In the last essay post-modernism is briefly described along with how Bill Clinton’s presidency was a post-modern presidency. That opinion piece ended with a summary of how G.W. Bush was elected by many who hoped to put a reversal to this, even if they didn’t understand the concept of post-modernism. These supporters of Bush were people who knew that God existed, that there was truth in the universe; they were disturbed by the continued swing to relativistic ethics (morality as determined by the individual), that a lie was no longer defined as a lie, and that government was becoming God in the lives of Americans by controlling and monitoring everything we do. Bush was a glimmer of light and hope. Ah, relief, the Clinton years could become ancient history. Maybe it was all a mirage, a nightmare. Unfortunately to many it was a nightmare of the worst kind (that’s a nightmare that is not really a nightmare but reality). With Bush’s inauguration, my Christian friends could now cease their imprecatory prayers toward Washington.
Articles are now being published attempting to evaluate the Bush years and to measure his forthcoming legacy. Democrats are blaming him for everything, while friends and associates are publicly defending and spinning the administration’s decisions and actions. As one looks back on the presidency of George W. Bush, one can evaluate his achievements from two distinct vantage points. In retrospect, Bush could have had a “successful” presidential legacy by remaining principled and honorable, or second he could have succeeded in a manner like Clinton reinventing himself as a triumphant post-modern president. Bush, though, failed on both of these accounts. This essay will evaluate the failure in the first way and the next essay in his failure as a post-modern.
Has Bush been successful as a principled president or as a successful post-modern president? Let’s first make a broadly general principled Christian evaluation. As stated earlier, Bush seemingly started out well. He was strongly pro-life and took lots of heat for his principled stand against infanticide for stem cell research purposes. He cut taxes in 2001 and again in 2003. Why, word even spread that he openly shared his Christian faith. He appeared principled and talked about wanting to keep a lid on government spending. There was hope restraint would be placed on the idolatrous role of government over our lives.
When he was first elected I actually thought that there was a chance that he would become, a truly principled president. I was hesitant because I initially thought he was ideologically like his father, a centrist and a compromiser. But early in his presidency he made me become optimistic that he actually was principled and historically conservative in his approach to big government, budgeting, defense, and on social issues. And though I opposed him on faith-based initiatives because I do not see this as a role government should play. (In response to faith-based initiatives, I’ve argued before, cut our taxes and allow us to support the faith-based causes we believe in). I, however, saw this as an expression of his faith convictions; and the concept of compassionate conservatism rang true to the desire to practice positive fruit-bearing faith in the market place.
In the early months succeeding this 9/11 event Bush looked pretty good. He appeared in control as he visited grief-stricken New York City. He seemed determined to get those who had forged this atrocity. He (we) would get the culprits, Osama bin Ladin and Sadam Hussein; we would find the weapons of mass destruction. America would take the high road and fight terrorism on a principled moral stand, the right to self-defense. Might and goodness would prevail. We were the ones attacked and we had good (even God) on our side as justice would triumph. Bush and Guiliani emerged as the symbols of this appeal to justice and Americans responded with apparent unity and a revival of patriotism. Just as Americans rallied in support of WWII after an extension of our homeland was attacked at Pearl Harbor, we could not remain still as sitting ducks. We were united because we had been attacked.
WHAT HAPPENED? After 9/11 Bush led us off to war, but failed to build the case for a principled just war. It looked like a war of revenge, like a war for oil not a just war on principle. It even felt just because we’d been attacked first, even if it had not been by the forces of Sadam Hussein. Everyone agreed that Afghanistan that could be justifiably attacked but Iraq was questionable at best.
In order for war to be just there must be a just reason for it; it also must be declared by a competent authority and as a last resort. There was never a just cause publicly and consistently provided for the Iraq War. Different reasons were given at different times (an evil oppressive government, they were behind 9/11, oil) but never was a just reason accepted by a consensus, except for the initial anger. This war should have been publicly debated prior to the invasion, not just given a nod of approval by a Congress still reeling from the effects of 9/11. Congress failed in its initial response to the terrorism and because of that it became Bush’s War and not America’s War. Only a public declaration of war can make a war owned by the whole government and by the people. Since no morally comprehensive just reason for the Iraqi War was established, a new concept or reason was launched: seek out weapons of mass destruction in Iraq for they threaten the region and our interests. We’ll fight a war not for justice but to limit the power of a potential enemy, even though they were not directly involved with the attacks of 2001. A just cause could have also been a formal declaration of war against Iraq for training, supporting, and harboring those who had declared war on America, but this too was not done.
As it became obvious that there was no consensus publict reason for the Iraqi War, except to capture Sadam Hussein, Bush emerged no longer principled but willing to buy and sell a lie without real verification, to send us to war on this lie, to compromise principles of just war by permitting and even supporting the torture of prisoners. Then to justify torture, specifically water-boarding, leadership becomes Clintonesque by redefining torture. There is no difference in Bush saying that it is not torture than Clinton saying it is not sex. Our collective character, at least what remained of it, was substantially destroyed in this war. Foreign countries mock us because we’ve no visible character left standing. It has been said that America is great because it is good, but I add that once America is no longer good that it ceases to be great. Of course there are great difficulties and challenges in fighting an assymmetrical war, but at what moral cost? A just war must be fought in a just way but also all-out to be won.
Furthermore we hold prisoners without trial calling them prisoners of war, yet we are technically still not at war. I believe that those who are being held at Guatanamo are generally terrorists and evil men, but our own system of law cannot be compromised. We needed to either hold them as prisoners of war, as part of a legally declared just war, or charge them as international criminals and publicly try them. Instead we just hold them and make ourselves unjust. And internally, historic American rights to privacy are lost to the pragmatic security argument post 911 and in recent years government expansion occurs exponentially. Bush must be commended for protecting American citizens post-9/11, but what freedoms have been compromised? And how compromised do our borders still remain? Let’s see now, we are still in a war that continues today, a war based on muddled premises, and a war that has expanded government and possibly compromised American freedoms.
This war, like all post WWII wars is ironically not formally a war, yet it is a war. A principled president would have declared a formal declaration of war and gone forward with it, or not have done so at all on this basis. This is unquestionably difficult when the war is not against a state but asymmetrical and against a “hidden” group of people. Nevertheless, it needed to have been guided by the principles of justice, not by pragmatic aspirations. And yes, we detain prisoners for years without trials justifying it by calling them prisoners of war, but we are still not constitutionally at war. (This is the new post-modern re-definition of war. We only call it a war when it works for us to do so otherwise it is not a war). Before the war began I publicly stated that a plan for a replacement government in Iraq had to be in place before the war/revolution there began. It had to be a war owned by the revolutionaries from Iraq and supported by outside military forces. In order for it to be successful it had to be a war led by the Iraqi people in a just revolution with a government in exile already in place even before the war began.
This non-war war continues. The budget is out of control, the national debt has multiplied, yet some people believe Bush is still a conservative? Compassionate conservatism (I haven’t heard that phrase for years) is dead; it means nothing today. And most recently government has involved itself in areas where it has no right being, in the government bailouts of privately owned banks and businesses. This economic crisis has not been confronted by consistent principles but rather by pragmatic considerations. One of the most glaring statements of absurdity and post-modernity was recently uttered by Bush, “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.” No, George, you’ve abandoned these principles in order to save your own legacy.
Bush failed as a principled president, the hope that so many had when he entered office. There was another option for Bush though. Bush still had the possibility of becoming a successful post-modern president. Is Bush really a closet post-modern and only deceived us in being principled? In the next installment, an examination of Bush as a post-modern president will be given.