Democracy is unique in that it offers its citizens the chance to renew and repair itself, through the process of participation and voting. Other older forms of government were structured to resist change in leadership, but in a democracy, the people who are subject to the laws and responsibilities are also allowed to participate in the selection of the leadership.
Today at noon Eastern time, we the citizens of the United States are ridding ourselves of the undemocratic leadership of George Walker Bush, our 43rd President. Mr. Bush was not elected by popular vote of the citizens of the United States. Because our founding fathers did not entirely trust people, they set up a system known as the Electoral College, which is another layer between the direct vote of the people and the actual selection of our Chief Executive.
Of course, there was another layer even still between you and I and selection of the man who led the most powerful of the three supposedly co-equal branches of our government. Mr. Bush was selected by 5-4 vote of our country’s highest court in the unique and supposedly non-precedent-setting case of Bush v. Gore. Never before, and with the effort of progressive citizens everywhere, hopefully never again, will an undemocratic president be inflicted on our fragile democracy.
Strange how “supposedly” shows up a lot, when discussing Mr. Bush.
I was in the minority of citizens who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000. I was not paying attention. I voted but barely cared. I did not know how directly political leadership would affect my life.
I was wrong. With Bush v. Gore, and then again on 11 September 2001, and again as our leadership rushed into war with a country that did not threaten us, and billions began to be spent on killing and wounding human lives… I saw.
As 2004 approached, I recognized with fresh eyes the second chance our country was getting to reverse the decision made by a small elite. I did what I could to spread the word of how poorly Mr. Bush reflected the democratic dreams of we, the people. And again, through the work of a small elite, Mr. Bush remained in office for another four years.
Mr. Bush undemocratically locked away those who would disagree with him. Mr. Bush ordered the imprisonment and torture of people whose crime was simply to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mr. Bush undemocratically used his position to reward those who gave him money – a horror at all levels of government, brought into crystal clear relief as Hurricane Katrina tried to erase my favorite city in the world, and millions were turned into refugees. Mr. Bush enlisted corporate executives in his goal to listen in on the conversations of people who had not been accused of a crime – and Mr. Bush punished the executives who refused him.
And Mr. Bush believed, and was allowed by those entrusted to check his power to maintain the belief in, the most undemocratic idea of all: that the law should not apply to all the citizens of our country. “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
I thought about trying to find some good in Mr. Bush’s presidency. But I realized that finding even a tiny seed of positive would distract us from the many destructive policies he pursued and was allowed to enact. Our Congress, the first branch of government, allowed itself, first under Mr. Bush’s political party, and then under the supposed (there’s that word again) opposition party, to become much less than co-equal. Slow to investigate, weak in applying what consequences and punishments our founding fathers gave them, our directly elected representatives only worked to preserve their elite positions under Mr. Bush’s presidency. In spite of growing outcry from the majority of America’s people, our Congressional leaders re-arranged the chairs so that they could sit with their friends. Friends like Joseph Isidore Lieberman, a Senator from Connecticut, who was voted out of the Democratic Party in 2006 by a majority of his constituents. Our Senate leaders chose non-Democratic Sen. Lieberman over the voices of a majority of the people who elected them to high office.
As the outcry against the undemocratic reign of Mr. Bush grew from our citizens, our Congressional leaders first dangled the promise of using the powers granted them by our founding fathers in the form of “subpoena power”… and then took those powers “off the table” after increasing their power by those promises.
Abdicating their responsibilities is undemocratic.
If the people did not oppose Mr. Bush, he might still be in office today. He would not be leaving office with the lowest approval rating of any modern president. But we, the people, did oppose him, and we continue to oppose our Congressional leaders. It’s a process, not a goalpost. The endpoint isn’t getting rid of one, or several leaders; it’s about participating, and taking steps, big and small, every day to ensure that our system of government works to the benefit of all of us, and not just the elite.
But stopping to pay attention to the steps is important, too. They are the measure of how far we’ve come, and point in the direction of where we’re going.
Tomorrow we will celebrate a huge step. But today, I wanted to take the time to say: Goodbye, George Walker Bush. I shall not miss you.