At this point, it is generally acknowledged that the presidency of
George W. Bush has been one of the most problematic in American history. Now, that's a polite and fair-minded way of putting the matter, isn't it? To be more blunt about it, scholars and layfolk alike have settled
into a consensus that Bush is a contender, along with the likes of Harding, Grant, and Buchanan, for the title of Worst President Ever. His approval ratings in the polls continue to drop and are hovering these days in the low or middle 20s, percentage-wise.
The nature of the administration over which this driven, underachieving, and overmatched son of a former chief executive presided is well captured in the current Oliver Stone biopic, W., which presents a portrait that conscientious reviewers have variously described as cartoonish and satirical, on the one hand, and sympathetic and serious, on the other. That range of opinions says it all, really. To invert the old punchline, it only hurts when we stop laughing. This is a man who wants to do the right thing but doesn't have a clue as to what it is, so he either plays it by ear or becomes dependent for guidance on self-serving father-surrogates. (Do the names Cheney and Rumsfeld ring a bell?) But not, however, on the literal father, the infinitely more sagacious first President George Bush, for we have by now learned from Stone and a score of biographers what we already suspected: that this is nothing less than a Freudian psycho-drama we have been living through for the last eight years.
All we knew going in, circa 2001, was that our new president chose to call himself a "compassionate conservative." Bush turned out to be neither. His administration scorned the have-nots of the country, and his policies were reckless and slapdash in the extreme. Even elementary common sense should have told him — and us — that we couldn't pay for expensive wars and hand out gargantuan tax cuts at the same time, that we couldn't go it alone in foreign affairs and maintain our alliances, and, finally, that we couldn't trust to the greed of financial speculators, wholly unsupervised, to keep our free-market economy on the straight and narrow.
All of which is to say that we don't intend to be fooled again.
The Republican candidate calls himself a "maverick." Fine and dandy. Then, while there's still a small corner of time left, he should show us real distance from the failed policies of the last eight years and not, as has seemed to be the case so far, from his own best instincts in 2000, that long-lost millennial year of hope.
The Democratic candidate wants to rekindle that notion of hope and promises change. Increasing numbers of Americans seem to believe in his sincerity and, moreover, are impressed with a manner that is both deliberative and impassioned.
Four years ago, we recommended a vote for John Kerry, though we were never totally captivated by a candidate who seemed to wear his indecisiveness on his sleeve.
Barack Obama is something else — cautious but purposeful and determined, it would seem, to draw us together in common enterprise. In a spirit of confidence and anticipation, we gladly endorse his candidacy.
The speaker was Memphian John Gary, and the "this" he was wanting me to keep secret is the Mississippi River. Yes, I know, you're Memphians. You know about the Mississippi. It's that wide, brown, roiling chunk of dangerous, dirty water that flows past downtown and sometimes floods Arkansas ...