Thankfully, the eight years of Bush rule are almost over. It has been a dark period for the American soul, spirit, and Dream. Here is a synopsis of the Bush presidency years as seen through my life, documented through my web site and blog.
In 2000, my mind certainly wasn’t thinking about international terrorism, financial crises, gas prices, or the like. According to my site’s news archives from 2000, when I was 22, the most important topics in my life at that point were Napster and the dotcom bubble. The bubble had not yet burst, although it started having some rough days. Oil was hovering around $25-40/barrel. I had just graduated from college and went to Italy with my dad, and France with my mom. The dollar was strong and the Euro would continue to get weaker until about 2002, facilitating American travel abroad. I would daytrade the market for another year and a half.
George W. Bush
All I had to say about the election was, “I voted, but I almost feel ashamed of my country after the results…or lack thereof.”
There was little sense of urgency. Indeed, Bush’s original outlook was conservative and wouldn’t rock the boat — exactly what voters wanted.
After 9/11, the nation contorted itself, and so did Bush, after pausing a moment to read “The Pet Goat”. We reacted poorly to a major attack, and Bush egged it on instead of providing wise leadership. I took up the call to action, enlisting in the Army to help our country kill terrorists however I could. Chasing money through the stock market took a back seat. The Army changed me significantly, forcing me to grow up and to learn how to relate with others. I was completely in over my head.
An Iraq invasion reared its ugly head at the expense of Afghanistan, and even in 2005, I was still writing that the US just wasn’t selling its vision for the world well enough. I remember wondering why we let bin Laden escape, but figured even with flawed intelligence, taking down Saddam might be a good thing. The ends justified the means, in the minds of a lot of people.
I was in language school from 2002 to 2003, and we would watch our Iraqi teachers react to coverage on TV of another Blackhawk chopper being shot down, and an original US-style blitzkrieg slowing down into a morass.
Blackwater, a security contractor (now one of many), pal’d around with Paul Bremer, and ended up hanging, charred, from a Fallujah bridge. John Ashcroft covered up Lady Justice’s boob but took off her blindfold (to give it to Gitmo guests).
What typified this period in my life was having my head down in my Army training. I commented very little on what Iraq invasion would mean, or what the implications were of American unilateral power. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, akin in brilliance to McCain’s recent “league of democracies” idea, did not register to me as offensive like it does now.
The stock market had bottomed in 2002 and recovered quickly. But an era had passed; many daytraders had gone, and Wall Street, as we have found out now, was converting itself towards hedge funds. The fiasco of Enron had exposed Kenneth Lay, a close friend of Bush, to reality; it’d be three years before he’d be convicted of massive fraud.
Abu Ghraib and Gitmo incidents came out in 2004-2005. I think this is the period of time when the media and observers really began to catch some support for the idea that something bad was happening behind the scenes. Up until then, it might have been a more academic debate about whether invading Iraq was a good thing or not. But then constitutional meddling became impossible to hide.
During this time, Dubya was re-elected. RE-ELECTED! I will always wonder about that one. Voter disenfranchisement, fraud, illegal voting station procedures. All that after the debacle in 2000 with hanging chads in Florida.
In 2004, one of my personal heroes, Pat Tillman, the NFL player-turned-Army Ranger, was killed in a friendly fire incident that was reported as death by enemy fire. His memory was dishonored by the officers and leaders above him. He wanted to serve his country, and he thought the “war” was unjust.
It wouldn’t be until 2005, when I had settled into my permanent unit, that I would begin reading voraciously and studying up for my Iraq deployment later that year.
Here’s what I wrote, from the 2005 news on my site:
“So Bush picks Wolfowitz for the World Bank, Bolton for the U.N., and Hughes for the undersecretary of state. Politics aside, none of these people have the credentials or connections you’d think their nominated positions would require. At least Porter Goss has the credentials.”
“Just to remind you how out of touch the debate is back home, people are worried about talk of sending the troops home being demoralizing to the military effort here. These are not the days of people spitting on soldiers and calling them baby-killers like Vietnam was. I think what’s on most soldiers’ minds these days is the fact that many of them have missed their children’s births, their family members’ last three birthdays, and a couple of the last few Christmases and Thanksgivings. Speculation about returning home is just shrugged off by tired soldiers in their third year of constant deployment. But hey, you keep writing those morale-boosting “keep the troops away” blog entries in between family get-togethers this December, Mr. Concerned Citizen!! Or better yet, join your fellow citizens and serve a tour or two over in Iraq or Afghanistan!”
While in the Army, I saw General Eric Shinseki pushed out by Rumsfeld. The men installed were stupid, spineless, and tools for neoconservative aggression. Generals Franks, Myers, Odierno, Abizaid (who recanted), Sanchez (who partially recanted). The bright spot: Petraeus, current CENTCOM commander.
As a personal note, I think it fair to point out that my good friend Chris, a two-time deployed veteran whom I asked to look over this before I published it, vociferously disagrees with me about Petraeus. He thinks the man is a political weasel, which may be true. I think he has, at the least, shored up soldier morale from the General disasters before him.
Bush’s selecting of those close to him instead of those qualified accomplished two things: 1) no chance of coming to intelligent decisions, and 2) a vacuum of morale for those who’d worked their asses off only to be replaced by an inside man. In the cases of Wolfowitz and Bolton, they were the US’s chief representatives of organizations they sought to dismantle.
I was clearly less supportive of the occupation after returning from Iraq. I even generated a page with my political platform (which now needs to be massively over-hauled after a few more years of research and reading, not to mention working).
I watched soldiers and Blackwater contractors get deployed to the Gulf Coast during Katrina, while many poor people were trapped in flooding, all while I ate in a chow hall in Iraq. I read about Zarqawi cutting off heads in Iraq and beginning an internal Muslim civil war with the Shi’ites while Bush, our supreme leader I might add, said it was nothing.
The occupation was not going well, the military was in deployment inertia, and a large clampdown on all information started in 2005, resulting in my blog being severely curtailed and my being pulled off my team for posting pretty positive photos from Iraq. Bush and the military, deciding that the news was not favorable from Iraq, clarified OPSEC regulations by making them even more fuzzy and giving leaders wide latitude on what was considered violation of security. As a result, many soldiers’ blogs were shut down with soldiers receiving vastly different punishments. The chilling effect caused there to be very little reporting from soldiers in Iraq, even if you account for the requirements for OPSEC during a wartime environment. In effect, the American public knew even less about what was going on in Iraq than ever before.
I was in the firing line when this happened. Where there was no oversight while I blogged, overnight all the sudden, there was. I took down my photos (many of which supported our operations there), my Iraq journal, and anything else that might keep me from being with my team or hurting our occupation. I made this concession, yet I would never return to my team again. The best I could do was take my licks and go to my new position. I did my best, training soldiers for deployment and running my shop as efficiently as I could. I got off easy — others did not.
In 2007 I exited the Army and knew I needed to go to grad school in international relations in order to learn more. By this point, it was a personal responsibility of mine to become better educated about what was going on in the world.
In 2008, oil reached $140/barrel at one point and world commodity prices boomed (both would fall again). Late 2007 was when the steam ran out on CDOs, junk mortgage deals, and poorly-rated derivatives, all which were chasing a deregulated shadow market created by those who believe in no government interference (read: easier corruption) and completely free markets (read: dumbed down, bastardized economic theory). I pulled my money out of the stock market and managed to avoid the complete disaster after having profited on a Nintendo trade.
By the time Dubya leaves office, he will have left a smoldering wreckage of a country behind him, relative to where it was in 2000. Since he was elected, I have been militarized, been used as a neocon tool, been punished for expressing myself, have witnessed two of the largest stock market swings in history, and never achieved my goal in 2001 of destroying Al-Qaeda.
I have met fellow soldiers who lost their limbs and who have burn scars on their faces. Countless more are PTSD victims or have had their lives ruined, while the invisible occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan continue under the noses of an American public that just wants it all to be over.
I have lost friends who were too young and healthy to die. I have watched my country degrade itself internationally, withdraw from the international community, and become loathed worldwide. I have seen career government workers humiliated in public and replaced with Bush’s political appointees.
I’ve seen the extreme disconnects between the people I lived with in Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, California, Washington, DC. I have seen people too afraid to voice their political views depending on where they live. I’ve seen migrant workers in Salinas in California. I’ve seen the slums of Iraq, with the tell-tale trash, hiding faces, mangy dogs, and shattered dignity.
I have lived in Washington, a highly progressive city that has been forced to support a massively corrupt kleptocracy of senators and executive class who look down upon Washington residents, both the wealthy “Georgetown cocktail-drinking elite” (of which you’d think the Republican elite would be a part of, if anyone) and the incredibly poor “willingly lazy” black population that just wants hand-outs, all who live together in one city. I have seen the sprawling office buildings for contractors who profit off the military-industrial complex that exists in DC, 47 years after Eisenhower warned us never to go down that dark path. I’ve seen the large racial divide within the city.
What exists now is not what I want for my America. I can honestly say that I have seen more parts of the US in these last eight years than many, and I have been abroad and deployed enough to see how others view us as well. I was in an Al-Qaeda propaganda building in Iraq and we found a sewn NYFD seal that AQ members must have used as a symbol to mock 9/11’s casualties. We burned that building to the ground.
It goes through my mind from time to time when I reflect upon the last eight years whether I’m a product of my times, or whether I decided to take my life into my own hands. That is, did a Bush presidency and Iraq invasion and 9/11 cause me to turn out the way I did, or did I make the choices to serve and contribute to my country? Was I unsatisfied with not knowing enough, with not getting my hands dirty, with not giving back to a country that raised me so well? Or was I just doing what my country told me to do?
Did the US need a disaster like Bush in order to reverse the Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” disregard for civic and social engagement?
My friend Chris pointed out to me that these were the formative developmental years of my life, the years after I graduated from college and was trying to figure out what I’d do with my life. The madness to come in world events and national-level politics were undoubtedly going to strongly affect my beliefs and attitude. But still I wonder.
There was one clear bright spot during Bush’s years. The internet and the web grew exponentially during this period.
The dotcom bubble created a glut that lowered costs and barriers to entry for Web 2.0 and collaborative web sites. All manners of people around the world began hooking up to the internet, and this movement online is in its very early stages in terms of giving humans new tools to organize, collaborate, share, and create. Ironically, one of the keys for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign would be the internet; his ability to call upon grassroots funding and support and campaigning would galvanize the digerati. People like me, with little connection to the political process, felt empowered for the first time in our lives and had an online community to go to for support and organization.
My mother bought me Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope”, for Christmas in 2006 (it was published in October, 2006). I read the book while on 12 hour night shift in the Army, finishing in March, 2007. Even halfway through the book, I knew I would vote for that man (he declared in January, 2007). The way he wrote about issues indicated his thought process and the depth of his understanding for different stakeholders, externality effects, and priorities for the bigger picture. No one has the experience to be president at first, but he has the capacity to be a great president as soon as he takes office.
So I have my mother to thank for Obama.
In December 2006 I had written in my blog, “I think Barack Obama could be huge if he ran for president and Hillary stepped aside.”
The vanity is toned down and he’s at least attempted to use social networking sites (Flickr, Facebook) to do his branding and awareness. Without going off on too much of a tangent, I finished Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope”. What is interesting to me is that I don’t zone out like I do with most politicians — his writing seemed authentic and personal. His awareness of the complexities of certain issues, including those dear to mine like the Google-dominated Internet and the sensitivities of international relations as a study of people and not just as a way to get things from people, is quite refreshing. … The guy gets it, is what I’m saying. He’s highly intelligent and would restore the idea of insight and pragmatic thought into the reputation of the presidency. I’m sold.
In March, 2008, Obama gave one of the best speeches heard in a lifetime, on the subject of race:
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that.
But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.
That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.
This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.
Obama turned from someone people hardly knew to someone who defeated Hillary Clinton (even with Bill’s help) and the Republican GOP machine. It wasn’t until McCain chose Sarah Palin and the polls briefly broke even that I was worried about Obama’s presidency.
The dark days are almost over. Obama will most likely become president, and if he does, he will be presented with more challenges than any one person can face. The good news is that I think he will pick the best advisors from many fields, reversing the nepotism of Bush to appoint unqualified people into office. The good news is that Obama will inspire a new generation of people like me to serve our country again. The good news is that the US will engage with the world again, after Bush shunned the very international institutions that our country took the lead in creating (see Kristof’s write-up of Bush’s disengagement).
Mr. Obama, please go further. Please endorse free and fair trade for even the poorest developing nations. Please reduce trade and business barriers and affirm universal human rights. Please return our troops. Please put the best and brightest into your presidency, not those who will be blindly loyal. Please bring the Arabs and Muslims in from the political cold, and question Saudi, Egyptian, and Israeli political interests regarding American foreign policy. Please reinstate the Bill of Rights in full. Please help us find our dignity and legitimacy again.
I’ve been told, from my parents, and in my public schooling and in the Army, and from American pop culture, that Americans are leaders, that they provide a role model, that they create new ideas and new technologies and new inspiration, that they are always exceedingly optimistic and pro-active and entrepreneurial. This is what I’ve always been told. This is the person I’ve tried to become, and I’ve made choices in my life to fulfill my personal American Dream. But it’s been hard these last eight years. It’s been hard to deal with the negativity, with war and argument and divisiveness, with never-ending occupation, with an unstable macroeconomic environment, with the deserving not getting a chance, with unrealized potential. It’s been hard to see fellow Americans marginalized, been called un-American, anti-American, or fake Americans.
Americans are doing their best. They’re working hard, building tools to fix a broken system that the government hasn’t fixed on its own, and they’re demanding more from the government. This is all good. This is civic re-engagement. eGovernment, long-awaited, will be here soon.
And my generation, and the younger generation after me, and even many around the world, will be hoping that Barack Obama will lift the US up again, will allow us to realize our potential, will help us find our place in the “rise of the rest”, will allow us to excel at what Americans excel at once again. This is why we are voting Obama, and this is why we put so much on his shoulders. We have hope, we have optimism, we have a desire to improve this country, and we do not want to be let down like we have been under Bush. Please, Obama, do not let us down. Please do not do things that will make us lose what makes us American: our fanatical optimism and our hope for a better tomorrow.