The Strange Disappearance of George W. Bush

Kevin Drum asks an interesting question: what ever became of George W. Bush? Not so much literally—I've always assumed that he spends his days playing "Call of Duty: Black Ops" with bored Secret Service agents—but as a presence in our national life. It's partly because, as Kevin notes, his own party wants nothing to do with him, since most of his big projects turned out to be colossal failures. If Republicans don't want to talk about him, then we can't have an ongoing argument about his legacy, since one side of that argument changes the subject every time he comes up. But as Kevin says, "It's just sort of astonishing that a guy who was president only three years ago, and who loomed so large for both liberals and conservatives, has disappeared down the memory hole so completely. In the end, for all his swagger, he was a mile wide and an inch deep. Once he left the White House, it was as if his entire presidency had just been a bad dream."

In some ways, this is more remarkable on the liberal side than on the conservative side. To say George W. Bush loomed large is an understatement. In fact, he remade the entire American left. Opposition to Bush gave a moribund movement new energy and purpose. Organizations were created, people changed their careers, and by the end of the Bush years liberals had actually become good at politics. Yet today it's hard even to feel all that mad at the guy (mostly because the Republicans that followed him have made him look like a moderate).

On a personal note, George W. Bush certainly changed my life. In 2000 I thought I was going to spend my career as an academic, writing articles about media and politics that almost no one would read. But Bush made me so mad that I started writing things that were much more topical and strident. First I began emailing them to friends, then I had a kind of proto-blog, and by 2004 I had left academia altogether, written an anti-Bush book, and started an online magazine, the better to shake my fist at the White House. Yet just a few years later, it's almost hard to imagine I was so worked up about him.

Not that we aren't still living with the legacy of Bush's tenure, particularly the human and financial cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, the enormous deficit he created, and the spectacular expansion of the national security state. But Kevin is right—it's possible to go months without Bush ever crossing your mind.

It's good to remember that there will be more Republican administrations, and you'll probably be just as mad at them as you were at Bush. Or even more, since the next Republican president is likely to be even more of a doctrinaire right-winger than Bush was. But whoever he or she is, that person will have to work awfully hard to match Bush's record of destruction.

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