Is this Presidents' Week, or is NPR just in an Orwellian mood to rewrite a few chapters of the sordid history of our nation's highest office (see Sunday's post)? This morning David Greene presents his "reporter's notebook" on second- term presidents, which is a feeble attempt to reassure us that the future may prove that the current Bush administration is not the train wreck that we all know it to be.
Greene's battle against reality follows a twofold strategy. First, he treats US Presidents and their policies as if all that ultimately counts are approval ratings and the judgment of some historians. Thus we get Truman, father of our National Security State, presented as the hero "who did set forces in motion that did eventually end the cold war." We hear Truman's 1947 Truman Doctrine speech (spliced together with one from G.W. Bush!) with no mention given that the assistance to Greece and Turkey that Truman was calling for helped preserve two repressive, far right regimes and set a pattern for fostering torture and dictatorship throughout the Cold War. Instead all that matters is that Truman was unpopular toward the end of his presidency, but now is revered by loyal historians and pundits alike. Similarly, President Reagan's sordid and violent Presidency is recalled because - in spite of scandals - "Reagan left office with nearly 6 in 10 Americans approving of his performance."
The second front in Greene's war on truth is to trivialize Presidential assaults on Constitutional safeguards and law by treating them as nothing more than scandals that overtake passive Presidents. In this way Reagan's secret arms-hostage trading with Iran to support his illegal war on Nicaragua is nothing but "the Iran-Contra scandal which engulfed Ronald Reagan’s White House." And what matters is that "Reagan reenergized his administration with some new faces and he made himself a prominent player on the world stage with trips like this to Berlin" (we hear wild cheering as Reagan makes his "Mr. Gobachev, tear down this wall" speech). So Bush can relax, knowing that his disastrous Iraq War, his torture policies, his secret prisons, his unauthorized eavesdropping, etc. won't stand in the way of the eventual popularity that history or unforeseen events will bestow on him.
If you are angry, disturbed, disgusted by the actions of the Bush administration, calm down! Remember that the "march of freedom" doesn't follow a straight path, and as David Greene says, "President Bush himself talks about leading freedom’s march; that march has taken him today to a moment of political uncertainty."