In which John Green teaches you about the tumultuous 2000’s in the United States of America, mainly the 2000’s that coincide with the presidency of George W Bush. From the controversial election in 2000, to the events of 9/11 and Bush’s prosecution of the War on Terror, the George W. Bush presidency was an eventful one.
Transcript Provided by YouTube:
Hi, I’m John Green, this is CrashCourse U.S. history and today we’ve done it! WE’VE
FINALLY REACHED THE 21st CENTURY! Today, we boldly go where no history course
has gone before, because your teacher ran out of time and never made it to the present.
Also, if you’re preparing for the AP test it’s unlikely that today’s video will
be helpful to you because, you know, they never get to this stuff.
Mr. Green, Mr. Green? Awesome, free period. Yeah, Me From the Past, there’s no such
thing as a free period. There’s only time, and how you choose to use it.
Also, Me From the Past, we’re in your future, hold on I’ve got to take this stuff off
it’s hard to take me seriously with that. We’re in the future for you which means
that you are learning important things about the you who does not yet exist.
You know about Lady GaGa, Kanye and Kim, Bieber, well you’re not going to find out about
any of those things because this is a history class, but it’s still going to be interesting.
INTRO So the presidency of George W. Bush may not
end up on your AP exam, but it’s very important when it comes to understanding the United
States that we live in today The controversy starts with the 2000 Election.
Democratic presidential candidate Al “I invented the Internet” Gore was sitting
Vice President, and he asked Bill Clinton not to campaign much because a lot of voters
kind of hated Bill Clinton. The republican candidate was George W. Bush,
governor of Texas and unlike his father a reasonably authentic Texan.
You know, as people from Connecticut go. Bush was a former oil guy and baseball team
owner and he was running as a Compassionate Conservative, which meant he was organizing
a coalition of religious people and fiscal conservatives.
And that turned out to be a very effective coalition and George W Bush got a lot of votes.
He did not however get as many votes as Al Gore.
But as you’ll no doubt remember from earlier in Crash Course US History, in the United
States presidential elections are not decided by popular vote. They are decided by the Electoral
College. So the election was incredibly close. It solidified
the Red-Blue divide that has become a trope for politicians since. And in the end Gore
won the popular vote by about 500,000 votes. However, Al Gore did not have the necessary
electoral votes to become president. Unless he won Florida. Did he win Florida? I don’t
even want to go there… In Florida the vote was ridiculously close,
but George W Bush had a gigantic advantage which is that his brother, Jeb Bush, was the
governor of Florida. So when it came time to certify the election
Jeb was like, “Yeah. My brother won. No big deal.” But then the Gore campaign sued
to have a recount by hand which is allowed under Florida law.
But then Bush’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to intervene and they did. Their decision
in Bush v. Gore remains rather controversial. They ruled that the recount should be stopped,
interfering with a state law and also a state’s electoral process, which is a weird decision
for strict constructionists to make. However, one of the strong points of the United
States these past couple centuries has been that sometimes we have the opportunity to
go to war over whether this person or that person should be president and we chose not
to. So regardless of whether you think the recount
should have gone on, or George W Bush should have been elected, he was, and he set to work
implementing his campaign promises, including working on a missile defence system that was
very similar to Star Wars. And that was Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars,
not George Lucas’ Star Wars. Man if we could get a federally funded new Star Wars trilogy
that doesn’t suck that would be awesome. Anyway, in the first 100 days of his presidency
Bush also barred federal funding for stem cell research, and he supported oil drilling
in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And speaking of environmental policy, the
Bush administration announced that it would not abide by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on carbon
emissions and that didn’t go over well with environmentalists in the U.S. or in all of
these green parts of not-America because they were like, “You guys made all the carbon.”
To which we said, “This is America.” Libertage
Bush also attempted education reform with the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated
that states implement “rigorous” standards and testing regimes to prove that those standards
were being met. The No Child Left Behind Act is especially
controversial with teachers who are great friends of Crash Course US History so we will
say nothing more. Most importantly, George W Bush pushed through
the largest tax cut in American history in 2001. Claiming that putting more money in
Americans’ pockets would stimulate growth in an economy that had stumbled after the
bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000. Oh, it’s time for the Mystery Document?
The rules here are simple. I guess the author of the Mystery Document,
I either get it right, or I get shocked with the shock pen. Alright, what have we got here
today. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a sad one.
“It was a beautiful fall day, with a crisp, blue sky. I was coming in to work late that
day; I guess I didn’t have first period class. It was only the second or third day
When I emerged from the subway, Union Square was strangely quiet, which only added to the
beauty of the day. People were standing still, which is weird in New York under any circumstances,
and looking down University Place towards lower Manhattan. Before I even looked I asked
a passerby what had happened. She, or he, I really don’t remember, said that a plane
had crashed into the Trade Center. Then I looked and saw the smoke coming billo wing
out of the South Tower. I thought it was an accident, but I knew that this was not going
to be an easy day. Well it’s obviously someone who was in New
York City on September 11, 2001, but that only narrows it down to like 10 million people.
However, I happen to know that it is Crash Course historian and my high school history
teacher Raoul Meyer who wrote that account. This is the saddest I have ever been not to
be shocked. So whether George Bush’s domestic policy
would have worked is up for debate, but the events of September 11, 2001 ensured that
foreign policy would dominate any discussion of the opening decade of the 21st century.
That morning terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda hijacked 4 airliners. Two planes were
flown into Manhattan’s World Trade Center, a third was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington
and a fourth, also headed for Washington DC crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers overpowered
the hijackers. Almost 3,000 people died including almost
400 policemen and firefighters. As Americans rushed to help in the search
for survivors and to rebuild a devastated city, a shared sense of trauma and a desire
to show resolve really did bring the country together.
President Bush’s popularity soared in the wake of the attacks. In a speech on September
20, the president told Americans watching on television that the terrorists had targeted
America “Because we love freedom […]. And they hate freedom.”
This is another critical moment in American history where the definition of freedom is
being reimagined. And we were reminded in the wake of September
11th that one of the central things that government does to keep us free is to keep us safe. But
at the same time ensuring our safety sometimes means impinging upon our freedoms.
And the question of how to keep America safe while also preserving our civil liberties
is one of the central questions of the 21st century.
At any rate, in the September 20th speech, the president announced a new guiding principle
in foreign policy that became known as the Bush Doctrine.
America would go to war with terrorism making no distinction between the terrorists and
nations that harbored them. Bush laid out the terms for the world that
night: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
But that dichotomy of course would prove to be a bit of an oversimplification.
So on October 7, the United States launched its first airstrikes on Afghanistan, which
at the time was ruled by a group of Islamic fundamentalists called the Taliban who were
protecting Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s leader. This was followed by American ground troops
supporting the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in chasing out the Taliban and setting up
a new Afghan government that was friendly to the United States.
This new government did undo many of the worst Taliban policies, for instance allowing women
and girls to go to school, and even to serve in the parliament.
More women than girls in the parliament naturally. But by 2007 the Taliban was beginning to make
a comeback and although fewer than 100 Americans died in the initial phase of the war, a sizeable
force remained and in the ensuing 12 years the number of Americans killed would continue
to rise. And then, by January 2002, Bush had expanded
the scope of the Global War on Terror by proclaiming that Iran, Iraq and North Korea were an “axis
of evil” that harbored terrorists, even though none of those nations had direct ties
to the September 11 attacks. The ultimate goal of Bush Doctrine was to
make the world safe for freedom and also to spread it and freedom was defined as consisting
of political democracy, free expression, religious toleration, free trade and free markets.
These freedoms, Bush said, were, “right and true for every person, in every society”.
And there’s no question that the Saddam Hussein led Iraq of 2003 was not, by any of
those definitions, free. But the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United
States was predicated on two ideas. First, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction
– chemical and biological weapons that they were refusing to give up. And second, that
there was, or at least may have been, a link between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the Al Qaeda
attacks of 9-11. So in March 2003 the United States, Britain,
and a coalition of other countries, invaded Iraq. Within a month Baghdad was captured,
Saddam Hussein was ousted, Iraq created a new government that was more democratic than
Saddam’s dictatorship, and then descended into sectarian chaos.
After Baghdad fell, President Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq,
but troops soon found themselves trying to manage an increasingly organized insurgency
that featured attacks and bombings. And by 2006 American intelligence analysts
concluded that Iraq had become a haven for Islamist terrorists, which it hadn’t been,
before the invasion. In fact, Saddam Hussein’s socialist government,
while it occasionally called upon religion to unify people against an enemy, was pretty
secular. Although fewer than 200 Americans had died
in the initial assaults, by the end of 2006, more than 3,000 American soldiers had been
killed and another 20,000 wounded. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had died in
the conflict and the costs of the war which were promised to be no more than $60 billion
had ballooned to $200 billion dollars. So that, and we try really hard here at Crash
Course to be objective was a bit of a disaster. But let’s now go back to the domestic side
of things and jump back in time to the passage of the USA PATRIOT act.
Which believe it or not is an acronym for the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing
Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism act of 2001.
Oh, Congress you don’t pass many laws these days but when you do… mmhm…. there’s
some winners. The PATRIOT act gave the government unprecedented
law enforcement powers to combat domestic terrorism including the ability to wiretap
and spy on Americans. At least 5000 people connected to the Middle
East were called in for questioning and more than 1200 were arrested, many held for months
without any charge. The administration also set up a camp for
accused terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, but not the fun kind of camp, the prison kind,
it housed more than 700 suspects. The president also authorized the National
Security Agency to listen in to telephone conversations without first obtaining a warrant,
the so-called warrantless wiretapping. In 2013 Americans learned that NSA surveillance
has of course gone much farther than this with surveillance programs like PRISM which
sounds like it’s out of an Orwell novel – I mean both like the name and the actual
thing it refers to. Meredith would like us to point out that Prism
is also the name of a Katy Perry album proving that we here at Crash Course are young and
hip and with it. Who is Katy Perry? Oh right, she has that song in Madagascar 3. Sorry,
I have little kids. The Supreme Court eventually limited the executive
branch’s power and ruled that enemy combatants do have some procedural rights. Congress also
banned the use of torture in a 2005 defense appropriations bill sponsored by Republican
John McCain who himself had been a victim of torture in Vietnam.
But the Defense Department did condone the continued use of so-called “enhanced interrogation
techniques” like waterboarding. Which most countries do consider torture.
But George W Bush won re-election in 2004, defeating the surprisingly weak John Kerry,
who was characterized as a “waffler” on a number of issues including the Iraq war.
Kerry’s history as a Vietnam protester and also terrible windsurfer probably didn’t
help him much. Bush’s victory is still a bit surprising
to historians admittedly at that moment the Iraq war seemed to be going pretty well.
But during Bush’s first term, the economy, which is usually what really drives voters,
wasn’t that great at all. A recession began during 2001 and the September
11 attacks made it much worse. And while the GDP did begin to grow again relatively quickly,
employment didn’t recover, hence all the description of it as a “jobless recovery.”
90% of the jobs lost in the 2001-2002 recession were in manufacturing, continuing a trend
that we had been seeing for 30 years. The number of steelworkers dropped from 520,000
in 1970 to 120,000 in 2004. And in his first term George W Bush actually
became the first president since Herbert Hoover to oversee a net loss of jobs.
Now I want to be clear that that’s not necessarily his fault as I have said many times before
– economics are complicated. And presidents do not decide whether economies grow.
But at any rate George W Bush was re-elected and went on to have an extremely controversial
Let’s go to the thoughtbubble. In 2005 several events undermined the public’s
confidence in the Bush administration. First, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff
was indicted for perjury and then House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay was indicted
for violating campaign finance laws. Then in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed
into the gulf coast near New Orleans submerging much of the city, killing nearly 1500 people,
and leaving thousands stranded without basic services. Disaster preparation and response
was poor on the state, local, and federal levels, but the slow response of the Department
of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency was particularly noticeable
as thousands of mostly African American New Orleans residents suffered without food or
water. Damage to the city was estimated at around $80 billion dollars. And the Katrina
disaster exposed the persistent poverty and racial divisions in the city.
While the Katrina response probably contributed to the reversal of fortune for Congressional
Republicans in the 2006 mid-terms, it was more likely the spike in gasoline prices that
resulted from the shutting down of refining capacity in the gulf and increased demand
for oil from rapidly growing China. Voters gave Democrats majorities in both houses,
and Nancy Pelosi of California became the first woman Speaker of the House in American
history. And then, in 2007, the country fell back into
recession as a massive housing bubble began to deflate, followed by the near collapse
of the American banking system in 2008. Thought Bubble, thank you once again for the
tremendous downer. So, the Bush years are still in the recent
past, and it’s impossible to tell just what their historical significance is without some
distance. But the attacks on September 11 had far ranging
effects on American foreign policy but also on the entire world.
Under the leadership of George W Bush the United States began a global fight against
terrorism and for freedom. But as always, what we mean by the words is
evolving and there’s no question that in trying to ensure a certain kind of freedom
we have undermined other kinds of freedom. We’ll get to the even messier and murkier
world of the 2008 financial collapse next week. Until then, thanks for watching.
Crash Course is made with the help of all these nice people and it exists because of
your support through Subbable.com – a voluntary subscription service that allows you to subscribe
monthly to Crash Course for the price of your choosing.
There are great perks over at Subbable, but the biggest perk of all is knowing that you
helped make Crash Course possible so please check it out, thank you for watching, thanks
for supporting Crash Course, and as we say in my hometown, “Don’t forget to be awesome.”
This post was previously published on YouTube.
Photo credit: Screenshot from video.