The Spectacularly Retro End of the Bush Era

Tragedy or farce, bang or whimper, premium or unleaded — how to define the close of the adminstration of George W. Bush? We needn’t wait until November 4 to start TiVoing the Last Days of Dubya because we’re living them … Read More

By / October 16, 2008

Tragedy or farce, bang or whimper, premium or unleaded — how to define the close of the adminstration of George W. Bush? We needn’t wait until November 4 to start TiVoing the Last Days of Dubya because we’re living them right now. A nonentity during this agonizingly long election season, he’s earned that rarest of backhanded tributes, the Oliver Stone biopic, due to hit theaters next week, with Josh Brolin looking and sounding more Shrub than Shrub. Not yet out of the White House, and already his pop culture epitaph is projecting big box office. Nostalgia is clearly the main theme of this hastened twilight; we seem to have entered a time warp for lame ducks in which past is not only prologue, it’s present, too. "There are decades when nothing happens," said Lenin, "but there are weeks when decades happen." The past few weeks have seen decades happen, only they had happened already, decades ago.

1. A Potentially Greater Depression

Hey, remember when you could show up to your cushy dotcom job at noon, leave at three, and line your kitty litter with IPO prospectuses? Making money for nothing hasn’t been so easy for some time, and yet many of us still pay quadruple-digit rents to live in the modern equivalent of Hoovervilles, while a billionaire mayor plots to install himself as the archduke of the Five Boroughs. Socialism has once again become a dirty word, except when it’s extended, sotto voce, to insurance companies and investment banks. Marx is looking prophetic; paladins of the free market — Greenspan, Friedman — have been bitch-slapped by the invisible hand.

Not that we weren’t better prepared for this latest kaboom on Wall Street. But federal deposit insurance, Congressional bailouts, corporate welfare, and whatever other post-New Deal assists to American capitalism have not stayed the chatter about a total economic collapse to rival the one of 1929. Even if you don’t know what a collateralized mortgage is, you should know that the symptoms of our misfortune are eerily similar to that of our grandparents.

Read Rutgers historian James Livingston, for one:

[T]he Great Depression and today’s economic crisis are comparable not because they resulted from similar macroeconomic causes but because the severity of the credit freeze in both moments is equally great, and the scope of the financial solution must, then, be equally far-reaching.

Hey brother, can you spare an eBay minimum bid? At this rate, world war, the vaporization of whole cities, and big, sprawling literary trilogies of declinism are not far behind. Hell, even the Reds are growing giddy with anticipation of the coming revolution. Here’s the U.S. Communist Party’s New York Regional Chairman Della Piana:

"We can afford to be less on the defensive for the first time since Ronald Reagan, and we can say our word in rebuilding America on a new basis, rebuilding a better world, instead of one based on the greed of the few."

Would the poverty of the many suffice for now?

2. Return of the Cold War

Vladimir Putin never graduated from the "cold war mindset," judging by the way he executes renegade spies (Alexander Litvineko, meet Georgi Markov), snuffs out domestic opposition, silences muckraking reporters, and nationalizes the means of production not for the good of the workers but for the luxury of a new class of petty bureaucrats, all tellingly plucked from the ranks of the Stalinist secret police. Yes, everything old is new again in the motherland, which explains why it wasn’t such a shock that the most of the world spent last August sweltering in contempt for retro Ruski hegemony.

Putin’s summer invasion of Georgia, orchestrated like a ribbon dance to overlap with the Beijing Olympics, was really the culmination of months of provocation and bullying. Back in April, the U.N. found Russia guilty of committing an "act of war" when one of its MIG-29 planes shot down a Georgian drone flying over Abkhazia, a breakaway region that is still internationally recognized as sovereign Georgian territory. The Kremlin had also awarded Russian passports and Russian citizenship to Abkazians and South Ossetians, an act of demographic annexation that Washington never dreamed of undertaking with respect to any country into whose affairs it has intervened.

Just like old times, the scowling strongman of Moscow dressed his belligerence in the tattered garb of moral equivalence. Putin compared his attack on Georgia to the NATO-led rescue of Kosovo, going so far as to fabricate evidence of a Tiblisi-perpetrated "genocide," which no independent human rights organization has been able to substantiate. At the same time, mimicking every Soviet premier with a "peace" agenda to sell, he borrowed from the vocabulary of democracy in order to justify his disdain for the real thing.

However, there was a stark difference in how Russian imperialism was received in the global chancelleries this time, in that practically all of them heaped scorn on Putin’s aggression and then failure to live up to the terms of the cease-fire and withdrawal agreements. Even Iran stayed mums on the bloody affair, offering no rhetorical support to the abettors of its nuclear weapons program, while only Hugo Chavez, exponent of socialism with a moon face, rah-rahed the oil-rich nation that has happily sold him fighter planes.

3. The Disintegration of the Right

Actually, the proper term for the phenomenon is "crackup." Not since the founding of National Review, and the cleavage of the intellectual wing of postwar conservatism from the bigoted John Birch one, has the political right been host to such fractiousness. Forget paleo and neo distinctions; just to register Republican today is to enlist in a bitter fraternal tiff that’s as much about why the party is losing power as it is about how to best cope with the inevitable defeat.

There are lots of fissures in the facade to choose from here, but let’s begin with the blogs. Andrew Sullivan began the blockbuster trend of ideological departures perhaps the earliest, authoring a book about how to recapture the conservative "soul," while sounding more and more like the anonymous dybbuks who populate DailyKos. It’s not that Sully doesn’t deserve credit for sticking to his principles on the criminality of torture, or for pointing out how corrupt, arrogant and purblind the administration has been. But does he have be so self-righteous about it?

No apostasy is complete without martyrdom, and Sully was swift, when the recriminations began more than four year ago, to defend himself as the only honest Thatcherite in the house. At one point he even declared, "As for the vitriol thrown in my direction, I may be becoming a useful Emmanuel Goldstein figure for the movement," helpfully citing as his comrade in vilification a fictional character modeled on Leon Trotsky (how’s that for saving the conservative soul?)

Meanwhile, others have quit the field, citing the more relevant differences between Edmund Burke and Karl Rove, if to less histrionic effect. Budget-balancing supply-siders disillusioned with the arrant spending of this White House have written bristling essays about where the conservative "movement" (beware that word; what it symbolizes dies the moment it’s invoked) went wrong. And Barack Obama, arguably the most liberal major-party candidate for president, finds himself with a relucant cheering section that consists of prominent "Obamicans" such as Charles Krauthammer, Jeffrey Hart, Fareed Zakaria, and Christopher Buckley.

Buckley’s defection has garnered the most press, not only because it comes just months after the decease of his dearly departed "Pup," but also because it prompted junior’s all-too-eagerly-received resignation as a backpage columnist for the magazine Pup founded. National Review‘s current editor, and Buckley pere‘s hand-crafted protege, Rich Lowry, says fils was only ever a temporary replacement for Mark Steyn, who’s now back at work, fresh from defeating the Islamist censors trying to shut him up in Canada. Still, that a prince should be without a castle in his own kingdom tells us all we need to know about how well Christopher’s decision was received by his fellow wingers. Thank you for smoking, now don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out:

I have been effectively fatwahed (is that how you spell it?) by the conservative movement, and the magazine that my father founded must now distance itself from me. But then, conservatives have always had a bit of trouble with the concept of diversity. The GOP likes to say it’s a big-tent. Looks more like a yurt to me.

David Frum knows all about yurts. Though still a somewhat hestitant McCain supporter, the former Bush speechwriter can’t but speak the truth about Sarah Palin (she’s a disaster), as he did about Harriet Miers (remember her?). And so Frum has to put up with all manner of small-minded sniping from his inferiors at NRO.

Here is Kathryn Jean-Lopez at The Corner:

David Frum was on CBS this morning and expressed his view that the choice of Sarah Palin was a mistake. He complained that it was a play to the base that hurts people like Coleman and Dole who need help, and some centering from the top of the ticket would help them and McCain. I’m getting really frustrated with the reflex some on the Right have to want to push conservatism to the side or on hold. Someone has to hold the line at all times. Ideas have consequences. And so do campaign choices.

She then goes on to agree with fellow blogger Mark Levin, who makes the unveiled accusation that Frum’s into criticizing on his own side for the TV and cocktail party opportunites it affords, by saying, "No question about it, Mark" but then adding, with characteristic logic, "David doesn’t say what he says because he wants to be on TV, he says it because he believes it. But the mainstream media is so transparent."

To which Frum replied:

It’s flattering to be told that my eagerness to clink glasses with the Washington social elite is the driving cause behind the shriveling public support for the Alaska governor. Flattering – but not very convincing. Tens of millions of people have tuned in to watch Sarah Palin field questions from Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, and then to share a stage with Joe Biden. If Palin’s public support is now collapsing, it is her own doing.

Clinton had his firesale pardons, Bush has perma-strife with a retro twist. What’s Obama going to do for his encore in 2016?

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