Our political Quote of the Day comes from one of the Internet’s most thoughtful writers, James Hertsch, who used to have a blog and wrote under a pen name. He writes on his new blog about one of several major shifts in the ascension of Barack Obama to the Presidency: the return to normalcy:
With all the hope and change that Obama threw around for the past two years, you’d think there’d be a revolution in the works. A radical paradigm shift from 20th century to 21st, no looking back, all that good stuff. But I’m not looking for that from President Obama. I just want a return to normalcy.
It’s worth remembering that George W. Bush’s presidency hardly qualified as “normal.” Torturing prisoners? Not normal. Creating a prison system specifically designed to evade US responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions, let alone its own laws? Not normal. Invading another country on the slimmest shreds of evidence? Not normal. Arguing unsound theories of the vice president’s role in government? Not normal. Irresponsibly spending the government’s money while enacting ill-conceived tax cuts? Not normal. A supine Congress? Not normal. Not asking Americans to sacrifice during a time of crisis? Not normal.
Even if I concede that al-Qaida thrust upon President Bush a world unlike his predecessors’, I cannot accept that President George W. Bush acted — or reacted — in a way that conforms to “normal” American behavior. From Gitmo to the Iraq war, from broad assertions of presidential power to partisan, possibly illegal, hiring policies at the Justice Department, the Bush administration acted in ways that ran counter to the norms established by his immediate predecessors.
There’s a lot more, so be sure to read the whole thing. Here are my thoughts:
YES. This was a key reason why the Bush administration lost the support of so many Americans. Many Americans of all political persuasions at some point or other were left open-jawed as they learned of some major shift from the normal way administrations of both parties had run government. Norms were shattered in the assumptions about American values and even partisan political practices.
In the end, it proved to be change that Americans did not believe in.
Why is it that so many GOPers who were linked to the Bush administration broke with GWB? Because the Bush 43 administration was literally not his Daddy’s Republicanism and Republican Party. To Rush Limbaugh & Co who are now openly rooting for Obama — and by inclusion the economy of the United States — to fail, this was not a bad development. To them, Bush consorted with the enemy (he would try and build coalitions internationally and in domestic politics and win people over, rather than just mandate).
To those who learned about how government was supposed to operate in their high schools and colleges — the “givens” of American norms, values, respect for its different power centers , the line considered crossed when opponents were accused of being traitors without saying the actual word — it was an administration unlike any most Americans had seen in their lifetimes. There were those who truly believed in the Bush administration and also those that backed it because they would jettison their traditional beliefs if their party suggested it was necessary.
The bitter irony: Bush was the most normal of normal Governors in Texas, since he broke normalcy there. Here was a guy who was meeting with Democrats, making friends with them, winning over huge margins in elections and even called a …….”moderate”…by some. Because he was indeed seen as a moderate. And a uniter.
A story for all TMV readers. During the election of 2000 I was talking with a close relative. She feared that Bush would get in and radically move the government, environmental policy, politics, the economy to the far right. I was not a Bush supporter; I wanted him when he was Governor but, once Rove and his associates slimed Arizona Senator John McCain in South Carolina, they lost me and I became a big McCain supporter — and even re-registered as a Republican to vote for McCain in the California primary.
I did not want Bush to win in 2000 because of the kind of tactics I saw used against McCain, which suggested to me that he could do the same if he was in office. But I was still not upset about a possible victory. I told this relative not to worry.
“Look,” I told her, “people always think there’s going to be some huge shift when someone comes into power. There is a traditional way of doing things and he won’t do the things you say. I won’t vote for him but they loved him in Texas. Remember I did a lot of shows there. And look at the record of his father who still stayed in the center. There is a center in America and if he wins it won’t be as bad as a lot of people think.”
She was right, I was wrong.
As Hertsch notes, 9/11 became the slogan for the Bush administration. Everyone knew the world would not be the same after that day. But then it became the administration’s catch-all slogan and justification — a kind of bludgeon to do things its way without serious consultation. It broke with the norm, taking a dismissive attitude towards the courts (unless they were judges they agreed with), other branches of government (unless the Congress or Court went its way), the press (banishing the traditional pressroom site and often bypassing media other than Fox News and right wing talk shows) — and even the traditional, long-honored way of formulating foreign policy decisions (policy makers look at pluses and minuses, coolly evaluate and pick the best course for the country).
Suddenly, even science was said to be wrong — a first for any modern administration.
It wasn’t a normal 8 years. And not just because of 9/11. Because 9/11 became the political argument to try to justify everything.
Here’s how Hertsch ends his piece:
With President Barack Obama now in office, I do not see a need for revolution. Rather, I see a need to return to American traditions of order in government, separated powers, and an executive that works with the legislature, rather than attempting to ignore or steamroller it when members of Congress grow inconvenient. I look forward to a foreign policy rooted in a cold assessment of US interests and a greater respect for other nations’ sovereignty. I look forward to a war policy rooted in continuing to prosecute this war on terror, but doing so in a way that is consistent with American values and a respect for individuals’ dignity and rights.
In other words, I want a return to normalcy.
So do many other Americans — including many Republicans.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.