In the midst of Tuesday’s transformative election, it’s easy to forget that Barack Obama won’t actually be president for another three months. In that time, a lot could happen, much of it at the whim of a person whose name we don’t hear much these days: George W. Bush.
The transition is already in effect. In a phone call to Obama last night the 43rd president effused, “What an awesome night for you... I called to congratulate you and your good bride.” (Good bride? Weird.) He also promised a smooth transition for his successor, inviting Obama and his family “to visit the White House soon, at their convenience.”
On the eve of Election Day, Democracy Now! gained some insight into Bush’s mood from White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who shrugged off the world’s dislike for her boss, likening the presidency to high school: “Everybody would like to be popular. You can all remember that back in high school. Everyone really wanted to be popular, and some of us just weren’t. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have principles and values that you stay true to.”
Um... okay, Dana. So Bush is the social pariah who sat by himself in the cafeteria, and got back at us preppies, jocks, and pretty girls by invading Iraq and curtailing our civil liberties? In reality, most of Bush’s decisions seemed driven precisely by political expediency rather than some internal, principled compass; he was too concerned about being popular with his base and his advisers.
With relatively little at stake politically, now is a probable time for Bush to advance his most controversial agendas, like the brazenly unconstitutional move to assign U.S. troops to U.S. soil or last-minute changes to environmental regulations. On Monday the New York Times summarized Bush’s “parting gifts” and predicted “those we fear are yet to come” before January in the realms of civil liberties, environmental protection, and abortion rights.
While we deserve a celebratory grace period in the wake of Obama’s victory and a hopeful honeymoon after he’s inaugurated, we must be especially vigilant in the last days of Bush’s presidency. The end is in sight, but it’s not here yet.