Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Hollow Man in the White House: The Lost Bush Decade

Just before New Year’s Eve, I began reading “The Final Days” by Woodward and Bernstein on the last weeks of the Nixon administration. Not because of any conscious awareness of the imminent end of the Bush era, but simply because it was the first book that jumped out at me from the bookcase in my brother’s spare bedroom in Malta where we were spending ten days escaping from the icy winds that tore across the continent in late December and early January.

The impression one gains from this account and other descriptions of Nixon is that, though he was a crook, he was also a complex person with deep-seated neuroses and obsessions that he was able to harness as vehicles to advance his political career. Even Hunter S. Thompson, probably the most outspoken critic that Nixon ever had, acknowledged in the summer of 1973 that the true loathsomeness of Watergate was to be found not in the person of the president, but in the broader implications for the nation as a whole:
The slow-rising central horror of “Watergate” is not that it might grind down to the reluctant impeachment of a vengeful thug of a president whose entire political career has been a monument to the same kind of cheap shots and treachery he finally got nailed for, but that we might somehow fail to learn something from it.
Only 27 years later, George W. Bush was elected the 43rd president of the United States. It is already clear that his sole lasting achievement and bequest to the Republican Party will be the rehabilitation of Richard Milhous Nixon. And while the legal and moral corruption of the Bush administration is immeasurably greater, making Tricky Dicky’s many crimes seem almost petty by comparison, Nixon himself now comes across as a larger-than-life figure – a tragic character in the full sense of the word, brought down by his own hubris and destroyed by the same traits of personality that made possible his ascent to power. Bush by comparison is a hollow man, a cardboard cutout, a two-bit tinhorn gambler who bet the ranch and lost. His legacy will be that of an idiot child who was somehow hoisted onto the throne and spent his days cycling, playing with his train set, and invading other countries in wars of aggression, ending in failure on an epic scale that was previously inconceivable.

I like children, but they can be stupid and cruel, as Bion of Borysthenes knew well:
It was the saying of Bion, that, though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.
Ultimately, Bush remains a mystery to us; maybe the only ones who can fathom him are those of us who have stared down the drooling, vacant-eyed monster inside of us that occasionally returns our gaze in the mirror at 3am. If so – and we would do well never to forget that Bush was re-elected in 2004, despite all the information that was publicly available at the time already – he represents not the most evil aspects of our political system and ultimately of our nature as political beings (that honor would have to be reserved for criminals of Nixon’s stature), but the most bland, careless, unthinking manifestation of human interaction. Could this be because Nixon came from a poor farming family of Quakers and had to claw his way to power and infamy, while Bush is a Fortunate Son of the establishment and was handed the keys to the White House by a coalition of the super-rich, the foreign-policy hawks, and the Christian Right?

Possibly the worst aspect of the Bush years has been not the political shit sandwich that he has tried to force-feed to all of mankind, but the way in which he has made cretinism and mediocrity fashionable, or at least acceptable in polite society. On the other hand, this development is already beginning to be reversed by the current economic devastation, which has disabused the world of the notion that the emperor’s new clothes are oh so pretty. Thus it is that in the run-up to Barack Obama’s inauguration, the residents of Washington, D.C. were throwing shoes at a blow-up doll of Bush/Pinocchio, even as the jailers guarding “shoe assassin” Muntadhar al-Zeidi in Baghdad threw a birthday party for him (after severely beating and torturing him, it should be added).
“So for him it does not matter for how long he would be imprisoned,” his brother said, “because the important thing is that he restored the honor of the Iraqi people.”
As for Bush, he can take solace in two deserved awards recently bestowed upon him: The Bishop John T. Walker Service Award, which he earned (in all fairness – though it is a shame he did not muster the same level of dedication when New Orleans was drowning) for his efforts to improve the lives of Africans, and a well-deserved label devised especially for Dubya by the esteemed Sean Bedlam:
“He is the Swiss army knife of being a fuckhead”