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May 19, 2008

Reagan Called Government the Problem; Bush Made It Come True


Ronald Reagan’s gift to America was supposed to be a renewed belief in itself. He could see better days ahead for the republic, he told the nation. And the nation, hungry for that kind of thing, believed him.


But there was a string attached to Reagan’s gift. Accepting Reagan’s gift of a renewed sense of self-value required that you also accept that government was the problem, instead of the solution.


That legacy played out last week during an interview George W. Bush gave the online political magazine, The Politico.


Responding to a question about why no one had seen the president playing golf lately, Bush said that giving up golf was his way of showing solidarity with all the mothers grieving over lost sons and daughters in the Iraq war.


It’s difficult to imagine a worse answer to that question. He could have alluded to physical problems, or even said that he’d spent so much time on vacation during the early years of his presidency that his inbox was simply too full. Instead, he chose to conflate giving up a game with losing a loved one in a war most of us now oppose.


To make matters worse, he lied about when he arrived at his decision. Asked about when he gave it up, he said it was the day that Brazilian diplomat and U.N. special ambassador to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed in a Baghdad bombing. His handlers pulled him off the course, and Bush said he decided that golf was no longer worth it.


The problem is that there were photos and video of him playing the game two months into the future.


Probably predictably, the revelation failed to really outrage anyone except Keith Olbermann. By now, undoubtedly most Americans inclined to become angry at such a cheap attempt to manipulate their emotions with such easily exposed lies have become numb to them. They’ve been a regular component of how the Bush Administration has governed.


This creates a very unique problem that the next president will have to fix while also addressing many of the other failures of the current administration.


Those failures are many, including a failure to address problems in energy and climate change, a reckless war that has squandered the nation’s foreign credibility, a huge deficit through ramped up spending and wartime tax cuts, millions with no access to health care and a looming recession. A case, a good and perhaps airtight case, can be made that George W. Bush will go down in history as the nation’s worst president to date.


But policy failures are one thing. A failure in confidence is another.


It’s no secret that Americans are once again losing confidence in their nation. All three candidates still standing (well, two remain standing, one merely insists that she’s still vertical) have tried to tap into the trend that Americans think we’re headed in the wrong direction.


Restoring that confidence is going to have to be one of the next president’s intangible goals. If, at the end of his term, the American people don’t again think that we’re headed in the right direction – if our national confidence is not restored – it means that things haven’t gotten any better.


After these last seven years of constant partisan bickering and a president who’s treated the electorate as a play thing to cynically manipulate for his own benefit, he’ll also have to restore the confidence of the American people in their institutions. That means repudiating the legacy of the last guy who restored a people’s faith by convincing them that government isn’t the problem.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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