In Dead Certain, Robert Draper’s portrait of George W. Bush, the president is “keenly interested” in “what history will say” about his time in office. According to the New York Times, he only agreed to be interviewed for the book after he was convinced that Draper was “writing about him as ‘a consequential president’ for history, not for the latest news cycle.” We discover that Bush thinks that history will be “kind” to him. Mysteriously, the
At the world’s shittiest magazine, meanwhile, Karl Rove gave us the “long view,” predicting that history will view Bush as “a far-sighted leader who confronted the key test of the 21st century.” And so on. There appears to be a direct correspondence between the depths of abysmal failure that an administration can sink to, and the number of times that the verdict of history is invoked by its supporters.
I have written previously about the verdict of history, and how the obsession with it by Presidents and other politicians is a symptom of idiocy, self-centeredness, insufferable narcissism, and total disregard for the real responsibilities of one’s position. And there is yet another curious aspect of all this. The “reflective” public figure (even the shallowest pool can reflect, it would seem) thinks of “history” as a single, authoritative figure, perhaps draped in a white robe, pronouncing its verdict with one stroke of its cosmic gavel. But of course history is simply the discourse of existing individuals, historians and others, who construct narratives and thereby strive to understand the past—in other words, it is always contested, always limited, never absolute or transcendent.
What kind of a creature does Bush think “history” is, after all? Perhaps someone just like himself—a frat boy munching on a Hostess ding dong? Or maybe, among all the other Orwellian echoes in this madhouse of a White House, the notion of rewriting history to favor Big Brother—namely, the Ministry of Truth—comes into play. History will be kind to Bush because some other son of a bitch will alter history and erase the truth like they erased his Texas Air National Guard record.
But let us, for once, allow a strain of optimism to influence our thinking. Let us assume that future historians will be studious, conscientious, and objective—that they will, as Mr. Turd Blossom said, take the long view. Realistically, what will they say? I offer here my own tentative prediction.
“At a critical point in world history,” writes our esteemed chronicler from the future, “after the end of the Cold War, the
“Over time, Bush has become an archetype of imbecility and mindless hate. In the psychiatric community, ‘Bush’ has become shorthand for ‘sociopath.’ Although history is a field usually characterized by dissension and extreme diversity of viewpoint, the historical verdict on George W. Bush is remarkably consistent—he is considered the perfect jackass, a figure so odious as to be almost pathetic, a blithering fool with the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old, a reckless warmongering thief and liar who left an indelible stain on the country and a stench in the Oval Office, a whiny, self-important braggart who ordered the deaths of thousands so that his wealthy patrons could profit, a man with so little self-respect that he consented to be Richard Cheney’s acknowledged bitch, an historical figure so contemptible, so utterly irrelevant to anything meaningful, that the only reason he’s remembered is because of the sheer magnitude of his failure…” Etc.
Well, my future historian is obviously more colorful than you might expect. But history, you may have noticed, has caught up with satire.