DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA Bush's third term? You're living it
By David Swanson
It sounds like the plot for the latest summer horror movie. Imagine, for a
moment, that George W Bush had been allowed a third term as president, had run
and had won or stolen it, and that we were all now living (and dying) through
it. With the Democrats in control of Congress but Bush still in the Oval
Office, the media would certainly be talking endlessly about a mandate for
bipartisanship and the importance of taking into account the concerns of
Republicans. Can't you just picture it?
There's Dubya now, still rewriting laws via signing statements. Still creating
and destroying laws with executive orders. And still violating laws at his
whim. Imagine Bush continuing his policy of extraordinary rendition, sending
prisoners off to other countries with grim interrogation reputations to be held
and tortured. I can
even picture him formalizing his policy of preventive detention, sprucing it up
with some "due process" even as he permanently removes habeas corpus from
I picture this demonic president still swearing he doesn't torture, still
insisting that he wants to close Guantanamo, but assuring his subordinates that
the commander-in-chief has the power to torture "if needed", and maintaining a
prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan that makes Guantanamo look like summer
camp. I can imagine him continuing to keep secret his warrantless spying
programs while protecting the corporations and government officials involved.
If Bush were in his third term, we would already have seen him propose, yet
again, the largest military budget in the history of the world. We might well
have seen him pretend he was including war funding in the standard budget, and
then claim that one final supplemental war budget was still needed, immediately
after which he would surely announce that yet another war supplemental bill
would be needed down the road. And of course, he would have held onto his
Secretary of Defense from his second term, Robert Gates, to run the Pentagon,
keep our ongoing wars rolling along, and oversee the better part of our public
Bush would undoubtedly be following through on the agreement he signed with
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for all US troops to leave Iraq by the end
of 2011 (except where he chose not to follow through). His generals would, in
the meantime, be leaking word that the United States never intended to actually
leave. He'd surely be maintaining current levels of troops in Iraq, while
sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan and talking about a new "surge"
there. He'd probably also be escalating the campaign he launched late in his
second term to use drone aircraft to illegally and repeatedly strike into
Pakistan's tribal borderlands with Afghanistan.
If Bush were still "the decider" he'd be employing mercenaries like Blackwater
and propagandists like the Rendon Group and he might even be expanding the
number of private security contractors in Afghanistan. In fact, the whole
executive branch would be packed with disreputable corporate executive types.
You'd have somebody like John ("May I torture this one some more, please?")
Rizzo still serving, at least for a while, as general counsel at the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The White House and Justice Department would be crawling with corporate
cronies, people like John Brennan, Greg Craig, James Jones and Eric Holder.
Most of the top prosecutors hired at the Department of Justice for political
purposes would still be on the job. And political prisoners, like former
Alabama governor Don Siegelman and former top Democratic donor Paul Minor would
still be abandoned to their fate.
In addition, the bank bailouts Bush and his economic team initiated in his
second term would still be rolling along - with a similar crowd of people
running the show. Ben Bernanke, for instance, would certainly have been
re-appointed to run the Fed. And Bush's third term would have guaranteed that
there would be none of the monkeying around with the North American Free Trade
Agreement that the Democrats proposed or promised in their losing presidential
campaign. At this point in Bush's third term, no significant new effort would
have begun to restore Katrina-decimated New Orleans either.
If the Democrats in Congress attempted to pass any set of needed reforms like,
to take an example, new healthcare legislation, Bush, the third termer, would
have held secret meetings in the White House with insurance and drug company
executives to devise a means to turn such proposals to their advantage. And he
would have refused to release the visitor logs so that the American public
would have no way of knowing just whom he'd been talking to.
During Bush's second term, some of the lowest-ranking torturers from Abu Ghraib
were prosecuted as bad apples, while those officials responsible for the
policies that led to Abu Ghraib remained untouched. If the public continued to
push for justice for torturers during the early months of Bush's third term, he
would certainly have gone with another bad apple approach, perhaps targeting
only low-ranking CIA interrogators and CIA contractors for prosecution. Bush
would undoubtedly have decreed that any higher-ups would not be touched, that
we should now be looking forward, not backward. And he would thereby have
cemented in place the power of presidents to grant immunity for crimes they
If Bush were in his third term, some of his first- and second-term secrets
might, by now, have been forced out into the open by lawsuits, but what
Americans actually read wouldn't be significantly worse than what we'd already
known. What documents saw the light of day would surely have had large portions
of their pages redacted, and the vast bulk of documentation that might prove
threatening would remain hidden from the public eye. Bush's lawyers would be
fighting in court, with ever grander claims of executive power, to keep his
wrongdoing out of sight.
Now, here's the funny part. This dark fantasy of a third Bush term is also an
accurate portrait of President Barack Obama's first term to date. In following
Bush, Obama was given the opportunity either to restore the rule of law and the
balance of powers or to firmly establish in place what were otherwise aberrant
abuses of power. Thus far, Obama has, in all the areas mentioned above, chosen
the latter course. Everything described, from the continuation of crimes to the
efforts to hide them away, from the corruption of corporate power to the
assertion of the executive power to legislate, is Obama's presidency in its
first seven months.
Which doesn't mean there aren't differences in the two moments. For one thing,
Democrats have now joined Republicans in approving expanded presidential powers
and even - in the case of wars, military strikes, lawless detention and
rendition, warrantless spying and the obstruction of justice - presidential
crimes. In addition, in the new Democratic era of goodwill, peace and justice
movements have been strikingly defunded and, in some cases, even shut down.
Many progressive groups now, in fact, take their signals from the president and
his team, rather than bringing the public's demands to his doorstep.
If we really were in Bush's third term, people would be far more active and
outraged. There would already be a major push to really end the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan/Pakistan. Undoubtedly, the Democrats still wouldn't impeach
Bush, especially since they'd be able to vote him out before his fourth term,
and surely four more years of him wouldn't make all that much difference.