George W. Bush, Texas' Prodigal Son, Returns

Given any thought to how you're going to react when you encounter George W. on the streets of Dallas?

OK, just tell me this. How do we greet him? Say I'm in the plumbing aisle at Home Depot bent forward at the waist searching for a beeswax toilet seal. I look up sideways. Damn it! It's George W. Bush.

"Oh, Hi, Mr. Presi...uh...former Mr....the you... can you just tell me what the hell you were thinking...?"

I have respect for the office. I know it's not my place to grill somebody who was president of the United States. I don't want to make an ass of myself. But damn!

You won't be seeing Josh Brolin at the Home Depot on Forest Lane anytime soon. But you might see the character he played in Oliver Stone's W.
You won't be seeing Josh Brolin at the Home Depot on Forest Lane anytime soon. But you might see the character he played in Oliver Stone's W.

I try to imagine meeting him face-to-face on my own turf, in my own hometown, and I hear very bad words issuing from my lips like an autonomic response.

Don't tell me it's never going to come up. Of course it will come up. Probably not for me, but for lots of people. George W. Bush is returning here to live, and that means people in our community are going to have to live with him. So my question remains.


I'm at a loss even trying to find a parallel. Herbert Hoover, the 31st president, retired to California in 1932. So how did people greet Hoover? "Interesting to meet you, sir. Thanks for the economic depression."

And that was all they blamed him for. With Bush, helping ruin the global economy was only the last thing he did. "Hey, sir, before you leave the plumbing aisle, do you mind my asking about the thing where you attacked the wrong country. I mean, what? We should give you a mulligan?"

You know, we already have some pretty striking examples of how other people react to the man. There is, for example, the shoe guy. Mark my words. Within two years, there will be an enormous, Saddam-sized statue of the shoe guy in the center of a gigantic public square in Baghdad. The flying shoe will be covered in gold leaf.

Maybe shoe-hurling will be common here too. What is that strange, muffled sound in the distance? Thunder? A marching band? Oh, no, it's former President Bush coming our way, and the ominous sound we hear is the rolling tympani of shoes bouncing off his motorcade.

Anything is possible. The area around his home in Preston Hollow may become the site of pilgrimages, like Lourdes, but instead of crutches in the trees and merchants hawking religious trinkets, there will be guys with pushcarts selling shoes. The Secret Service will be out there in helmets scooping shoes off the lawn into wheelbarrows.

I just don't think Dallas gets it yet. We're far enough away from the action that we don't quite understand the flavor of things. This is the worst president in the history of the United States. He started a war for no good reason. He couldn't handle a flood.

And who else will come with him? Cheney lived here before. What if Cheney starts showing up in Dallas again? The difference between Bush and Cheney is that people give Bush a tiny break for being a hapless character in an Oliver Stone movie. But Cheney is real.

At this point in history, Dick Cheney is a global symbol for real evil. So is Satan coming to town too?

I'm actually serious about this. We need to have some kind of viable social ethic that will allow us to deal with this extraordinary turn of events. After all, we, too, will be in the eyes of the world, to some extent.

Try to imagine what would happen, for example, if Dallas were to greet Bush and his ilk with warmth and enthusiasm. Picture it on billboards along the highways leading into town. "Dallas: The city that loves George Bush."

Oklahoma used to have a motto on its automobile license plates that I always thought expressed the lowest self-esteem of any state in the union: "Oklahoma is OK." I understood the Rodgers and Hammerstein reference, but I still thought it sounded like an awfully low mark for the aspirations of an entire state.

But I'll tell you what: "Oklahoma is OK" sounds a hell of a lot smarter than "The city that loves George Bush." I honestly think we'd do better bringing back the old "Impeach Earl Warren" billboards.

Bush has a right to move here. This is America. The man is free to live wherever he wants, assuming the war crimes thing doesn't happen. It would be small of us to hope for a war crimes trial merely as a way to rid us of a local embarrassment, but the thought does come to mind. Got any evidence? Call me.

Then there is the whole business of the Temple of Bush that Southern Methodist University is building—his "library" and "think tank," for goodness sake. They should call it the what-were-you-thinking tank.

SMU can look out for itself. I'm not worried about SMU. Obviously someone in a position of great influence made a decision that for the next half-century or so the name and academic reputation of Southern Methodist University should be associated with derisive skits on The Daily Show. What do I know? Maybe there's a huge fund-raising market out there among people who feel unwelcome at the smarter schools.

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40. Meanwhile average household incomes fell. When Bush took office in 2000, median household incomes were $52,500. In 2008, they were $50,303, a drop of 4.2 percent, making Bush the only recent two-term president to preside over such a drop.

41. And millions more fell below the poverty line. When Bill Clinton left office, 31.6 million Americans were living in poverty. When Bush left office, there were 39.8 million, according to the U.S. Census, an increase of 26.1 percent. The Census said two-thirds of that growth occurred before the economic downturn of 2008.

42. Poverty among children also exploded. The Census also found that 11.6 million children lived below the poverty line when Clinton left office. Under Bush, that number grew by 21 percent to 14.1 million.

43. Millions more lacked access to healthcare. Following these poverty trends, the number of Americans without health insurance was 38.4 million when Clinton left office. When Bush left, that figure had grown by nearly 8 million to 46.3 million, the Census found. Those with employer-provided benefits fell every year he was in office.

44. Bush let black New Orleans drown. Hurricane Katrina exposed Bush’s attitude toward the poor. He did not visit the city after the storm destroyed the poorest sections. He praised his Federal Emergency Management Agency director for doing a "heck of a job" as the federal government did little to help thousands in the storm’s aftermath and rebuilding.

45. Yet pandered to religious right. Months before Katrina hit, Bush flew back to the White House to sign a bill to try to stop the comatose Terri Schiavo's feeding tube from being removed, saying the sanctity of life was at stake.

46. Set record for fewest press conferences. During his first term that was defined by the 9/11 attacks, he had the fewest press conferences of any modern president and had never met with the New York Times editorial board.

47. But took the most vacation time. Reporters analyzing Bush’s record found that he took off 1,020 days in two four-year terms—more than one out of every three days. No other modern president comes close. Bush also set the record for the longest vacation among modern presidents—five weeks, the Washington Post noted.

48. Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld. Not since Richard Nixon’s White House and the era of the Watergate burglary and expansion of the Vietnam War have there been as many power-hungry and arrogant operators holding the levers of power. Cheney ran the White House; Rove the political operation for corporations and the religious right; and Rumsfeld oversaw the wars.

49. He’s escaped accountability for his actions. From Iraq war General Tommy Franks’ declaration that “we don’t do body counts” to numerous efforts to impeach Bush and top administration officials—primarily over launching the war in Iraq—he has never been held to account in any official domestic or international tribunal.

50. He may have stolen the 2004 election as well. The closest Bush came to a public referendum on his presidency was the 2004 election, which came down to the swing state of Ohio. There the GOP’s voter suppression tactics rivaled Florida in 2000 and many unresolved questions remain about whether the former GOP Secretary of State altered the Election Night totals from rural Bible Belt counties.

Any bright spots? Conservatives will lambaste lists like this for finding nothing good about a president like W. So, yes, he  created the largest ocean preserve offshore from Hawaii in his second term. And in his final year in office, his initiative to fight AIDS across Africa has been  credited with saving many thousands of lives. But on balance, George W. Bush was more than eight years of missed opportunities for America and the world. He was a disaster, leaving much of America and the world in much worse shape than when he took the oath of office in 2001. His reputation should not be resurrected or restored or seen as anything other than what it was.