Stanley Kutler: Bless Bush

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Stanley Kutler is the author of The Wars of Watergate, and other writings.]

Just after midnight on election day the good folks in Dixville Notch, NH gave 15 votes for Barack Obama, while John McCain garnered only 6. Their first-in-the-nation vote told us what we needed to know and offered a portent for shifts across the country. George W. Bush won there decisively in 2004. Indeed, for the first time since 1968 - when they rejected Nixon (perhaps they really knew something) - the good townsfolk voted Democratic. Dixville Notch had a statement to make, one which the nation endorsed. George Bush and his policies had to be repudiated.

To do so, Obama had to re-shape "blue" and "red" America. Four years earlier, he called upon us to reject that dreary, paralyzing division. Obama's campaign doggedly ventured deep into formidable "red "territory, and cracked it wide open. Lacking the Bush-Rove well-practiced manipulation of the politics of fear, the lines could not hold.

Let us make no mistake: Barack Obama is an exceptionally inspired, articulate, intelligent candidate - the likes of which has been unseen far too long. He assembled a formidable force of campaign foot soldiers that demonstrated the ongoing utility of retail politics. In a truly exceptional way, again as few before him - and never in the day of mass media - he commanded the respect and admiration of a global audience.

But the election was all about the sitting president, bless him. He was the focal point for Obama's message for more than a year that we must change from his ruinous policies, in both foreign and domestic matters. We recognized that we must rid ourselves of a man who had conned us since 2000. Of course, the 22nd Amendment assured us that Bush would go, but the electoral expression of rejection was a bonus.

"I am a unifier, not a divider," Bush said then, with apparent sincerity. "I am not a nation-builder," he added in a rare statement of specificity. Maybe for some he offered an alternative to the sordid political spectacles of the Clinton years. He became President only after the Supreme Court selected him. Bush eventually found, as Mark Twain said, that history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes. His father fell from grace following Gulf War in 1991; so, too, the son whose approval ratings dropped precipitously in his second term.

So, change the nation wanted. But give the electorate its due - it wanted more than a new president. Obama's election signifies nothing less than a clear repudiation of George W. Bush's failures.

Change? We know we must repudiate a war fraudulently imposed upon us; we know we must not torture our suspected enemies, after all we are not the Gestapo; we know we do not want preemptive wars we once condemned as "sneak attacks"; we know we do not want such Supreme Court Justices as Scalia, Thomas, Alioto, and Roberts; we know we must reject the excesses of an Administration that irresponsibility pursued the chimera of deregulation, squandering the benefits of necessary components to an economy that brought decades of steady prosperity; we know we do not want the President to wage war against the Constitution and impair our liberties and freedoms, all in the name of a so-called War on Terror; we know we must have a President who knows his constitutional law and will respect the actions of separate, coordinate branches of government; we know we do not need a Co-President, with an utter lack of accountability; we know we need a Congress with the will to exercise its proper authority to check and balance executive misconduct; and we know that we do not have a unitary executive, a presumptive theory articulated in a deservedly obscure doctoral dissertation, and nowhere supported in either our Constitution or our history.

Unlike the Ancient Mariner who rid himself of an albatross by shooting an arrow through it, and bringing down bad luck on his ship, we, more mindful of our history, chose our traditional, peaceful path to change. Franklin D. Roosevelt, speaking on the sixth anniversary of his first inaugural, probably said it best about our elections: "With the . . . free choosing of public servants by a free electorate, the Constitution has proved that this type of government cannot long remain in the hands of those who seek personal aggrandizement for selfish ends. . . . [O]ur elections are positive in their mandate, rather than passive in their acquiescence."

We have said we wanted "to change" - but to what lies in our unknown future. But we wisely have chosen to face the unknown rather than be hobbled with a past, crippling of our energy, ability, and above all, our spirit.

FDR recognized that "all our great presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified." Twenty-three days after our new president takes office, he will inaugurate the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial. How appropriate! There are many connections between the two, none more obvious than emancipation and its fruits. But both also have spoken so eloquently on the meaning of America; both have been eloquent messengers for hope - and change.
Read entire article at Huffington Post (Blog)

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