Jim's Reviews > A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency

A Tragic Legacy by Glenn Greenwald
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's review
Jun 24, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: politics-and-society, non-fiction
Read in June, 2008

It's hard to argue with Greenwald's basic thesis: that George W. Bush's Manichean approach to policy-making, rooted in his evangelical Christian beliefs, has handicapped his presidency.

[NOTE: Manicheanism, a religious sect from 3rd century Persia, promulgated the idea that the world is divided between the powers of good and evil. Though often deemed a heresy, it has had a large influence on Christianity, especially through the writings of Augustine of Hippo.]

Greenwald argues that this world view, combined with the political philosophy of neoconservatism, drove the Bush presidency to expand a confrontation with Al Qaeda into a general war on Islamic extremism and the so-called Axis of Evil. (Even the terminology speaks to a good vs. evil mentality.) In doing so, the Bush administration and its allies have gone to extremes of hubris, threatening harm to the very society they are trying to protect. This approach to policy assumes that the world is perfectable, if only evil can be defeated. It does not admit any shades of grey; any means used to defeat the enemy are justifiable. This approach to foreign and security policy threatens war without end, against an ever-growing list of enemies.

As I indicated, I somewhat agree with Greenwald, but this didn't bowl me over. It would have been better as an extended essay; however, its ideas aren't developed extensively enough to carry it satisfactorily as a book. Also, I found some of his analyses of conservatives and evangelicals a bit simplistic. Basically, the author sets out his central idea of the administration's concept of the wotrld and then reiterates this relative to actual policies and statements, over and over. One suspects he doesn't admit statements or facts that would weaken his argument.

This book is not an objective look at the philosophical weaknesses of G.W. Bush's presidency so much as a polemical attack on the second Bush presidency. It raises some good points, but fails to develop them in depth. The author's lack of anything approaching evenhandedness weakens his overall argument. I found myself wondering what is worse, Bush's stark, inflexible good/evil Weltanschauung, or a worldview based in a squishy relativism, as is held by so many of his opponents?


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