Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
For a president and an administration that value secrecy and loyalty above all else, the surge that began early and will not end has to be baffling. It is the rush of books from disillusioned insiders who eagerly tell about the administration's incompetence and deceit.
Now it is Alan Greenspan, the sainted Republican economic guru, who says in his long-awaited book this week that a heedless George W. Bush ran a “dysfunctional government,” particularly when his party controlled the legislative branch as well. Greenspan is the second retired official, after CIA Director George Tenet, to spill the beans after the president decorated him with the Medal of Freedom.
Who will be next? Donald Rumsfeld? The good soldier Colin Powell?
This all began in 2003 when Bush's former special assistant, David Kuo, wrote a book, “Tempting Faith,” that dispelled the myth of Bush and Karl Rove's piety. Kuo, a conservative Christian, discovered in the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives that it was all a hoax to pump up evangelicals and pilfer black votes from the Democrats.
Then the torrent began. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's as-told-to book by Ron Suskind recounted Bush's indolence (at cabinet meetings “he was like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people”) and his desperate search for a reason to invade Iraq in spite of Tenet's cautious reports that there was no firm intelligence that Iraq had resumed its nuclear program or had weapons of mass destruction. Following shortly was terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke's book “Against All Enemies” about Bush's studied indifference to terrorist threats in the United States until 9/11 and his mindless obsession with finding grounds to invade Iraq.
Then came three devastating books from administration men, “Imperial Hubris” by an anonymous CIA official who accused senior officials of moral and bureaucratic cowardice in dealing with terrorism, and “Squandered Victory” by Larry Diamond and “Losing Iraq” by David L. Phillips, a couple of Condoleezza Rice's State Department experts who were commissioned to Iraq and then recounted the colossal blunders by the administration that produced the chaos.
No president ever endured so much second-guessing from his own people, and it does not include those like Powell and Richard Armitage who have not written their books yet. But no president has made such a mess of everything he touched.
Greenspan's uncharacteristically sharp criticism had to be especially painful because Bush revered him, calling him only 20 months ago one of the great economists of history with “credibility beyond question,” and because the old Federal Reserve chairman had praised Bill Clinton's brilliance and courage with the same extravagance that he described Bush's indifference and cowardice on economic matters.
Technically, Greenspan was not a part of the administration because the Fed is supposed to be independent. He had chaired the Fed under four presidents and had advised Nixon and Ford. But he had allowed himself to be commandeered into a central role in Bush's economic catastrophe, round after round of tax cuts for the rich and big business. Now he says his cautious remarks about the tax cuts were mischaracterized by the administration and misunderstood by others. He accepts no blame for what happened afterward. Bush and Republican leaders of the Congress, in Greenspan's view, ran the fiscal affairs of government with an eye toward winning congressional elections and increasing the Republican majority and let the economy go to hell.
When Bush took office, the economy was expanding and creating millions of jobs a year — 22 million in eight years — and the nation faced large budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. Within 10 months the surplus had disappeared, and next month Bush will have added three trillion dollars to the national debt. The ranks of the poor increased, the gulf between the rich and the rest widened, and the well being of the middle class shrank. Who would not run from such a legacy?
Not this president. The White House dismissed Greenspan's criticism and claimed once again that Bush's tax cuts blunted the recession that he had inherited from Clinton (it began in the spring after Bush's investiture and ended that October) and kept the economy growing. It kept growing, anemically, because Greenspan drove interest rates to historic lows and kept them there to bail out the president. He has to share some of the blame with the president for the resulting credit crisis.
The White House was distressed, too, that Greenspan criticized the administration for pretending that the Iraq war was not about Iraqi oil.
They might have observed, with the rest of the country, that the wizard picked a fine time to be frank and clear for the first time in his life.