Last weekend, I happened onto the 1976 movie, All the President's Men, the story of Watergate, Richard Nixon and the downfall of his administration.
About half way through, the "Deep Throat" character (played by Hal Holbrook) tells Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) to forget about "the myth that's built up about the White House."
"Deep Throat" warns: "The truth is they're not very smart guys. Things got out of hand."
The reference was to Nixon's Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, Attorney General John Mitchell, John Dean, all of who went to jail after the Watergate cover-up exposed them.
Thirty years later, we can certainly say that Nixon let things get out of hand.
Sadly, we can today apply the "not very smart" tag to George W. Bush's inside circle that also let conditions spin out of control.
How else can anyone assess Secretary of State Colin Powell, who bought into and then promoted the "weapons of mass destruction" myth?
Powell's successor Condoleezza Rice defended the war in Iraq that evolved from WMD fairy tale. Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's first Secretary of Defense, blindly followed along.
Six weeks ago, Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, sold the administration a multi-trillion dollar bill of goods to save country from financial disaster. The benefits have yet to be seen but the bill to American taxpayers is on the horizon.
Everybody came with such seemingly impeccable credentials. What went wrong?
Despite their glowing qualifications, what Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld and a list of others too long to detail here have in common is that when it comes to making policy they are woefully—perhaps even criminally—ineffective.
Whether these central figures mapped the strategies that Bush signed off on or whether Bush charted the course and they followed won't be clear for some years to come.
But Bush, in the last six weeks of his presidency, has turned his attention to promoting what he amazingly refers to as his legacy. [Bush Uses Final Fifty Days in Office to Tout Legacy, By Ben Feller, Associated Press, December 2, 2008]
With the country falling apart on virtually every front, it's impossible to imagine what the president is thinking. Perhaps Bush has completely lost touch with reality.
One Internet blogger with whom I agree calls Bush's legacy "death, debt and deceit." Whatever it may be, I know I'm glad I'm not responsible for selling it to the American people.
Bush is promoting himself on two relatively non-controversial fronts, one sort of valid but the other completely baseless.
First, Bush legitimately points to the $15 billion in worldwide contributions he's distributed to combat AIDS. Worth noting is that his largess is made possible by American taxpayers and not Bush himself.
But second, and completely off base given what we know about American learners and the disaster that is No Child Left Behind, Bush is taking bows for advances in education even though there have been none.
Conveniently omitted from Bush's personal retrospective is any mention of Iraq, the deficit, the mortgage crisis and the Wall Street bailout.
Bush is correct to worry about his legacy. History treats poorly bad presidents who betrayed America.
As proof, let's return to where we started: Nixon.
On December 5, more than thirty years after Nixon left office in disgrace, a new movie, Frost/Nixon, opened in select theaters across America. Concurrently, a DVD release of the taped interviews is also available. [Nixon Tapes Reveal His Reservations and Motivations, ABC News, December 3, 2008]
And finally, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation released taped Oval Office conversations wherein the former president had unflattering things to say about blacks, Jews, Ivy League graduates, Spiro Agnew and George McGovern as well as others.[ Nixon Tapes Reveal Anti-Semitic Remarks, ABC News, December 3, 2008]
All this new material serves as a reminder that presidential misdeeds live long after the perpetrators have departed from office and from earth. Americans have long and bitter memories when their leaders lie to them.
Bush shouldn't expect to be remembered any more favorably than Nixon. In fact, he'll be lucky to do as well.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.