Eight years ago today, George W. Bush uttered the now broken promise that has come to define his failed presidency. Accepting his party's nomination, Governor Bush promised to restore "honor and dignity" to the White House. But as events continue to show, a more accurate - and ironic - mantra for the lawless Bush White House would be "no controlling legal authority."
At the time it was delivered, Bush's acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia was an arrogant, deceitful broadside against the Clinton/Gore years. But the very words Bush used to tar Al Gore with the blight of the Lewinsky scandal may now constitute the epitaph for the Bush presidency:
"So when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land, I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God."
That hateful address (video excerpts here), of course, was filled with exactly the kind of lies and taunts - the smallness - that came to define George W. Bush.
His false charges about American military readiness ("Not ready for duty, sir!"), his long since abandoned philosophy when it comes to using American force ("the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming"), his smearing of Al Gore that foreshadowed his own legacy ("he now leads the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the only thing he has to offer is fear itself") and his obscene claim to be a "uniter" ("I will not attack a part of this country because I want to lead the whole of it"), all were in keeping with the dark Bush character.
Bush broke all of these promises. But his original sin, from which all other of his crimes and errors flow, is his pledge to usher in new period of higher ethical standards as part of a "responsibility era." Bush, who previously sneered at Gore's "no controlling legal authority" defense of his 1990's Buddhist temple fundraising efforts, raised the ethical bar further that October:
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"In my administration, we will ask not only what is legal but what is right. Not just what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves. In my administration, we'll make it clear there is a controlling legal authority of conscience."
Eights years later and Bush's 2000 standard of "not only what is legal but what is right" is in tatters. Just this week, Bush's own Justice Department issued a report which concluded that Monica Goodling, the former White House liaison for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, violated federal law and DOJ policy by discriminating against job applicants who weren't faithful Republicans or conservative activists.
And that's just the beginning. Plamegate, the Libby pardon, the Abramoff affair, doctoring scientific reports, the end of habeas corpus, detainee torture, the politically-motivated firings of U.S. attorneys, illegal domestic surveillance, the theory of the unitary executive and the unprecedented assertion of executive privilege all show a President committed to doing neither what is legal nor right. And then, of course, there's Iraq.
How fitting then that Bush's would-be Republican successor John McCain, the man who promised to run a "respectful" campaign, chose this week to launch a wave of attack ads and character assassination against his Democratic rival.
Americans can't erase the Bush presidency, but they aren’t condemned to repeat it. So with the imminent arrival of the GOP and Democratic national conventions, remember that it was eight years ago that Republican George W. Bush promised us he would "uphold the honor and dignity" of his office.
Happy anniversary, America.