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Home > India > News > Columnists > Tunku Varadarajan, Forbes

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The Bush election

November 04, 2008

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The Bush presidency, now drawing to a merciful close, will be noted by historians for three revolutionary elections: the one that brought George W Bush [Images] to the White House in the first place; the one, tomorrow, that will usher him out from that address; and the one in Iraq in January 2005 -- immortalised by its defiant display to the world of ink-stained fingers -- which was a rare indisputable high point in an otherwise contentious presidency.

The first of the three elections was, in many ways, both revolutionary and reassuring: It was revolutionary because the result was arrived at by a court of law; yet it was reassuring because that court, handed a political grenade with the pin already removed, was able to prevent the grenade's explosion by jamming its gavel into the space where the pin should have been.

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What is more, it did so in a way that had the nation accept its verdict without supporters of the "wronged party" taking to the streets. It is hard to imagine that there would have been, in France [Images] or Italy [Images] or even Britain, the degree of civic equanimity and nonviolent poise that was displayed by the citizens of the United States during and after the recount.

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The judicial resolution of an electoral deadlock at the presidential level was entirely unprecedented, and so traumatic was the impact on the Democratic Party of the court's ruling that it was never able to accord Bush the respect due an elected president of the United States.

Politics, it is true to say, was marred irreparably by the Democrats' conviction that an election had been "stolen." Of course it had not been, but not even the Bush win in 2004 -- fair and square, and with not a judge in sight -- could cleanse the Democratic palate of the bitter taste of Florida [Images].

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In January 2005 came the next epoch-making Bush election, in which the American president was architect, not combatant. Who can forget the ink-stained wretched of Iraq, raising their fingers defiantly, by their thousands, as personal trophies to democracy? Who can deny the political majesty of the event, and also the significance of a free (and largely fair) election in the Arab world? Was this not the sweet fruit of the war on which America had embarked? Bush never received the credit he was due for any of this.

The third revolutionary Bush election is one in which the president is absent as a direct participant. John McCain [Images], let us admit, is battling not only Barack Obama [Images] but also George W Bush. This election is about Hope, Change, the New ... but all these slogans are uttered with Bush in mind. McCain is fighting with Bush on his back, and is losing because of Bush on his back.

America is incapable of looking at him untwinned from Bush, and while this is unfair, to a great extent, to the man from Arizona and the Hanoi Hilton, it is not as unfair as it might have been if the Republican candidate had picked someone other than Sarah Palin [Images] as his running mate.

Palin is the last kick of the Bush era. By that, I mean that Palin is a reversion to some of the political methods of the Bush era: an obsession with the party's "base," a pronounced anti-"elitism" and a belief in the therapeutic effects of anti-intellectualism. Of course, she was McCain's pick. But in picking her, McCain completed his own unconvincing and ineffective reinvention as a Rove-ian Republican.

A revolution, no less -- a black man in the White House -- looks set to end the Age of Bush. George W Bush came into power acrimoniously, and he will not leave office to applause. But this writer, for one, will not forget that the Iraqis voted on his watch -- and raised their fingers to the world.

Tunku Varadarajan, a professor at the Stern Business School at NYU and research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, is Opinions editor at Forbes.com, where he writes a weekly column.


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