George Bush, tepidly outliving communism by 30 years
When Communism crumbled, I was just seven years old.
The Berlin Wall came down, and for the only time ever, my father and mother insisted on praying right there and then in front of the television, to give thanks to God for the end of the evil that had haunted their lives from childhood to early marriage.
At seven years old, my political awareness had yet to take shape. Inasmuch as I knew anything about political leaders, my assumption was that they had always been in charge, because I did not remember a time when they weren’t. In my childish imagination, Mitterand had always been the president of France, because he was president in 1989. Helmut Kohl had always been the German chancellor, because he was the chancellor in 1989. And George Bush had always been the president of the United States, because he was in 1989.
It was only much later that I learned that this same George Bush had been the vice-president from 1981 to 1989. And that was a consolation prize for not getting the nomination in 1980, when he was a candidate. And that even earlier, in 1974 and 1976, he had twice attempted to be made the vice-president; but Ford didn’t want him at his side. That he had been head of the CIA. That he had the singular distinction of being the only politician in the world who claimed not to remember where he was when JFK was killed.
But more or less the first conscious memory I have of the man, is his reaction to that Berlin Wall coming down:
“We are pleased with this development” – said a voice that seemed anything but pleased. The president sounded just like my mother had when a precious clock had come down and smashed into a thousand pieces. Seated behind a desk, shielded behind a piece of paper, donning oversized glasses, he looked like a clockmaker announcing: it might be better to buy a new one.
The hourwork, in this case, was the very communism crumbling before our eyes. George Bush had been born just seven years after it took hold of Russia, and renamed it the Soviet Union. In the year Bush was born, 1924, Stalin took over from Lenin, and transformed an already brutal regime into a totalitarian nightmare. George Bush grew up in a rich family, in a country that was going through its first red scare, even to the point of politically charged executions. His father Prescott Bush, an otherwise socially progressive Republican (back when that existed) was part of a cabal who financed the Nazis. The Planned Parenthood member, who founded institutions for the elevation of racial minorities, believed that the emerging national-socialist Hitler was the best bet against the spread of communism. George Bush distinguished himself in the eventual fight against Hitler, only to see communism spread its iron curtain from Rügen to Trace and Dalmatia, and from Uyguria to Pyongyang, Tunguzia to Hainan.
In George Bush’s world, the fight of good versus evil was as binary as the tick-tock of a clock. Anything hinting at the advance of communism must be countered, The pendulum must be swung back to the good side. No matter how well-intended, democratic movements toward red policies were to be countered, by force if necessary. No matter how cruel, dictatorships that preserved capitalism were to be supported, by force if necessary. Mossadeq was ousted by a coup, the Shah made an absolute monarch. Bai Dao was to be propped up to counter Ho Chi Minh – and after Bai Dao had been exiled, support was switched to Ngo Dinh Diem. A senator called McCarthy was the epitome of the idea that the end justifies all means, accusing all and sunder of Anti-American activities, even when he had to make up the accusations.
When George Bush started to make a name for himself, communism was advancing in Cuba, parts of South-America, and South-East-Asia. He was in his thirties. He had a young family at home in Texas and a father in the senate (CT). He had connections in the CIA and lots of ambition.
The pendulum in Vietnam had to be swung back whatever the cost.The setbacks in Cuba and South-America were to be avenged.For the first time ever, the United States entered into a protracted conflict that could never be won, simply because you can’t occupy the hearts and minds of the people you just carpet-bombed. So many villages were destroyed to “save” them, that young men (who were not eligeable to vote yet) were drafted into thousands and thousands of early graves. And as for the Shell-shock and PTSD they brought home with them, all that was justified because of communism.
George Bush was now around fifty years old. He had just told a son of his that he would support him even if that son wanted to dodge the draft. (And then Nixon finally ended the war, just in time.) Another son of his was developing a problem with alcohol. His father had retired and died. His own first foray into politics (a house seat) didn’t get him the whirlwind career he had hoped for. He still had connections in the CIA. His ambitions had grown, and the time to act on them was not as everlasting as it once had seemed to be.
Nixon’s rise and fall gave Bush the advancement he had been craving. He was made CIA director, and then ambassador to China.(Going with the notion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Nixon was courting Mao to isolate Brezhnev.) His appointments were moderately succesfull, inasmuch as the CIA felt reassured and China was pleased to receive “the president’s right hand man”. Moreover, it gave Bush the chance to foster a couple of lifelong contacts: Cheney, Kissinger, Wolfowitz, etcetera. He was now part of a very influential clique within the ruling party.
Nixon’s downfall was another opportunity for advancement. Bush happened to be chairman of the GOP at the time, and thought he could position himself for the veep spot.
Ford said no.
Not deterred by this setback, Bush tried to get the nomination in 1980, and knock off Jimmy Carter.
Reagan overtook him.
And then didn’t even want him to be veep.
But the powerful clique sprang into action, and secured that spot for Bush after all.
And then Reagan won the election, and the cold war against communism became a war of financial attrition. Costly and deadly missiles were stockpiled until the Soviet Union was on the brink of social and economic collapse.
(Incidentally, so were the United States! Vietnam was still casting its long shadow over the generation who had fought it,there had been a recession since the early 1980-ies, the national debt was skyrocketing, the inner cities were plagued by riots and crime and racial disparity, substance abuse was abundant, and on top of everything else HIV/AIDS was spreading like a bushfire.)
With some difficulty, Bush got the nod to succeed Reagan. He attracted some young and ruthless campaign managers (Rove and Atwater), and they based his campaign on fear. Where his father had attempted to raise up racial minorities, Bush used the image of Willie Horton to make voters afraid of Dukakis. Vote Bush, or the black men will come for your wives and daughters. Reagan’s policies against women’s health rights and LGBT issues were consolidated.
By the end of the 1980-ies the veneer of male moral probity had been called into question. For the first time, the press was taking an active (and judgemental) interest in the extramarital activities of politicians. Kennedy’s infidelities had been known, but benignly hinted at (jetset lifestyle). Roosevelt’s infidelities had been practically advertised (not so crippled after all, eh?). Reagan’s first marriage was never mentioned, lest it offend the First Lady. But all of a sudden, infidelity was a negative campaign issue.
This made Bush the first presidential candidate who’s private life was intimately discussed in public. His successor has surpassed all in that department, but in Bush’s days, it was a rather new and unpleasant development that mistresses became the topic of political discussions. Bush has had his fair share of female affection other than from his wife. He had mistresses, and the only reason that Clinton’s infidelities were not front and centre in 1992 is that Clinton had warned off the Bush campaign: leave it alone, and we will leave it alone too.
Another new development in Bush’s presidency was the new direction of the Democratic Party. The Clintons and the DLC had started their venal grip on the party’s steering wheel. Ideologically, the GOP would have to verge into Atwater territory and beyond to distinguish itself from the emerging new Republicans called Democrats.
By now, Bush was in his sixties. All the systems and customs that had shaped his outlook on life were rapidly falling away. He had the position he had always wanted, but not the prestige he had associated with it. And then the pendulum stopped swinging: there was no more communism. Only capitalism. The wall was coming down. The clock had finally been smashed into a thousand pieces.
And Bush did not know what to do about it.
How was a well-meaning democratic movement to be stopped in its tracks, if American interests could no longer be justified by the threat of communism? How could support for Nicaraguan Contras be justified if Gorbatchev was the kind of gentleman who would calmly dismantle the whole Soviet Union?
The impotence of the end justifying the means in the emerging world without communism was demonstrated as early as 1990-1991: the Gulf War. Bush attempted to safeguard oil-rich Quwait (oppressive monarchy: check!) against oil-rich Iraq (who’s dictator had received seven years of arms deals when Iran had to be won back for the Shah – didn’t work). The administration’s narrative shifted by the day. According to Bush, it was a matter of “good versus evil”. But really, this was evil versus evil. Kuwait’s government in exile paid millions of dollars to a PR firm to find out what would mobilize American public opinion against Iraq. The problem was that without communism, it wasn’t just a matter of throwing support behind the most capitalist of the two.
In the end, Saddam was painted as a brutal dictator who had committed atrocities against his own people. Thank goodness for the oppressed Kurds! – who were instantly abandoned when it suited the administration to let Saddam rule Iraq after all. Never mind that the Kurds were then gassed. It’s not as if that didn’t suit long-time ally Turkey. Turkey too was oppressing Kurds. But what was the justification for it now that the PKK was no longer part of the red scare?
That’s why Bush was “pleased with this development” with the voice of a distraught clockmaker. The easy moral binary opposition that had justified the advancement of American upper-class self-interests was dropping away. The end that justified all means had been achieved. Now what?
Even when Hillary Clinton was SOS (2009-2013), there were still state department staff complaining that “things were so much easier during the Cold War”. Bush’s eponymous son George has tried to create a boogieman equal to communism: terrorism. And by create, I don’t just mean the public perception thereof. The Democratic Party, lurching right like a brainless zombie, has continued these policies. The social conservatism has continued on steroids under the inebriated presidency of Bush’s eldest son, only to hit the wall called the Millennial generation. Atwater’s scaremongering of minorities is still part and parcel of the GOP brand. And that has eventually hurt Bush’s offspring. When his other promising son tried for the presidency in 2016, he was overtaken from the (far) right by Trump, just like Reagan had overtaken Bush in 1980:
The irony is that right at the end of Bush’s life, his distant successor Donald Trump is trying to build a wall. It is not known whether the first president Bush was pleased with that development of his party. Probably not.
But it doesn’t matter anymore. After communism had crumbled, men like Bush had become an anachronism. Their way of life, their political compass, their moral ambiguity justified by the big scare, it all lost its meaning. Bush’s tepid response to the fall of the Wall shows how much he was aware of that. The Gulf War and its aftermath show how much he wasn’t.
Charitable commenters will mention that he survived his late wife by only a few months. Less charitable commenters will mention how he survived his favorite enemy by almost 30 years. Without communism, Bush was left trying to defend evil with evil, and failed. He gave the world a taste of the financial crisis and the interminable wars his son would bring. He showed the moral vacuum in which these would be concocted, by the very men he brought to power.
The world to which he belonged died away in 1989-1992. At last, he has been reconnected with it.Shlabotnik, Silver Witch, Tardis Blue and 29 othersPDiddie, closeupready, HomerRamone, bemildred, Coldmountaintrail, boxcar joe, Go Vols, canoeist52, OCMI, Flying Squirrel, beltanefauve, Major Hogwash, travelerxxx, MistaP, Enthusiast, Johnny Rash, ccinamon, davidthegnome, NV Wino, Ohio Barbarian, iggy, Tierra y Libertad, GloriaMundi, Land of Enchantment, Haikugal, MrMickeysMom, Pam, h-32, jwirr like this"Someone hacks the DNC allowing all of America to see how the DNC operates as one of the most corrupt political machines in national history. Ergo, Hillary Clinton should be installed as President by judicial fiat. And if you do not agree to this scheme you deserve to be brought up on charges of treason because fascism." - NUGrrl, december 2016 “Once a person has been determined to be an UNTRUSTWORTHY LIAR, their pretend stances on important issues are simply not relevant to rational discussion.” – Ida Briggs, September 2016
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