In April, the History News Network surveyed 109 professional historians about George W. Bush’s eight years in office. 98.2 percent deemed Bush’s presidency a failure. 61 percent said that Bush has been the worst president in U.S. history.

Why give credence to an unscientific poll, conducted months ago? I’m not really concerned with the endurance of the percentages; if nothing else, the recent crisis on Wall Street corroborates the general estimation. But I am appalled to think that we have lived through one of the worst presidencies in American history, and so many of us have so few scars to show for it.

Much has been written about the fact that the average American has a distorted view of war and wartime. Because of geography, circumstance, and all manner of political machinations, recent wars have not been fought on our soil. Unlike citizens of many other nations—in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia—we do not live in daily fear of bombs, raids, or guns plowing through our streets. However obscene the size of our military, and despite the presence of American soldiers all over the world, many of us live in blissful ignorance of the machinery of “national security.”

Which is why the United States can be “at war” and Americans can still go on with business as usual. With consumerism as usual. With reality television as usual. With food, energy, and resource consumption as usual.

Which is why, although we may have been subject to the worst president in U.S. history—a president who squandered a budget surplus, who took our country to war on false pretenses, on whose watch there have been countless infringements of civil rights and unprecedented extensions of executive powers—many of us have been able to go on with our regular lives.

This means two things: First, we have yet to feel the full effects of Bush’s failed presidency. Taxpayers will feel it as we shoulder the debt caused by the war in Iraq and the financial meltdown; baby boomers will feel it when Social Security fails to provide for retirement.

And second, those of us who have retained jobs, attended school and college, visited the doctor, traveled the world, accessed information technologies, and eaten nutritious food—despite Bush’s two terms—have a skewed conception of the effects of this presidency on less privileged Americans and victims of war, abstinence-only education, and suffocating aid programs around the world. The anaesthetizing conveniences of our lives and class-based inoculation against the effects of a failed presidency are the wool over our eyes.

How else could the Republican party stand a chance in the coming election? The trouble, it seems, is too little pain in even these most painful times.

 

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan was Editor of India Currents from July 2007-June 2009. 
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