This is essential viewing for anyone trying to get their head round where America is at. Andrew Bacevich is the author of a number of important books, including The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War and, most recently, The Limits of Power: the End of American Exceptionalism. If you don't have time to read his books, at least watch this measured, in-depth interview by PBS's Bill Moyers (whose show is one of the best things on American TV). You'll come away from it with plenty of food for thought, and a much deeper picture of America's current crisis than most of the more superficial anti-Bush rhetoric provides.
Bacevich talks about the rise of the Imperial Presidency, America's "empire of consumption," the country's deep economic crisis and how successive US presidents have tried to solve (or at least obscure) that crisis through dangerous imperialist military action, and the erosion of American democracy. Just read this excerpt from the transcript, for example (emphases are mine):
BILL MOYERS: I was in the White House, back in the early 60s, and I've been a White House watcher ever since. And I have never come across a more distilled essence of the evolution of the presidency than in just one paragraph in your book.
You say, "Beginning with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, "the occupant of the White House has become a combination of demigod, father figure and, inevitably, the betrayer of inflated hopes. Pope. Pop star. Scold. Scapegoat. Crisis manager. Commander in Chief. Agenda settler. Moral philosopher. Interpreter of the nation's charisma. Object of veneration. And the butt of jokes. All rolled into one." I would say you nailed the modern presidency.
ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, and the – I think the troubling part is, because of this preoccupation with, fascination with, the presidency, the President has become what we have instead of genuine politics. Instead of genuine democracy.
We look to the President, to the next President. You know, we know that the current President's a failure and a disappointment – we look to the next President to fix things. And, of course, as long as we have this expectation that the next President is going to fix things then, of course, that lifts all responsibility from me to fix things.
One of the real problems with the imperial presidency, I think, is that it has hollowed out our politics. And, in many respects, has made our democracy a false one. We're going through the motions of a democratic political system. But the fabric of democracy, I think, really has worn very thin.
Bacevich knows the score, that's for sure!
Afterwards, take some time to browse the Bill Moyers' Journal site, which has a lot of excellent interviews and items archived, including this interview with Jane Mayer about her investigations into American torture, and a fascinating report on the House Committe on the Judiciary's Subcommitte on the Constitution's ongoing hearings into torture at Guantanamo.