As Republicans gather in New York City, the Bush campaign will undergo a drastic makeover, camouflaging gutter tactics with a veneer of moderation calculated to help the President win another four-year term. But the hard truth of this campaign is that George W. Bush, while attempting to impose an extremist right-wing agenda on this country and the world, has compiled a record of staggering failure.

The debacle in Iraq has already claimed close to 1,000 American and 12,000 Iraqi lives. Far from making America safer or the Middle East more democratic, it has turned out to be what this magazine warned it would be: a reckless abuse of power that has damaged US security, destabilized the region and undercut America’s position in the world. The high cost of the war is evident not just in the number of deaths but also in burgeoning federal budget deficits (the war has cost more than $125 billion) and in the record gasoline prices Americans now pay. It is also evident in the reported swelling of the ranks of Al Qaeda-inspired groups and in the rising hatred of America reflected in public opinion polls showing that even among traditional allies like Jordan and Egypt, as much as 95 percent of the population view the United States with disfavor. Meanwhile, the war has diverted resources from urgent international problems ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the widening AIDS pandemic.

And there’s no end in sight. The US occupation grinds on with both Bush and his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, ignoring the only intelligent alternative: a phased US withdrawal. Iraqi opposition to the occupation remains fierce–expressed even by Iraqi soccer players at the Olympics–while the country’s appointed leaders display authoritarian tendencies that undermine the democracy Bush and his aides claim is being built.

If the war were Bush’s only failure, it would be enough to require his departure. But it is not. By withdrawing the United States from international treaties and conventions, mishandling crises in the Middle East and North Korea and diverting resources from the pursuit of Al Qaeda, Bush has left America more isolated and less secure. And the detention camps made infamous by the crimes of Abu Ghraib have stripped America of the pride we once had in our country and the role it played, however imperfectly, as a champion of human rights, economic opportunity and the rule of law.

At home, Bush’s failures are equally manifest. He has amassed the worst jobs record of any President since the Great Depression, the worst budget deficits ever and the most precipitous decline in America’s fiscal position–from $5 trillion in projected surplus to $4 trillion in projected deficit. Bush’s Administration responds to a corporate crime wave with calls for less regulation, embraces the flight of jobs abroad as good for the economy and exacerbates, with top-end tax cuts, the greatest inequality since the Gilded Age.

This Administration has also undermined the rights and policies that social movements labored for a century to achieve. Bush has nominated to the federal bench ideologues with a history of antiunion and antichoice decisions. He signed into law the blatantly unconstitutional “partial birth” abortion ban and then watched as his Attorney General sought access to women’s private medical records to defend the ban in court. He imposed the policy known as the global gag rule, which forbids foreign groups receiving US aid from even mentioning abortion, and vastly expanded a misinformation campaign about the dangers of sex that has been shown to encourage risky behavior among young people. And to secure his place forever in the hearts of cultural conservatives, he endorsed the gay-baiting federal marriage amendment, framing it as a response to the activism of liberal judges rather than what it was: an attempt to deny civil rights to millions of Americans and to enshrine that discrimination in the Constitution. Civil liberties, too, have suffered, as the “war on terror” has been used to justify acts ranging from detention without trial to snooping into citizens’ library records.

The list of failures goes on. The Bush years have seen a steady increase in the number of Americans without healthcare while drug company profits have soared. Bush’s prescription drug bill prohibits Medicare from negotiating a better price for seniors and bars importing cheaper drugs–with the result that older Americans will end up paying more for prescription drugs. Bush’s vaunted No Child Left Behind education law actually leaves most children behind. Not only has the law earned the ire of educators; Bush’s failure to provide promised funding for his “reforms” has prompted rebuke even from Republican state legislatures from Utah to Virginia. Bush also broke his promise to increase the amount of money eligible students could receive in college scholarship grants, even as soaring tuition puts college out of reach for ever more families. His postelection budget calls for yet more cuts to education funding. The Bush Administration has also failed to protect the environment, giving us new laws written by polluters, oil lobbyists and Enron executives. And it has politicized and distorted basic scientific and medical research.

But this President does not admit error. When asked at a press conference whether he had ever made a mistake in office, he couldn’t think of one.

If Bush wins in November, given this record of misfeasance, American democracy is in much greater trouble than even the most alienated citizens imagine. A President so out of step with the needs of Americans can only rule by sowing division and fear. Americans have one recourse: to ignore the costume ball in New York City and fire the worst President in modern history on November 2.