Monday, 27 July 2009

“Thanks for the Memories, George”, by Mike Loew (Three Rivers Press)


A no-holds-barred retrospective of what eight years of Bush will do to a country

Barack Obama has been safely ensconced in the White House for about seven months, and is plowing ahead with his agenda intended to fix the many ills currently afflicting the United States. It is perhaps, therefore, a good time to remind ourselves how the US got into this mess in the first place. It is not, as some conservative radio- and TV-hosts would have us believe, “Obama’s recession” or “Obama’s bail-out” plans that brought us to this point. Rather, a lot of the blame (though not all) can be lain at the feet of one Republican in particular: Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush.

In Thanks for the Memories, George, Mike Loew, graphics editor and writer for satirical newspaper The Onion, has written an acerbic and angry appraisal of the George W. Bush years. In well-structured and paced chapters, the author looks at the whole panoply of Bush issues. He begins with Bush’s and the Republican approach to elections (short version: they steal them), then moves on to Bush’s approach to the economy, the environment, and military matters (reserving a considerable amount of vitriol and ridicule for the Iraq debacle); as well as touching on a number of other issues such as America’s standing in the world, a tiny amount of Bush family history, and what this all means for the future. His conclusion in a nutshell? America “got screwed repeatedly by Bush, and now we’ve all got a nasty STD.”

According to Loew, President Bush had America “by the nuts” for eight years, and over that time he “squeezed the very life out of America”, giving many Americans the impression that “the sky could really, truly fall at any time.” The Bush administration siezed on every disaster and consequent failure to respond to its political advantage; especially using the War on Terrorism and 9/11 to boost election favourabilities and to hurt his and the Republican Party’s political opponents. (Indeed, Loew provides a very good chart following Bush’s approval ratings, with explanations for each lift in the number – terror alert levels are such handy tools!)

As well as looking at Bush’s legislative and executive failings, Loew takes no short-cuts when describing and listing Bush’s many embarassing personal moments while president, painting a picture of a frat boy who’s way out of his depth and has yet to leave behind his days as a member of the Skull & Bones secret fraternity at Yale (which gets a decent amount of ink itself). These embarassments include greeting to the Prime Minister of the UK with “Yo, Blair” at a G8 luncheon, giving a backrub to Angela Merkel, getting confused by the doors at a press conference in China, and almost suggesting Queen Elizabeth II is 262 years old when he said she helped celebrate the US’s bicentennial “in 177... uh, in 1976”.

Loew writes long and depressingly about Bush’s impact on the US economy, and considering we are living through the immediate aftermath at the moment, it would perhaps be best just to offer this summation of the author’s argument, which is substantiated by facts and careful discussion (completed by an angry sarcasm): “This careful economic steward spent like a drunken wastrel, pointlessly pouring money out of the nation in thundering, fraudulent waterfalls of lost wealth. This true patriot’s real goal was for the country was to loot its treasure” for cronies and campaign contributors.

Naturally, Bush’s military misadventures receive the most ink. Primarily, Loew looks at why the Bush administration chose to invade Iraq, how it fumbled Afghanistan (which “is not called ‘the graveyard of empires’ for nothing”), and the suspicious levels of preparedness of the US military to deploy into both theatres of war. Personally, I think the author’s maybe trying a little too hard to paint the most damning portrait possible, but there’s a lot to consider with his evidence and in his arguments.

The Bush Doctrine (a term Loew finds preposterous when considering it will be seated next to the Monroe Doctrine, an actual doctrine) is characterised as giving “the right to the president to attack and replace the government of any country he wants if he thinks that country is looking at us funny.” A simplistic, glib explanation for sure, but I can’t help thinking the author has a point – by writing it in this way, Loew manages to bring it down to the level of discourse reached by the president for which the doctrine is named.

One of the things that seems to depress Loew the most is that, following 9/11, the US could have counted on good will and a warm welcome from the majority of the globe, but instead, because “Our president acted likea bully in a schoolyard”, the Bush administration squandered most of this goodwill, driving allies and neutral countries to oppose US initiatives (not to mention wars).

The nations of the world have always been wary of the power of the United States, Loew tells us. As the only global military superpower, America is the 900-pound gorilla in any room. Bush, however, “decided to throw open the cage of that gorilla, which ran out in a berserk rage and jumped up and down on a lot of people.” By treating other nations as if they don’t matter, Bush and his cabal of advisors ruined America’s chance of dealing with the greater concerns of the global community, let alone leading the push for solutions. Instead, “President Bush set the all-time record for the most people worldwide to simultaneously take to the streets to protest him,” on February 15th 2003, when approximately 15million people protested the imminent invasion of Iraq. Loew does highlight the one positive aspect of this global anti-Bush sentiment: “Bush always kept the international markets in papier-mache, cardboard, glue, craft paint, lighter fluid, and matches humming right along” as people the world over need the materials to burn the 43rd president in effigy.

Loew spends one final chapter looking at some of the Bush-related conspiracy theories – without coming down on one side or another; he just offers some facts and lets the reader make up their own mind. For example, he paints a detailed picture of the ties between the Bush family and the bin Laden family that is anything but complimentary, offering some pretty devastating (at first glance) examples of the ties between the two families. One can’t help but think that, had the Bushes been Democrats, this sort of information would have been common knowledge. 9/11 conspiracy theories get a brief airing, too, as well as the mysterious disappearance of evidence that would have been of great help in discovering what truly happened that day (after all, as Loew tells us, the Bush government walked back from its assertion that bin Laden was definitely involved in and responsible for 9/11). All this topped off by the fact that George W Bush’s administration had the highest spending on secrecy in the past decade – in 2003 alone $6.5billion was spent creating 14 billion new secret documents and securing old ones (helping to ensure those unpleasant secrets of the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations don’t come out any time soon, if ever).

While I did thoroughly enjoy reading this book, it’s not perfect: Loew doesn’t do enough to differentiate between President Bush and those who handled and took advantage of him – Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz surely deserve far more ‘credit’ than the author gives them (that’s not a defence of Bush’s malpractice and malfeasance), and the overt opposition to anything related to the Bush family can be a little narrow-minded. Thanks for the Memories, George is a funny, acerbic attack on George W Bush and his legacy of destruction. Filled with widely available facts and details (and a few that were under-reported), but bolstered by Loew’s original and intelligent opinions and approach (while never allowing his anger to get the better of him), this book is an absolute must for anyone interested in understanding why America has been circling the drain of the world. Loew also offers some suggestions for the new administration, which, while very much the Democratic Party’s standard hopes, need reiterating now.

Highly recommended, you won’t find many funnier or more devastating books on the Bush years.

Also try: Al Franken, The Truth With Jokes (2008); Matt Taibbi, Smells Like Dead Elephants (2005) & The Great Derangement (2007)

Review posted from Cusco, Peru

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