Our Next Irrelevant
The presidency of Bush the Younger is likely to be ineffective.
by Jonathan Wilson
December 14, 2000
Al Gore's concession speech was lavishly praised by ABC's correspondents, but most every one of them, after assigning Gore such grace (as though Bush would have written the speech himself) admitted that they heard the undercurrents of partisan rancor. In fact, Gore does not believe he lost. In fact, House Democrats will be angrier than ever. As the economy hits the inevitable skids, nothing short of a defining crisis will propel Bush through his first term and into a second.
The problem for Bush's Dad, is that the "crisis" came too early in the term, and was resolved too quickly and too successfully. This resulted in the fickle electorate blaming him for being a deficit hawk, and blamed him for a shallow recession which was already in its second (or third?) quarter of recovery by the time Clinton took office.
Bush will preside over a much deeper recession, and over a house so divided that none of his campaign promises will stand. Clinton departs under a cloud after two terms of the best economy in history. In our hearts, we know that our presidents are not to be credited or blamed with our economic cycles. If a President has besmirched the office, as Clinton has, we are loathe to assign him the legacy of economic prosperity. Clinton raised the bar for irrelevance in the oval office, becoming as anonymous to history as Presidents Harding, Cleveland, and Hayes. But honorable presidents, such as Carter or Bush the elder, bringing dignity to the office, are easily tossed out when the economy slips.
Frankly, when the legal battle entered its second week, I could not understand why either candidate wanted to win anymore. Winning on a 8-8 court judgment (putting the two courts together) after a 50-50 popular vote and a vote so close in Florida it is impossible to count precisely, has prepared the way for Clinton's successor. We have returned to an age where history is being made by industrialists and technologists and pioneers, not by Presidents. This election will be studied by political scientists, but that is not where history counts. History counts in public consciousness, which, for at least one hundred years, has been shaped by tax-funded public schooling. Here, you remember, you may have been required to memorize the Presidents by order and name. But can you talk about the Taft legacy? Who remembered that John Quincy Adams was the son of the revolutionary and 2nd President? Writing this, I can't even recall the name of the last President to lose the popular vote, and it is a name that has been repeated thousands of times over the last month! Lincoln and Kennedy were assassinated. Did you know that other Presidents were assassinated too? Can you name them?
Where it matters, President Bush the younger will become another asterisk, a piece of trivia, and school children born 20 years from now, and quizzed 30 years from now, won't be taught the particulars of his administration, because nothing relevant will have been achieved. The name on the lips of those children, taught for remembrance, for having such impact in shaping our era and way of life: Bill Gates.
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