The One Big Thing George W. Bush Did Right
History will record that George W. Bush made one critically important contribution to our country -- and to the entire world. He and his administration provided unquestionable proof of the bankruptcy of radical-conservative ideology, and set the stage for a qualitatively different progressive era in American politics.
History is not linear. It is not gradual or evolutionary. Human progress proceeds in fits and starts like a volcano, where pressure gradually builds over years and then erupts with enormous power.
Very often those explosions of progress -- periods when we expand the realm of democratic values, human dignity, economic opportunity and optimism -- are precipitated by periods of domination by the forces of privilege, inequality and selfishness.
By assuring that all of the fruits of the growth of productivity in our economy went to the wealthiest 2% of our population, the Bush administration set the stage for the current economic collapse.
By actually putting into practice the Neo-Conservative theories of pre-emptive war and unilateralism, George W. Bush demonstrated their failure more persuasively than could the most articulate progressive critic.
By abandoning our historic commitment to due process and sinking into the dark world of torture, George W. Bush and his partner Dick Cheney isolated themselves from the growing worldwide commitment to human rights.
A brilliant new book by Democratic strategist and author Mike Lux documents the other periods in our history when conservative domination led to progressive renewal. The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, describes the five "big change" moments in American history since the American Revolution: the Bill of Rights, the ending of slavery, the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the civil rights movement.
He argues that big changes have never occurred gradually -- nor have they been spread randomly over our history. Rather, they have been concentrated in these periods of "big change.". In each, a cascade of progressive innovation took place over a short period of time, after years of right wing opposition.
Progressives invented the American ideal and inspired the American Revolution. Conservatives, then known as Tories, opposed it. Since then, every major advancement in American freedom, democracy, social justice, and economic opportunity has been fostered, fought for, and won by progressives against conservative resistance. Now who's anti-American?
We've already seen previews of the new progressive era, but the curtain will really go up next Tuesday when Barack Obama is inaugurated the 44th President of the United States. The next few years could be a transformational period -- if we all make it so.
As for Bush, he will be remembered as the man who set the stage. He has played the Hoover to Obama's Roosevelt, the James Buchanan to Obama's Lincoln.
Lux's study also makes something else absolutely clear. In American history, the pendulum has not swung inevitably back and forth between conservative and progressive periods with some form of historic equivalency. Instead, the changes emerging from periods of progressive success, once made, remain a permanent feature of our society.
Conservatives fought against the ending of slavery, women's suffrage, Social Security, collective bargaining, Medicare, and the end of segregation. After the progressive period that brought them to life was done, a conservative backlash often tried to limit the scope of these important advances -- with Jim Crow, assaults on Labor, or attempts to privatize Social Security. But conservatives have never been successful at eliminating them.
Once enacted, progressive change is hard to dislodge. That's because progressive change is progress. Progressive values are the most adaptive trait human beings have yet created to ensure our success and survival on this small planet.
The Right battled for decades to take complete control of the levers of power in Washington. The election of George W. Bush finally gave them the ability to combine the power of the presidency with their control of Congress to make their program the law of the land.
Ironically, their very success may assure that George W. Bush is remembered as the president whose failures created the conditions we needed to craft a new bottom-up economy, to pass universal health care and to create new international institutions that bring us closer to a world where we no longer rely on war to resolve our differences.
Of course nothing is inevitable. We cannot afford to squander the opportunity that history and George W. Bush have provided us. It is time for all of us to report for duty in the battle to turn this historic opportunity into the next great period of progress in America.