So long, and thanks…

Welcome back! Hopefully whatever drab lecture youâÄôre reading this in is treating you well. And, if youâÄôre reading this after about noon, good news! George W. Bush isnâÄôt president any more. For most of us in college right now, Bush has been The President. We were but wee lads and lasses during the Clinton years, so we formed our worldviews through high school and college under the Bush Administration. ItâÄôs been a pretty twisted environment in which to come of age politically, to put it mildly. We watched our government lie its way into a war of choice, while putting a more essential conflict on the back-burner. We watched New Orleans drown. We saw pictures from Abu Ghraib, heard stories from Guantanamo Bay, read accounts of extraordinary rendition and âÄúblack sites.âÄù Inequality grew, employment fell and a surplus became a deficit. Our phones were tapped, our emails were read âÄî with warrants nothing more than a polite suggestion. Environmental protections? Who needs them? Political hacks filled the federal bureaucracy and undercover CIA agents were outed for political reasons. Science, itself, was shunned. It was often hard to tell whether the president was oblivious or indifferent. WeâÄôll remember him telling FEMA head Michael Brown , âÄúBrownie, youâÄôre doing a heck of a jobâÄù during the Katrina disaster. âÄúThe United States does not torture,âÄù he told us. âÄúThe British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,âÄù he claimed. None of it was true, of course. But we got used to it: when in doubt, assume heâÄôs lying. Not the best attitude to have toward oneâÄôs government, but we didnâÄôt have much of a choice. After a while, we simply had no reason to ever believe anything President Bush told us. His administration made a mockery of our legal system. Sometimes it was bizarre: remember when the vice-president was a de facto fourth branch of government? Other times were just depressing: torture isnâÄôt torture unless it feels like âÄúdeath, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant bodily functions.âÄù The use of that torture has undermined prosecutions. The so-called âÄú20 hijacker,âÄù Mohammed al-Qahtani , was tortured at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which, according to a Pentagon official, makes it impossible to prosecute him. Quite simply: torture does not make us safer. The Bush Administration showed a similar disregard for scientific findings. âÄúSeed MagazineâÄù recently interviewed BushâÄôs Science Advisor, who said , âÄú[Bush] would probably fire me if I permitted a science question to leak into his briefings.âÄù Bush did not want to be briefed on an issue until âÄúall science questions [had] been resolved.âÄù After all, we wouldnâÄôt want any pesky science leaking into the White House, would we? But above all else, more than the lies and deception and disregard for facts, fear defined the Bush presidency. We were expected to fall in line and blindly âÄúsupport the PresidentâÄù regardless of whether what he was doing was, you know, good. Dissent was shouted down amid an orgy of flag-waving and empty nationalism: âÄúEither you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.âÄù A destructive, Manichean attitude that squandered global goodwill and dragged America into the shadows: this is the Bush legacy. None of this is new; I realize that. But thatâÄôs because the conventional wisdom about Bush is correct: he was a terrible president who did immeasurable harm to our country. ThereâÄôs no sense in trying to gloss over his failures and errors, pretending that maybe he wasnâÄôt such a bad guy after all. His legacy is torture, suffering and death. Last Thursday, Bush stepped before TV cameras for the final time to deliver his farewell address to the nation. Most of the speech was as vapid as expected âÄî if you disagree with what he has done, you at least admit that he âÄúwas willing to make the tough decisionsâÄù âÄî but there were some glimmers of an attempt to defend his record. He mostly tried to argue that as bad as things are, they could be worse: the economy may be terrible, âÄúbut the toll would be far worse if we had not acted.âÄù He may have presided over the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax scare, âÄúbut there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without a terrorist attack on our soil.âÄù And he couldnâÄôt resist one last bit of fear mongering, evoking the specter of a vague âÄúoppressive ideologyâÄù out to overthrow us. His attempts to spit-shine his legacy were appropriately feeble, nothing but a long string of âÄúaside fromsâÄù: aside from Sept. 11, we havenâÄôt had any terrorist attacks; aside from the financial meltdown, the economy wasnâÄôt terrible; aside from all of the torture, we didnâÄôt torture; aside from all the bad, things were pretty good. Starting today, things will probably get better. But thatâÄôs just because they canâÄôt get a whole lot worse. Bush will wander back down to Crawford, leaving behind his a crippled economy, a federal budget with a hole in it the size of his ineptitude and an America without its standing as a moral beacon to the world: quite a feat for just eight years of work. ItâÄôs attractive to pass the blame to someone else farther down the chain: Dick Cheney , Paul Wolfowitz , Alberto Gonzales and the rest. And, of course, they each have their own special bit of odiousness to which they can lay claim. But the buck truly stops in the Oval Office, and it is George W. Bush who, above all, must answer for his atrocities. He likes to say that history will judge him. Well, heâÄôs right. He was loathsome. And now itâÄôs over. So long, Mr. President, and thanks for all the fail. John Sharkey welcomes comments at [email protected]