I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the dispiriting sense of failure that seems to have enveloped the Obama administration on the eve of the November midterms. The right hates him because he won, because he’s Black, and because he won. Their utter intransigence has completely upended Obama’s knee-jerk instinct for compromise and bipartisanship, making it appear that he’s not getting anything done, and so the middle of the electorate feels a deep sense of disappointment exacerbated by unrelentingly bad coverage in the media. The left is up in arms because he hasn’t met the lofty goals set after his election, and because he’s allowed himself to get rolled by the right and their corporate paymasters on half a dozen occasions, resulting in several half-a-loaf pieces of legislation that look more like giveaways than accomplishments.
But there’s a missing piece in here somewhere, and strangely enough, it took a recent Sports Illustrated article to bring the situation into focus for me. The article dealt with the scandal surrounding former USC running back and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, whose involvement with agents and payoffs during his college career led the NCAA to punish USC severely for his, and their, transgressions. Rather than face the issue head-on and offer mea culpas, USC chose instead to erase the Bush legacy from the annals of their sports history:
As promised and with great flourish, USC officials last week swept Reggie Bush’s disgraced Heisman Trophy from the stately foyer of Heritage Hall. On this occasion the university’s famed marching band was not called upon to play a dirge, nor was the squatty, stiff-armed statuette carried out by six Trojan students wearing number 5 football jerseys with “619” eye-black patches stuck to their faces, as if to mourn a legacy fallen deeply into shame.
This seems like a missed opportunity because it would have been a sweet photo op, capturing the moment when sport formally completed the transition into its Age of Revisionism.
It’s all part of a new paradigm, in which you thumb through the record books with a marker in hand, circle some items as genuine and draw lines through others as clearly tainted. At USC they’re actually doing this; the next edition of the Trojans’ football media guide will contain at least 100 asterisks and italicized notations, qualifying the performances of the Bush era.
A light went on in my head while reading the words “Age of Revisionism” and “qualifying the performances of the Bush era.” For USC, that means Reggie. For the rest of us, those lines can just as easily apply to George W. and his own disgraceful tenure as president. That’s the missing piece, and though it should be obvious, we seem to have forgotten how much of a wretched impact his years in the Oval Office had and continue to have on this nation and the world.
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Part of the reason we’ve managed to forget, of course, is that he’s been gone for almost two years now. Under normal circumstances, that tends to put the onus on the current president; Obama has been holding the reins with a Democratically-controlled congress on Capitol Hill for eighteen months, and therefore all eyes tend to fall on him. The problem is that no president in American history has done more damage and screwed us worse than George W. Bush did. In the nearly 3,000 days he spent in office, Bush cut the country to ribbons in ways that have never been seen before, and the impact of that era lingers to this day.
The main reason for our forgetfulness, however, can be found on your television and in the pages of your newspaper. The media has completely redacted the impact of the Bush era from their coverage of the Obama administration, a continuing act of deception that I believe is completely deliberate. The entire Bush administration is a lesson in media cowardice and complicity; they rolled over for him for virtually every one of those 3,000 days, and would now like to have us all forget it happened. If as Bush falls in the forest and the media doesn’t cover it, did it happen? Certainly, but when the daily grind of the 24-hour news cycle omits the idiot elephant that remains in the room, the narrative of the present becomes skewed and distorted.
There are a dozen examples of this available, but the two best also happen to be the two heaviest millstones currently hanging around Obama’s neck: the war in Afghanistan, and the BP oil disaster still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.
The recent Wikileaks document dump may not have been a blockbuster on the order of the Pentagon Papers, but it served to underscore how much of a mess the war in Afghanistan is. Pundits on the left and right have taken to call Afghanistan “Obama’s war” – RNC chairman Michael Steele went so far as to claim that Obama was the one who got us into it – even though the war had been going on for almost a decade when he took office. Granted, he’s been commander-in-chief for a year and a half, and his decision to send more troops puts the outcome in Afghanistan right in his hip pocket. This cannot be disputed, but the media coverage of the Wikileaks documents utterly failed to note a fact of singular importance: the discussion of the war described in those documents is focused on George W. Bush’s failed handling of that war. Except in the independent media, the narrative has been “Oooh, these documents show a war going badly, this must be Obama’s fault.” No mention of Bush, the big missing piece in everything we’re dealing with, again.
As for the Gulf, well, you must have heard by now that it is “Obama’s Katrina.” Beyond the reference to one of the signal debacles of the Bush era, George’s name has hardly come up in the coverage of the BP catastrophe…except it was the Bush administration who fully and completely enabled the elements that led to the disaster in the first place, thanks to their cozy relationship with the oil industry and their passion for deregulating everything that moved. The government agency in charge of keeping an eye on offshore drilling operations spent the Bush administration having coke-and-hooker parties on the taxpayer’s dime, and why not? They must have been bored out of their minds. After all, how should a regulator spend his time in an administration that had no interest in enforcing any form of regulation at all? Once again, Mr. Bush and his 3,000 days are the missing piece in the narrative.
Mr. Obama’s performance to date has not lived up to expectations, to be sure. He simply must do better – and, pssssst, Mr. President, your best move might be to forego this nonsense about compromising with the GOP and just get stuff done through reconciliation, filibuster reform and the ever-handy Executive Order – but the public’s collective impression of his performance to date has been thoroughly skewed by the absence in our national discussion of the last guy to occupy the Oval. The media wants you to forget George W. Bush ever happened.
Don’t fall for it.