So you’re a federal employee sitting in your cubicle pondering the smoldering ruins of your retirement portfolio when you receive an interdepartmental memo asking you to list your agency’s major accomplishments over the past eight years for something the White House is compiling called "The Bush Record."
If you’re at the Department of Homeland Security you might think, "Well, there was the time three years ago when we lost an entire American city." No, they don’t want to hear about Katrina or the financial meltdown or the two ongoing wars or the mounting deficits or jailing people without trial or the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction or the … But we stray.
To help focus your thinking, the White House narrowed the accomplishments down to three categories, which Al Kamen of The Washington Post helpfully reprinted in his In the Loop column.
You get to choose among these three themes: "Kept America Safe & Promoted Liberty Abroad," "Lowered Taxes & Reformed Government" and "Stood on Principle/ Tackled Tough Issues / Showed the Way Ahead," not that the White House is trying to influence your thinking at all.
Here our federal employee pauses to look out the office window and make sure there are no long, unruly lines of panicked depositors forming outside the local branch of your bank.
The White House told Kamen that The Bush Record was being compiled to help reporters with their retrospectives when President Bush leaves office. Among the aids to reporters are details of "your Department’s overarching communications strategy" — in other words how you plan to gull the public into believing any of this — and "any broad, overarching products you plan to produce," like a video of department successes, etc.
There’s nothing reporters like more than overarching. But if you’re at the Department of Education you probably don’t want to mention as part of any communications strategy the time when the department got caught paying friendly columnists to write friendly columns. Or the time it turned out the department was using a fake TV reporter to produce fake news reports.
And if you’re at the Federal Emergency Management Agency you probably don’t want to bring up the time last October when the agency got caught holding a phony news conference with FEMA employees pretending to be reporters lofting softball questions. That’s part of the Bush record but not what they mean by part of "The Bush Record."
The sudden interest in compiling positive Bush administration accomplishments even as Wall Street immolates is probably based on the well-founded suspicion that on leaving office Bush will join James Buchanan and Warren Harding in the pantheon of really awful presidents. And there’s early evidence for that. A Pew Research poll of what were described as "leading" historians this spring found that 61 percent thought he was the worst president ever and 98 percent deemed his presidency a failure.
Bush professes not to be interested in how history treats his presidency. If so, he’ll be the first president who isn’t. There is even a massive, taxpayer-supported apparatus designed to burnish presidential legacies — it’s called the presidential library. President Bush’s will be at Southern Methodist University and is projected to cost north of $250 million. That buys a lot of legacy.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)