal again in 1978. According to the June 11, 2000, Chicago Tribune, these included “inmates whose cases were compromised by unreliable evidence, disbarred or suspended defense attorneys, meager defense efforts during sentencing and dubious psychiatric testimony.” According to the Boston Globe they included the mentally retarded, the mentally deranged, the abused, the coerced and the born again. Quite probably they included innocent people.
O.K., maybe you see capital punishment as a necessary evil. Unfortunately, your president took a rather less thoughtful attitude toward it. Consider this piece of witnessing by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, who interviewed Bush for Talk Magazine in September 1999.
“In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, a number of protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Karla Faye Tucker. `Did you meet with any of them?' I ask.
“Bush whips around and stares at me. `No, I didn't meet with any of them,' he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. `I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with Tucker, though. He asked her real difficult questions like, 'What would you say to Governor Bush?'
“`What was her answer?' I wonder.
“'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation. `Don't kill me.'
“I must look shocked—ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel—because he immediately stops smirking.”