Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bye, Bye, Bush - By Lisa Neff

Time to say bye, bye to George W. Bush. As he leaves for Texas, do you think he’s thinking, “Mission accomplished”? As I write this, it’s a rare gloomy day on the Florida coast — rainy, overcast and chilly (feel sorry for me with temperatures in the 60s?) — but I’m feeling chirpy as I tear off one of the final pages in my “2008 George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown Calendar.” I’m coming out of an eight-year hangover.

The morning-after began Nov. 8, 2000. I remember the wild night before. I was with a GLBT newsweekly in Chicago. We held the paper for the election results and were joyfully about to ship to the printer with a “Gore wins” headline when the news service took Florida back. Eventually we sadly published a “Gore wins popular vote, loses White House” headline. You know the history. That hangover set in the next day, a bad one.

I find it fitting the W. era began as it did — spoiled from the start, like buying bad milk from the store as opposed to letting it curdle in the fridge. Of course, whether soured from the start or soured over time, there’s still the stink. Got Bush? Got troubles. He certainly was not an innocuous, ineffective president: two wars and untold numbers of dead, a national campaign of fear and prejudice, incidents of torture and a raid on the U.S. bank of constitutional rights.

During a Jan. 12 press conference, a reporter asked Bush about mistakes made and history’s take on the president. Bush replied, “I think historians will look back and they’ll be able to have a better look at mistakes after some time has passed.… There is no such thing as short-term history. I don’t think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration until time has passed: Where … did a president’s decisions have the impact that he thought they would, or he thought they would, over time? Or how did this president compare to future presidents, given a set of circumstances that may be similar or not similar?”

Keep this in mind when you think of Bush’s record on GLBT issues. He caused a lot of harm in international and domestic arenas, but when it comes to GLBT issues, Bush seems impotent in hindsight. He endorsed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, but the campaign never got beyond an engagement.

When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage in its state, the president said, “Today’s decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court violates this important principle. I will work with congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage.” That pledge didn’t amount to much besides a lot of blustery rhetoric and money-changing. He opposed anti-discrimination legislation protecting Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgenders and expanding hate crimes legislation, but never had to prove it because Congress never sent him a bill on either. He supported the ban against Gays and Lesbians serving openly in the Armed Forces, but never really took action to defend the policy — for failure of Congress to act to repeal it.

If history shows Bush to have any lasting impact on GLBT issues, it may be in his abstinence-only education policies and appointments to the bench. Appeals Court Judge Jay Bybee compared discrimination against Gays to discrimination against “the illiterate, … licenses cosmeticians, the tall, the sort, persons with male pattern baldness…” and Appellate Judge Michael McConnell wrote the brief defending the Boy Scouts of America’s ban against Gays.

But mostly, in eight years, the president took some anti-Gay stands, made some anti-Gay statements, inspired some right-wing lunacies and occasionally angered many in the middle and on the left. History will show that Bush’s opposition to GLBT civil rights measures have had little real impact. It’s like he was shooting blanks. And now he can ride off to Texas to resume playing cowboy. Well, so long pardner.

(Lisa Neff is a columnist for from which this is reprinted.)

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