Hunter S. Thompson, Portland, Oregon’s First Congregational Church, 1988
A mostly ineffectual one-term president, whose political and personal journey through civil service was miserably stained by queer controversy, roagish affiliations and dark secrets, George Herbert Walker Bush leaves us this week with three horrific legacies, not the least of which his son, the 43rd president of the United States, but specifically his foolhardy land war in Iraq that eventually led to the 9/11 attacks and this endless foray into turning the region into an anti-American fireball, and his prominent role in one of the great crimes against the U.S. Constitution, the dumb-struck Iran-Contra affair, helmed by his doddering and confused predecessor, Ronald Reagan. In his lame-duck exit in the winter of 1992-1993 he would cement this criminal orgy by pardoning six convicted felons of its fallout, one of them preventing a trial in which he would have at least been a key witness if not a defendant.
Anything written about the legacy of George H.W. Bush in the annals of American governance must start with his place as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency for 357 extremely active days between the years 1976 and 1977 in which he enthusiastically supported a clandestine illegal maneuver called Operation Condor. One of the last CIA edicts in a nearly 30-year international Cold War chess game played without the knowledge of the U.S Congress or (chuckle) the American people, it eventually resulted in the deaths of an estimated 60,000 Latin American dissidents, leftists, union and peasant leaders, priests and nuns, students and teachers, intellectuals and “suspected” guerillas.
It was this kind of dedication to tainted patriotism, and his hearty primary challenge to Reagan, that would lead to the Gipper’s choosing Bush as his running mate in 1980, resulting in what would turn out to be an equally shady role as a mostly door-stop vice president.
For the final record, it must be written in stone that Ronald Reagan absolutely and with great relish hated George Bush. He repeatedly called him a wimp and a worthless Washington toady behind his back and in public. It would often get big laughs at GOP fundraisers and proved that Reagan knew where his bread was buttered somewhere in the deeper recesses of the far right. For Bush’s part, a mostly centrist, country-club, Connecticut elitist, he considered Reagan clearly insane, and after his overt attack on what would become Reganomics as “voodoo,” he was known to shout out insults from down the corridors of the White House when a crippling recession cost Dutch dearly in the 1982 midterms. This, and the infinitely stupid “Read my lips, no new taxes” stuff would bury Bush in conservative quarters forevermore.
Unlike his son, who would pick the bones of his father’s administration for damaged goods, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom religiously believed in quaint notions of nation-building, torture and bombing children for stock market spikes, Bush was completely and quite dangerously, for him, unaware of a violent shift in 1980s Republicanism the likes of which the country had not seen since the bizarre days of Calvin Coolidge, until now, in which the very core and soul of the party seems to be on trial daily. And for that, he never recovered.
The true right wing of the party abandoned him before he was ever handed a shoo-in nomination to run for president in 1988. Thus, the infamous Willie Horton ad against Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis, a blatantly racist and now considered arguably the ugliest and most divisive campaign low-blows in the history of American politics. It would help elect Bush while consequently championing the kind of scum-scraping tactics his son would use in 2000 to link his then Republican primary opponent John McCain to an illegitimate black child, and later the vicious attack on homosexuals to secure certain battleground states against John Kerry in the general election campaign of 2004. The brainchild of Bush’s campaign strategist Lee Atwater, a dementedly evil fascist who would later go on to run the Republican Party during the first two years of Bush’s presidency, the Willie Horton template would help create the kind of “alternative facts” cloud that infected Roger Ailes building and branding of FOX News.
Even after Bush’s completely outlandish defense of Iran/Kuwait/Saudi Arabia in his extremely popular and successful Desert Storm in 1990, which began the domino effect that would rile up Osama bin Laden in song and story and effectively lead to the great tragedy of this generation, 9/11, there was never any love for President George Bush. Of course, this “domino effect theory” is nothing new for readers of this space. Much of my defense of the Bush II Doctrine of “Iraq had something to do with 9/11” for years was based on the continued stance of al qaeda that Christian infidels were stationed on holy Muslim land in what was once the center of radical Islamic territories and later inspired the 1998 East African U.S. embassy bombing, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen’s Aden Harbor, and finally the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil.
What was absent from much of the reporting on Desert Storm at the time was the Reagan and eventual Bush administrations’ continued arms support of what was the origins of al qaeda, the Afghani Mujahedeen army to oust the Soviets from the country that went on a mind-numbing ten years as another covert illegal exercise called Operation Cyclone. This would turn out to be the origins of the quagmires that this nation has been sunk in now for 17 years running.
Despite a 92 percent approval rating after what amounted to Iraqi soldiers surrendering to CNN cameramen, Bush would eventually be booted from the job in 1992 by William Jefferson Clinton and Ross Perot, whose TV-induced populist (Trump before Trump) run for president sucked dry the last of his weakened right-wing support. Yet, in the face of all of it, on his way out, Bush pardoned the architects of Iran-Contra. It’s most notorious figure, the convicted former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger went free to essentially keep Bush out of the proceedings after several documents surfaced that refuted the then vice president’s claims that he was kept “out of the loop” on the illegal arms trade with a hostile Iran to fund a wholly illegal Central American war.
This shameless over-reach in presidential power that began when Bush served under Gerald Ford during his pardon of Richard M. Nixon for high crimes against the United States, would first and foremost implicate him in the Iran-Contra scandal as a major player and later influence Bill Clinton, George Bush, and certainly this thing in the White House today, for presidents to duly ignore the general understanding that “no one is above the law.”
Certainly, in the current climate of trashing our game show goofball president, it became chic this week to praise George Herbert Walker Bush for not being vulgar, ignorant, and racist, but it is this buttoned-down, smirking, billboard for backdoor, underhanded chicanery that may have been far more dangerous than this openly spastic buffoonery we endure currently.
In the end, George Bush’s most lasting legacy may be that he masterfully hid the disgusting stuff better than most. And for that, he deserves the mantle of president of the United States.