Monday, June 30, 2008

Bush as a Great President?

by Norman Markowitz

I am going to finish a course tonight that I am teaching on post 1945 U.S. history by bring it up to the present, 2008. After dealing with the economic, political, and cultural differences between the U.S. in1945 and 2008 I will present a counter-factual history of the Bush administration, to help students see what he did and didn't do by turning everything inside out.

First Bush realizes that he didn't win the 2000 election, has no mandated, and works closely with Congress on a bipartisan program. Then Bush provides strong leadership after the 9/11 attacks and rallies the people as FDR did on the day after Pearl Harbor, detains the bin Laden family in Boston and launches immediately a full investigation of the CIA involvement with bin Laden and the financial connections between Saudis, Al Qaeda, etc. Bush calms the people, realizing that hysteria and reaction are what the terrorists want.

Bush then uses broad international support to move against the Saudis and also to break with the Pakistanis. The U.S. does participate in a multi-lateral intervention in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime. Bush meanwhile seeks to improve relations with the then liberal elements of the clerical regime in Iran, to strengthen improved relations between South and North Korea. Of course Bush leaves the isolated Iraqi
regime of Hussein alone, since invading it would completely undermine all other aspects of his foreign policy.

Domestically, Bush defines "compassionate conservatism" as upgrading the EPA, increasing taxes to reduce deficits, and even with the 9/11 attacks, keeping the military budget in the vicinity of 300 billion. The Patriot Act is never passed and the redundant and expensive Department of Homeland Security, a bureaucracy often in conflict with other agencies, is never created, since its work was being done before by existing agencies. Bush doesn't aid labor, but he leaves labor alone. Bush supports expanding existing health care coverage and
benefits. FEMA is not the ignored and marginalized agency it was and is under Homeland Security and when Hurricane Katrina hits, the army corps of engineers plans to improve the levee system have been carried out,
and FEMA plays a positive and professional role in evacuating New Orleans and saving lives and property. Reconstruction is also carried out with skill and speed.

In my 2008 counter factual history, the deficit has been kept to where it was in 2001 (instead of more than doubling) real wages have grown modestly (instead of dropping sharply) the U.S. military budget is about half of what it really is today, the dollar is strong, and the price of oil, at most, is 80 dollars a barrel. The remnants of Al Qaeda are outlaws on the margins of a number of countries instead of growing stronger and more sinister from the base areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where they began in the 1980s.

I will tell my students not to present this narrative of the Bush administration on exams, but to see it as the opposite of everything that the Bush administration did (by the way, my "great president" Bush pursued counterfactual policies that a centrist Democrat or even Republican might have pursued).

I will then deal with the real Bush policies, tell the students that their exams will be due in two days, wish them luck and a happy July 4th weekend, celebrating the revolutionaries who declared their independence from another George who wasn't too bright but who came from a family with hereditary entitlements.


Harold said...

That's a very interesting and unique approach, Norman. I think your students will probably get quite a bit out of it, including a good hearty laugh.

One question - Do your students know that you're a Marxist and a member of the CPUSA? Is that something that you have to hide? I ask because I'm in the process of getting the education necessary to work in "the academy."


Anonymous said...

Harold, I tell my students at the beginning of each class that I am a Marxist and explain what that means, that I teach and right from a Marxist framework, don't penalize anyone who is against that framework, expect students to learn to think critically, not necessarily the way that I think. If students ask me if I am a Communist, I say yes. If they ask if I am a member of the Communist Party, USA, I say yes.
Since I am as open as possible, my political convictions and associations are no secret to anyone.
The university world is very complicated though. The problems I have are not really with students, including rightwing students, but with administration. Anti-Communist stereotypes remain powerful in these circles and they do things like block promotions, restrict salary increases, etc.,(which in my case is as much for my union work as anything else).
I wish you luck in continuing your education, Harold, but the "academy" is really in pretty bad shape today, both in terms of the public sector cutbacks, the rise in public universities of what is essentially a corporate managerial approach(with high administrators making huge salaries) and most of all the continued destruction of real jobs and their replacement with adjunct teachers, annual researchers, paid either per course or on a yearly renewable basis, and without the health and other benefits of full time "tenure track" workers.
Norman Markowitz