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Farewell GWB

     
     A prankish fate put George W. Bush in the oval office to keep
America stupid. The nation was far from ready to see where it was going
in the 21st century, and he was just the figure to keep it that way,
with his void of curiosity, his allergy to reading, and his panderings
to wealth-worshipping, Ponzi-loving, science-hating Jesus cultists. He
goes out of office broadly regarded as an object of horror and loathing
while the nation, now facing wholesale bankruptcy, struggles to imagine
a plausible future, like someone who has just awakened from a cheap red
wine drunk into the grip of a vicious hangover.
     GWB was
reputed to be an appealing personality off-camera, relaxed among his
cohorts, full of fun, warmth, jokes, and nicknames. He was not quite as
bad on-stage as his critics complained — his natural obtuseness
sometimes came off as candor — but he was programmed by handlers with
a range of poor locutions that eventually amounted to a world-view. For
instance, the idiotic “war on terror,” which served mainly to portray
our adversaries as abstractions. His insistence on the term “victory”
when speaking of our situation in Iraq actually fooled even his worst
critics into thinking we were engaged in a “war,” when for years it has
been more accurately an awkward and lethal occupation.
       I never believed that GWB actually tricked the nation on the
“weapons of mass destruction” rationale for invading Iraq. Rather, the
nation fooled itself into thinking that the war, in the first place,
was anything but an act of vengeance for the gross injury of 9/11.
After a couple of years, the public adopted the stupid narrative that
they were “lied to,” rather than recognizing the difficult truth that
9/11 had to be answered with lethal force, that international
hostilities are far from wholly rational, and that Saddam Hussein got
whacked because he was the Arab head-of-state who was the best
candidate for getting whacked. A nation in thrall to psychotherapy, and
self-esteem building programs, and the “win-win” bullshit of business
Babbitry, couldn’t imagine a tragic dilemma when one was staring them
in the face.
      GWB won reelection in 2004 — running against the weak John
Kerry, “a haircut in search of a brain,” as Kevin Phillips put it so
memorably, who was not smart enough to pander successfully (though he
tried) to the dominant, Jesus-soaked Nascar fans who inhabit the Moron
Crescent that runs from West Virginia south through Dixie and then west
into Idaho. GWB was still riding pretty high when Hurricane Katrina
slammed into the swamps and beaches east of Lake Ponchartrain, and the
president failed to direct anybody to so much as air-drop bottled
drinking water for survivors dying on rooftops and highway overpasses
in New Orleans. The Left, once again, adopted an idiotic narrative to
explain the event — that Bush acted to punish African-Americans —
when plain incompetence combined with grandiose expectations for a
televised happy ending to instead produce tragedy.
    The fiasco in New Orleans was matched by the apparent failure to
police Iraq back to stability, making the whole project appear feckless
and futile, and GWB began his long swoon into discredit. But two other
conditions were intensifying in the background, one the consequence of
the other:
peak oil and peak credit. As the primary resource of industrial
capitalism reached its all-time production peak in 2005, the managers
of the US economy allowed borrowing-from-the-future to replace
productive activity as the basis for everyday life.
      GWB barely acknowledged this compound problem. He asserted that
America was addicted to oil, but he failed to take the idea a step
further and say that our vaunted “way-of-life” could no longer be taken
for granted. If anything, he endorsed the popular idea that a suburban
lifestyle and WalMart consumerism was a Jesus-driven entitlement, and
his circle in governance did everything possible to replace the
industrial economy with an economy based on suburban land development
and credit card spending — which was enabled by fantastic experiments
in finance that proved to be nothing more than an impenetrable web of
swindles.
     Those swindles began to unwind in 2007 and they now threaten to
sink the USA as a viable enterprise. Their exact extent and nature
still remain obscure, like the algorithms used to engineer the
“alphabet soup” of fraudulent securities and recondite derivatives. In
this stupendous failure, GWB is joined by his cohorts and minions in
Republican polity, whose flamboyant misfeasance continues to make the
credit blow-up worse by the minute. He leaves his successor, Mr. Obama,
a predicament so dismal that the secession crisis of 1860 begins to
look like a mere procedural quarrel in comparison. And despite the
temporary crash of oil prices, the peak oil problem still looms very
large in the background and has barely begun to work its hoodoo on
what’s left of the US economy
      The same prankish fate that elevated GWB may end up excusing or
papering over his current ill-standing. Decades from now he might be
remembered as the last national leader who presided over an orderly
transition of power in a cohering federal system. The fickle public
that longs for the last symbolic photo op, when Mr. Obama waves at the
helicopter bearing GWB into the Texas gloaming, may soon turn on the
new president for failing to return them to the Blue Light Special
nirvana of days gone by.
     To me, GWB will remain the perfect representative of his time,
place, and culture. During his years in Washington, America became a
nation of clowns posturing in cowboy hats, bethinking ourselves
righteous agents of Jesus in a Las Vegas of the spirit, where wishing
was enough to get something for nothing, where “mistakes were made,”
but everybody was excused from the consequences of bad choices. The
break from that mentality will be very severe, and we may look back in
twelve months and wonder how we ever fell for the whole package. The
answering of that question will occupy historians for ages to come.

____________________________________
My 2008 novel of the post-oil future, World Made By Hand, is available in paperback  at all booksellers.

About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

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