Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 4/15/2008 [Archive]

Legacy 101

Legacy 101

By Martha Randolph Carr

As the Bush administration winds down the idea of what kind of legacy has been left pops up. After all, when someone leads a very big life, they can expect to be remembered beyond what their children pass on to the grandchildren. Eventually, all that remains for most of us are the stories of something we said or did and those may have become exaggerated for better or worse over time. The things we treasured may still exist within the family but chances are no one is talking about the original owner or why that side table was chosen or where it originally stood. That's because in the end, it really doesn't matter and life becomes once again about the present moment, as it was intended.

However, some of us rise to a position to create policy that affects generations who are left to either reap the benefits or clean up the mess. That's all that ever remains of a presidential legacy. No one ever remembers catchy campaign slogans and only Lincoln was eloquent enough that we will still listen to his speeches. Jefferson and Kennedy are the only two who are quoted in short phrases on a fairly regular basis. Beyond that, it all comes down to policy.

Jefferson worked at acquiring land mass at a rate that has never been equaled and helped to create a country. Theodore Roosevelt is remembered for preserving large amounts of that same land as national forests for future generations to be able to gaze upon exactly what he saw.

In the short run, it appears the second Bush administration will be remembered for starting a costly war in a foreign country that led to a simmering battle without end. An even worse version of what happened over thirty years ago in Vietnam when the Nixon White House finally had to decide to just go home. As an interesting side note, Vice President Dick Cheney was present in both administrations.

The economy's slide into recession, an enormous national debt and a weak U.S. dollar will stick in our craw for awhile as well. But, unless our situation rises to the level of The Great Depression, which got its own moniker and became a worldwide phenomenon, we will eventually forget all of this except for the few times a pundit reminds us.

So, the legacy that will stick to the Bush administration for generations to come, ironically, is the line item we're choosing to ignore the most -- the environment. Unlike the economy or who we're currently locked in battle with, it is the one thing that has a permanent memory of sorts and has implications for generations to come. Global warming is the topic getting all of the press but there are so many other policy decisions by this administration in the past eight years that can't be taken back and will ripple out in ways we aren't paying attention to yet.

One example is the mountaintop removal mining in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky that is erasing the Appalachian Trail. The environment is not just taking it on the chin from the practice of blasting off the tops of mountains so enormous machines called draglines can mine coal deposits but from the Bush administration's decision to make it legal to dump the leftover debris into nearby rivers, erasing 1,000 miles of stream forever. Over 300,000 acres of hardwood forests have also been turned into grassland. It hasn't even translated into a better economy for the residents of the state. Those large draglines have made it possible to reduce the number of miners needed by 85 percentremoving the local economy along with the landscape.

A small history lesson to put this into a larger perspective -- during the Ice Age, before we existed, most living things perished and in the land mass we refer to as the United States, everything green disappeared except for one small area we call West Virginia. And after the earth started to warm again, all of North America was seeded from this small, lush forest that had managed to remain. That means that from edge to edge of the land that Jefferson sought to claim for the new country, we owe some gratitude to West Virginia which soon will have nothing left to give.

As we all start to realize what this means to our drinking water, our climate, our clean air or our immune systems, we'll look for the beginning of the story and where it all really went south. That will become the Bush legacy. It's finally gotten to where being a tree hugger has more to do with wanting to save the human beings than the trees.

Martha Randolph Carr's latest book, A Place to Call Home, about the reemergence of U.S. orphanages, is available wherever books are sold. If you'd like Martha to come and speak to your group go to,

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