I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Misstep in Bush's Quest for Historical Redemption

By Anonymous Liberal

Faced with disastrously low approval ratings, President Bush seems to have resigned himself to the hope that future generations will judge him more kindly than his contemporaries. I don't think this is a particularly realistic hope, but you can't blame a guy for trying to find a silver lining to an otherwise soul-crushing set of circumstances. Bush's most loyal apologists, and lately Bush himself, have taken to invoking the example of Harry Truman, a man who endured similarly dismal approval ratings toward the end of his presidency, but whose historical legacy has steadily improved since then. Just last week, Bush when out of his way to draw this comparison:

"By the actions he took, the institutions he built,
the alliances heforged and the doctrines he set
down, President Truman laid the foundations for
America's victory in the cold war," Mr. Bush told
the class of 2006.

Yeah, I get it. And I understand why this is a pleasing analogy for Bush. Presidents want to be judged kindly by history. This is especially true when they stand little chance of being judged kindly in the present. But here's my question: if Bush is hoping that his validation will come from future generations, why on earth is he yet again coming out in support of the Marriage Protection Amendment?

The march of history is often unpredictable. One generation's fool can be the next generation's visionary. In many respects, though, the march of history is entirely predictable. We know, for example, that future generations will enjoy technology and gadgetry that far exceeds our current technological know-how. The progress of science and technology is incremental and inexorable.

Similarly, free societies inevitably progress toward greater tolerance and greater equality. Old biases tend to die off with the people who hold them. Does anyone really doubt that gay marriage will be a fact of life in most parts of this country within a generation? In the few years since gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, public opinion has already shifted considerably. Polls consistently show that most younger Americas have no problem with allowing gay couples to marry. So the writing is clearly on the wall. Future generations will almost surely view the Marriage Protection Amendment (and its state counterparts) in the same light that we now view anti-miscegenation laws. Indeed, I suspect even most social conservatives realize this, which is why they are frantically trying to take advantage of popular opinion while it is still on their side.

I always marvel at this phenomenon. Why is it that each generation of social conservatives thinks that it will be the one to stop history's march? They never seem to realize the power or inevitability of the processes they're opposing.

Bush, of course, is under no such illusions, which makes his decision all the more strange. He knows the MPA won't pass. And as Steve Benen points out, he has to know that his 11th hour support of the amendment is unlikely to satisfy his fundamentalist base. And I doubt that Bush himself personally supports the MPA. So why bother endorsing it? Why publicly support a measure that future generations will overwhelming view as nothing more than a statement of ignorance and bigotry?

For someone who is so clearly hoping for historical redemption, this is certainly a counter-productive move.

UPDATE: Via Andrew Sullivan, here's what James Dobson had to say earlier this week on his radio show:

"... As you all very well know, marriage is under
vicious attack now, I think from the forces of hell itself."

Nice. No wonder Dobson and his followers are so willing to stand athwart history, yelling 'stop'. For them, the inexorable march of history = the forces of hell.


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