It's been eight long and unhappy years since Bush the Lesser first assumed office in a hotly-contested election arbitrated by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court.
Since 2001, We have been attacked twice on our own soil (9/11 and the Anthrax mailings), and become bogged down in two long, expensive wars. Over seven thousand Americans have died since Bush took the oath of office, either by attack or in war. Nearly 50 million Americans are currently without health care. Unemployment is the highest it's been since...well, since the last Bush governed.
An American city sank in a hurricane while Nero fiddled (or played the guitar for John McCain's birthday, as the case may be.)
Oh, and the economy collapsed thanks to almost a decade of governmental negligence and lack of responsible regulation.
Wait, I'm still going...
We had the Enron Scandal, the Abu Ghraib Scandal, the warrantless spying scandal, the criminal outing of a covert CIA agent, and the overt politicizing of the Justice Department. We saw a record surplus transformed into a record deficit by unnecessary tax cuts for the top earning 1 percent of the "haves and the have mores." We saw, as (I think...) Allan Mendelowitz put it: "the Bush administration -- which took office as social conservatives" -- "leave as conservative socialists," presenting our nation with the greatest example of corporate welfare in its long history.
Have I forgotten any other outrages?
Probably...they were a dime a dozen in the Bush era. I state this not as a committed progressive, not as a lefty, not as a liberal, but as a patriotic American who happened to have his eyes open during these years. I know many conservative friends who feel precisely the same way I do.
As I recover from the Bush II Era -- the very era in which I began blogging -- I pause now to remember a few movies and television programs that seem (right now, anyway...) to capture the zeitgeist of this turbulent span.
Right off the bat, the adventure TV series 24 (which I quite enjoy...) leaps to mind. The series protagonist, CTU agent Jack Bauer (Sutherland) will do anything, and I mean ANYTHING (torture included), to keep America safe. He regularly battles terrorists and prevents the detonation of WMD on our soil, in our cities. The whole series exists in its own "climate of fear," real-time.
I'll always associate two movies in particular with the Bush Era. The first is Zack Snyder's amazing Spartan epic 300 (2006), an egregiously violent, heroic poem about jingoism, nationalism and xenophobia. An interesting facet of this silver screen adaptation of the Miller graphic novel is that some reviewers view it as an inspiring defense of the Bush Way, while others imagine it a deliberate contrast and critique. I'll be reviewing the movie here on the blog shortly. This week, actually. Stay tuned.
And then there's Christopher Nolan's beloved untouchable, The Dark Knight (2008). I understand why so many people enjoy The Dark Knight, and I'm glad so many people are so happy to see their favorite superhero treated so...seriously. I predict the movie willl likely win several Academy Awards. And I don't begrudge the film these successes, either critical or box office.
For me, however, The Dark Knight plays uncomfortably as a long validation of and apology for Bush's most troublesome policies. So it's hard for me to laud it.
In The Dark Knight, the ends justify the means. There is no higher ideal than that. The Joker is not merely a criminal these days, but actually a committed terrorist. And when he attacks Gotham City, his reign of fear brings the city to a standstill. A pervasive climate of fear is forged, even though one man (either the Joker or Osama Bin Laden) is...only one man, and can't possibly harm every person everywhere, simultaneously. Doesn't matter.
Be afraid, be very afraid.
At a difficult moment like this, Gotham requires a transcendental hero who can stand above the moment; a hero who can righteously declare "we have nothing to fear but fear itself." A man, perhaps, like Bruce Wayne's heroic father, who lifted the city out of economic Depression. Unfortunately, Wayne the Elder is dead.
Instead, Gotham gets Wayne the Lesser; just like America got Bush the lesser.
A man who, instead of calling to the best angels of Gotham's nature, lowers himself - and the very Thebes he defends - to the Joker's level. Bruce breaks the law (spying illegally on the citizenry), violates the sovereignty of a foreign nation, and most significantly, refuses to entrust the people with their own future, with the truth. He would rather lie, rather forge a black-and-white, Manichean fable of "pure good" vs "pure evil" than let the people make an informed decision. About the Joker. About Dent. And even, about him. This is a grave disservice to justice; not a defense of it.
Let us never again mistake the former for the latter.
So, what will the Obama Era bring? Well, at the very least, a clean break with the past. A new beginning. I'm hoping Obama brings a pervasive sense of can-do optimism to our country, and to our pop culture entertainment. I hope that J.J. Abrams Star Trek -- made in the Bush II Era but reserved for the Obama Era -- is the very movie that defines this new time; a time of promise; a time of brotherhood; a time of re-building.
Leave the Dark Knights to America's Dark Night of the Soul (2001-2008). Instead, let's commit ourselves to tomorrow.