My new book -- A Tragic Legacy: How a Good Vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency -- will be released June 26, and I'd like to encourage everyone to pre-order the book today or any time throughout the week. To encourage pre-ordering, Amazon has substantially discounted the book's price, and it can be ordered here. Active pre-ordering in the week prior to release can help greatly with elevating the book's visibility.
The central purpose of the book is to examine what has happened to the United States for the last six years under the Bush presidency. That is the "Bush legacy" -- our national character and national identity have been fundamentally degraded, our moral standing and credibility in the world eroded to previously unthinkable depths, our government engaged in the very behavior which, for decades, we have collectively deplored, our trust in America's governmental and journalistic institutions reduced virtually to zero, and our country placed on a plainly unsustainable course as a result of the militarized, imperial role we are choosing to play in the world.
At the heart of this process lies a binary moralistic view of the world, one which seeks to define every conflict and political challenge, both foreign and domestic, as a battle of Good versus Evil. The crux of this mindset is the continuous identification of an Enemy, one which embodies Evil and which must be stopped, typically destroyed, at all costs. No competing considerations, no rational arguments, no counter-balancing objectives, not even constraints of reality or resources, can compete with the moral imperative of this mission. The mission of destroying Evil trumps all.
And the converse then also falls comfortably into place: those who seek to destroy Evil -- whether it be America, or President Bush, or the right-wing political faction that has supported the Bush presidency -- are, by definition, the embodiment of Good. Thus, whatever steps they take, whatever instruments they employ in service of their mission, are intrinsically justifiable because, by definition, they are employed in service of the Good.
This Manichean mentality not only drives George W. Bush personally, but it also consumes our political discourse almost entirely. It is this mindset, more than any other single cause, that has driven us to embrace extraordinary policies and truly radical beliefs that are as ill-considered and incoherent as they are destructive. This is the "moral reasoning" which led us to invade and indefinitely occupy Iraq, to vest previously unimaginable power in the President, to allow our country to become symbolized by orange-jumpsuit-clad, shackled and leashed detainees locked away and brutally maltreated in lawless prisons around the world, and which has brought us to the brink of still new wars in the Middle East, most alarmingly with Iran. It is this reasoning which has rendered our country virtually unrecognizable, and has placed us on a course which simply cannot be sustained.
Attempting to simplify a complex and daunting world into clean moral dichotomies is not new; the word "Manichean" derives from a third century B.C. popular religion founded by the Persian prophet Manes, who insisted that a battle between the forces of pure Good and pure Evil drives every event in the world. That religion's defining mandate was that the individual's sole duty was to choose sides and act in defense of Good against Evil.
For quite some time in America, but particularly since the 9/11 attacks, it is this Good versus Evil template which has driven our national conduct. This is the mindset that has been applied by George Bush, and in turn by our media and our country, to virtually every political challenge we have. But by its very terms, it distorts reality beyond recognition, renders rational debate impossible, and justifies even the most morally grotesque actions in the name of defending Good and annihilating Evil.
That this moral absolutism is what drives George Bush personally -- steeped, for him, in the evangelical theology he embraced as a means of overcoming his alcoholism -- also accounts for one of the most critical aspects of the Bush presidency. Bush's presidency has been shaped by the ability of various factions -- the garden-variety Cheney/Rumsfeld hawks who believe in the endless application of U.S. military force to enforce America's will in the world; the right-wing Christian evangelicals who believe in the exercise of government power to fulfill theological ends; the Israel-centric neoconservatives who seek to use American resources to rule the Middle East -- to induce Bush's unyielding commitments to their agenda by depicting their desired policies in the moralistic terms which drive the President.
The agendas of these disparate political factions converge in agreement on one overarching, shared vision: ever-increasing American militarism, particularly in the Middle East, accompanied by a steady increase in governmental power domestically that is justified in the name of that militarism. That vision has been dressed up in the language of moral imperative, and justified by the core Goodness of America, of the Bush administration, and of the political movement he leads.
This agenda of militarism and domestic liberty-infringement has been fueled by the fear-invoking specter of an endless supply of new Enemies who embody pure Evil, against whom we need protection. This view of the world is protected by the claim that anyone who opposes this Battle is himself indifferent to, if not sympathetic with, the forces of Evil. And it is this moralistic certitude that has come to be the predominant theme driving our national behavior -- both within the U.S. and in the world -- and it fundamentally shapes the role we seek to play in the world.
Our country's collective acceptance of the same Manichean moralism which drives George Bush, its unexamined acceptance of American exceptionalism, explains much of what has happened over the last six years. Various chapters in the book document how Bush's moralistic vision accounts for specific policies and actions we have taken. The largest chapter in the book is devoted to an examination of how the Bush presidency has placed the U.S. on a completely unnecessary -- though seemingly desired -- collision course with Iran, threatening a military confrontation with that country that would be indescribably destructive.
Judged from a historical perspective, there is really nothing that can compare to the collapse of the Bush presidency. Certainly no modern president has been so deeply and irredeemably unpopular for such a sustained duration. While the Vietnam War rendered Lyndon Johnson so unpopular that he was precluded from seeking a second term, Johnson -- unlike Bush -- had a string of lasting domestic achievements to offset his failure as a war president. And whereas Johnson's refusal to seek a second term limited the impact of his presidency, Bush will govern America for eight highly consequential years. Never has a president been so isolated and unpopular for so long. In terms of presidential failures, the Bush presidency is sui generis.
George W. Bush will leave the political stage forever on January 20, 2009. But the right-wing political movement which embraced and sustained him -- and which cheered on the damage he has wrought on this country -- is not going anywhere. They are, of course, actively seeking his replacement -- someone who will be cosmetically different but who will be a loyal and unyielding adherent to the core, defining principles of the Manichean worldview that drove the Bush presidency. Indeed, they are seeking a replacement who will be even more zealously devoted to America's militaristic and imperial role in the world and the domestic liberty-infringing policies it ensures.
Understanding the legacy of the Bush presidency, then, is not merely a matter of historical interest. The challenge America confronts -- attempting to contain and then reverse the damage to our country from the last six years -- can be met only if we acknowledge what has happened and vigorously debate the questions which we must confront. First and foremost, that entails a candid debate about our increasingly militaristic role in the Middle East and generally in the world; how we are perceived and why we are perceived that way; and whether, as a result of the last six years under George Bush, we have truly been a force for Good in the world -- questions that have been all but suppressed by our guardians of mainstream discourse, declared to be in violation of mandated orthodoxies, and overrun by claims of moralistic certainty.
The ultimate paradox of Manichean morality, of the Manichean warrior, is that the most amoral, even morally monstrous, behavior is justified in its name. Those who begin with the premise that they are acting on behalf of pure Good are incapable of recognizing limits of any kind. How can those who are waging a Battle in defense of Good against Evil possibly err? How could limits of any kind on triumph in that Battle be justified? And most of all, how could Warriors for Good possibly themselves ever engage in Evil acts?
The Bush legacy is defined by that paradox. And whatever else one might want to say about the President, there is no denying that his presidency has been extraordinarily consequential. For better or worse, the legacy of George W. Bush is the legacy of the United States. And the only meaningful political question, one that imbues every specific political debate, is whether we want to continue and extend that legacy, or fundamentally abandon it so that we can begin to reverse its consequences. The overriding objective in writing this book was to shed as much light as possible on the Bush legacy in order to induce a much-needed examination of these questions.
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For several reasons, including the pre-ordering discount and the importance of Amazon rank, ordering from Amazon is preferred. But for those who prefer to use other online retailers, the book is also available at Barnes & Noble, Powell's, and most other online book retailers. It will also, as of the release date, be available in most bookstores.