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Bush and the Firing Squad

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So in a matter of days it's bye-bye, Bush. Then it's bye-bye, gradually, to the cottage industry dedicated to ridiculing, castigating, smearing and trashing the 43rd president of the United States, who couldn't have pleased this surly gang save by expiring in office (even if his expiry would have vaulted Dick Cheney to the White House).

One of the gang, indeed, worked out his obvious frustrations by making a movie depicting Bush as victim of an assassin's bullet. Not a few have proclaimed "W" the worst president in American history, in spite of Jimmy Carter's longstanding and tenacious claim to that honor.

What are such folks going to do without Bush to kick around? Maybe cultivate nasturtiums, watch Mark Phelps exercise tapes, or learn to play the contra bassoon. I wouldn't give long odds on the survival rate for nasturtiums whose color or progress displeases the gang. Bush-despisers (think Joy Behar, Keith Olbermann, Frank Rich, etc.,) aren't famous for patience with viewpoints different from their own.

A popular clich has it that "history will judge" whatever at a given moment requires judging. On that expectation the whole flap about Bush and his merits may impress the next generation as just plain weird. Bush hasn't by any means been the greatest chief executive since Washington, but then Keith OIbermann isn't the most astute commentator since Socrates.

In assessing the Bush stewardship we need to calm down -- get a grip. As president, as commander in chief, Bush might have performed better. So might Ronald Reagan. So might John Kennedy. Errare humanum est.

Where did Bush err? Well, clearly, in the weighting of causes to invade Iraq. There weren't any "weapons of mass destruction." On the other hand, 1) nearly everyone else thought there were, and that Saddam was willing to use them, 2) Saddam sealed his own doom by refusing cooperation with inspectors, and 3) Saddamite Iraq was a moral and political cesspool urgently requiring cleanup by someone some time.

Then anger over Iraq led to the silly but oft-repeated charge that Bush's anti-terror policies amounted somehow to a secret war on civil liberties.

Federal confusion when Katrina inundated New Orleans further diminished Bush's popularity ratings. Just why it did is hard to say in objective terms. America hadn't seen such a storm since Galveston, 1900. Both city and state officials behaved incompetently. The federal response might have been more immediate and energetic, but hindsight, as we know, is always perfect. Moreover, Bush directed to New Orleans vast amounts of money and supplies. The worst I can see he deserves, on Katrina, is a B minus.

So what is the deal with the Bush-despisers? Here's my own theory, preliminary in the way theories ought to be: All the malice and unforgivingness directed Bush's way grew from the Florida vote count, and from the persistent feeling among liberals and Gore partisans that "We wuz robbed," on account of which larcenous act the Bush administration was somehow illegitimate.

Defeat (adjudicated in the end by five conservative Supreme Court justices) stuck in the losers' craws, and they hadn't the desire to dislodge it. Revenge was what they wanted. They were the political equivalent of the baleful Confederate veteran on the cigarette lighter of some decades ago: "Forget Hell."

I don't say the lynch party set out to take down the president. I say they cut him no slack when stuff happened, demanded of him a perfection to which no politician could rise or aspire. On such terms the Bush presidency was doomed from the start: not least because the talking heads and writing hands of today belong largely to Democrats and other nonconservatives.

Maybe "W" wasn't the right man to start with, even for the GOP nomination. Still, he wasn't half as bad as his enemies seem to think. Question: How many terrorist attacks has America sustained since September 2001? Right, and yet there's more to offer in extenuation of "W" -- more that will be offered when the tumult and shouting die, as in time they always do.

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