By MARC McDONALD
"The only thing one learns from history is that nobody learns anything from history."
The GOP establishment has long done a masterful job of polishing the legacies of previous Republican presidents.
Nixon, for example, was a real challenge. After all, he was a crook who resigned the presidency in disgrace. Somehow, though, after years of painstaking rehabilitation by the GOP, Nixon was magically transformed into a "respected" elder statesman and author.
In my view, restoring Reagan's legacy was an even bigger challenge for the GOP. Many of us recall The Gipper as a clown and a shallow figure who had no business in the White House. And yet, the Republican powers-that-be went to work on Reagan's legacy and by the time they were finished, Reagan was hailed as a Great World Leader, who single-handedly won the Cold War. Inconvenient details from the Reagan White House (such as the illegal sale of arms to Iran and the bloody Central American death squads) were carefully airbrushed out of the picture.
Today, tens of millions of Americans believe Reagan "won" the Cold War. Unfortunately, it's a crock. Serious historians are still delving into the causes of the Cold War's end, a process that I suspect will go on for decades. Reagan, no doubt, played a role. But we shouldn't forget the cast of millions who really were responsible for ending the superpower rivalry.
How about the millions of people of the Eastern Bloc, who peacefully took the streets, demanding change? Or the efforts of reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, who did more than anyone to bring down the Soviet Union? Or human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa? Or the efforts of previous U.S. presidents, dating back to Harry S. Truman (whose Truman Doctrine policy started the U.S. policy of working to contain the Soviet Union in the first place?)
Today, the GOP legacy builders must surely realize that, in George W. Bush, they face their greatest challenge yet.
To be sure, Bush's legacy is already safe with the die-hard Kool-Aid drinkers who worship everything Bush does. To these "30-percenters," Bush is already an American hero who ranks as perhaps the greatest president since Washington. (These die-hards also get all their news and views from Rush and Fox "News." They believe that the Abu Ghraib prison abuse/torture scandal was nothing more than fraternity pranks).
The Republicans were able to salvage the legacies of Nixon and Reagan and I suspect they'll do the same with Bush. Their method for doing this will be simple: the same brute force tactics that they used to smear John Kerry. Any commentator who says anything negative about their hero will immediately be a target for sliming by the Great GOP Noise Machine. The Republicans will do whatever they can to damage the reputation of those who dare speak the truth about the Bush White House.
Serious historians who wish to do credible research on the Bush years will have to constantly look over their shoulders to make sure that the Republican propaganda juggernaut doesn't have them in its crosshairs. Researchers and historians will no doubt be reminded of what happens to those who dare challenge Bush and how their careers can be easily destroyed. Just ask Valerie Plame.
One might ask: why is all this important? After all, once Bush leaves office, the worst will be over, right? Perhaps so, but I'd like to point out the words of philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
George W. Bush has already done America, and the world, incalculable damage that will take decades to repair. I believe that it is vital that we as a nation never forget or try to diminish Bush's crimes. If we allow the rabid GOP Kool-Aid drinkers to dictate how Bush's legacy is remembered, then we as a people are setting ourselves up for a future repeat of the tragedies of the Bush White House in the decades to come.