Monday, January 19, 2009

The End Of An Error

Part of me has been writing this post in my head for years in anticipation, before this blog existed, before I even fully understood what a blog was. But now that the time has come, it's hard to find the right words. How does one fully convey the disaster wrought by the administration of George W. Bush? To allow the mind to acknowledge all of it at once can be overwhelming. If years ago, someone had written a book that chronicled these two presidential terms, many of us would have rolled our eyes at the absurdity. That couldn't possibly happen, we would say. But it did. We are living bad fiction made real.

The lies have been never-ending, the heartbreaks many. It's hard to pick the greatest outrage, the most searing hurt. The August 6th PDB. Cherry-picked intelligence. Preemptive war. The Patriot Act. Ignorant bravado. Outing a CIA agent. Smearing dissenters. Failing to protect the troops. Exploiting heroes. Crony contracts. Torture. Extraordinary Rendition. Letting bin Laden get away. Signing statements. Obliterating habeas corpus. Terri Schiavo. The loss of an American city. Politicizing every level of government. A tanking economy. Fudging facts. Skewing data on everything from abortions to WMDs. Destroying our standing in the world. Lying. Lying. Lying.

All that, yet it still doesn't come close to explaining what we've been through. To keep my sanity over these Bush years, I've found solace in the comedy of the Daily Show. Jon Stewart and writers have the ability to cut to the truth better than any news organization I've seen. To this day, I marvel at their tendency to have me laughing one second, and sucker-punched the next. This was never more evident than in their coverage of Bush's final press conference. The laughs were plenty, but it was the unfunny line that burned itself into my brain, to be remembered forever. A clip was shown of Bush claiming he had given the presidency his all and hadn't sold his soul for popularity. To which Jon Stewart replied, "You didn't need to. You sold ours."

When it comes down to it, perhaps the greatest crime of this administration is one that can't be articulated in a list or mused over in an op-ed. It is the taking of something from us that can't be defined. Every American may not know the details of what led us to this place, but they all feel the heavy cloud that has settled over our nation. The legacy of George W. Bush is a feeling of loss and despair; a wound deep beneath the surface, unmistakable in its presence, but almost impossible to treat.

Like many, the Bush administration has changed who I am as a person. I was never very political. I am the product of a Limbaugh-listening conservative who was semi-vocal about his beliefs, and a moderate Democrat who really wasn't. It wasn't until college that my eyes were opened to a world beyond my door, that I began to discuss events regularly with my father. But then in the spring of 1999, he suddenly died of a massive heart attack and I stopped thinking about politics. The end of Bill Clinton's presidency was a blur; the 2000 election a foggy memory. I voted for Al Gore simply because I thought Bush was stupid. He was eventually given the office and life went on. In May of 2001 I graduated college. Four months later the world I had been preparing for my entire life completely changed in the amount of time it took two towers to fall to the ground.

It seems naive now, but initially I didn't blame the Bush administration for 9-11. It was an attack almost impossible to prevent. There was nothing they could have done. Except, there was. Each revelation of a warning gone unheeded was like a small cut, adding up to a bloody mess. There was Afghanistan, which made sense. But then, talk of Iraq. America began to tilt. The period can only be described as surreal. Flags abounded, but what they symbolized was lost. Compact discs were crushed. A talk show host was fired. The press secretary of the United States found it perfectly appropriate to advise Americans to "watch what they say." The America I was taught and believed in was virtually gone.

A blogger posting on a liberal site once wrote, "I'm actually a moderate. I've just been radicalized by the worst administration in modern history." The line could have been written by me. As people waved the flag and ignored the details, I woke up. Something wicked this way comes. My studies in social psychology helped me to clearly see what was happening. And I was scared. In 2006, Susan G of Daily Kos wrote a diary that perfectly illustrated why I made the leap from moderately informed citizen to uber news and political junkie: "I'd begun my acquaintance because of headlines and horrors and a screaming, driving voice in my head: There's something wrong! There's something very, very wrong! Learn about it! Fast!" Fear and desperation.

Those days were hard, being part of the minority who were made to feel like traitors simply because we thought differently. It wasn't just random commenters on the Internet. Our own leaders insinuated time and time again we were inferior. Less than American. We congregated on blogs and survived with humor. "So, why do you hate America?" was the oft-told joke. It wasn't until 2006 that I realized it wasn't funny. That these things hurt. Donald Rumsfeld had just stated that administration critics suffered from "moral or intellectual confusion," a charge that spawned Keith Olbermann's first official "special comment." I watched in awe and when he said the words, "This is a democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely," I started to cry because a part of me had forgotten.

There were other horrors, of course. Everything involving the war. And Katrina. Those are things that will be written about, debated, as the years progress. But the feeling, the fear, of not knowing whether or not my country was going to be okay...I will always remember George W. Bush for that. Before him, my generation didn't know war with no end--not in a real sense. We didn't know fear. His administration has taken something from us that we may never get back.

Tomorrow I will post about hope, but today I close the book on our long national nightmare, which will unfortunately still remain present for years to come in the form of a nation left in shambles. My entire politically-engaged adult life I have never known a leader besides the man who leaves tomorrow. He may think he can rewrite history to improve his legacy, but some of us will never forget what really happened. And we will tell future generations. We'll tell everyone.


Blogger Anne said...

Hi Eliza,

This post was deep and insightful. After reading it, just when I thought I can't stand Bush any more, I find more reasons to dislike him. I agree, it is too overwhelming to take full account of the doings of this disastrous administration. The heaviness of the cloud you described is in sharp contrast to the hope and excitement being shown from the preparation for the Inauguration.
When I discovered the liberal websites like Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, and the Washington Monthly, I started following politics like I have never before, especially during the past two years. Looking forward to your post about hope. Anne D.

3:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful post Eliza- as always. As terrible a topic as any, and you can make such sense of it. Thank you~

2:27 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

@Anne-Take solace in the fact that today, the cloud lifts.

Yes, the liberal blogs really turned me into a political junkie as well. Those you listed are good ones.

@anonymous-Thank you for your kind words.

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

Your description of your journey from "politically disengaged" to blogger/activist is inspiring. What the US needs is more people under 40 who speak up for social change and against violations of the Constitution. Bravo.

I can relate to your story. I became politicized in 2000 due to the stolen election. I lived in Miami, and election day there was a frighteningly antidemocratic event. I had no idea it was coming. My regular polling site was closed down (unannounced); there were gangs on the street of Little Haiti intimidating people not to vote for Gore; and my closest friend had her ballot taken from her hand at a Miami Beach polling place and filled in by a polling worker who marked off "Bush" against my friend's wishes and fed the completed ballot into the machine.

Life was never the same for me as an American. What was painful and frustrating for me at the time was that the media kept painting a picture of Floridians as idiots who didn't know how to cast a ballot. Friends up north did not want to believe my stories or those told by others who went through the Florida 2000 election fiasco. I attended an inquiry into voting violations, which substantiated the improprieties (and illegalities) but it took many years before more people began to accept that the Administration that had forced its way into power was conducting the government's daily business in equally criminal ways.

Our country is in deep trouble now, and repairing the damage begins with holding the people who commited these wrongs accountable. It also requires that Americans who care about restoring this country's integrity gain the courage of their beliefs and speak up. Too many intelligent people are still cowed and remain silent and disengaged.

Good post.

9:11 AM  

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