Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I’ve become obsessed with George W. Bush. I spend hours Googling “George W. Bush low IQ” (500,000 hits), “George W. Bush stubborn asshole” (67,000 hits), and “George W. Bush deranged maniac” (43,000 hits). I loathe this man with an intensity that makes my stomach hurt. Why he wasn’t thrown out of office long ago baffles me. All Bill Clinton had to do to get impeached by the House was lie about a blow job, while Bush has engineered, in a spectacularly negligent manner, what’s acknowledged by many as the worst foreign-policy blunder in the history of the Republic.
Every afternoon at five o’clock, I tune in to my favorite television show, Hardball with Chris Matthews. Theo, my little Italian greyhound, hops up on the couch with me. He seems to enjoy the show almost as much as I do, his ears pricking up whenever the host makes an especially salient point.
I’m fascinated by Chris Matthews because he’s everything I’m not: Nordically handsome with fine blond hair; charming and articulate; and completely unfazed at being watched by hundreds of thousands of people. There’s not enough money in the world to induce me to appear on a television show even as a guest (in what capacity I can’t imagine), let alone as a host.
I sense that Matthews is as angry as I am about Bush, but, unlike me, he manages to avoid sounding bitter about it. Even while skewering one of his guests, he maintains that appealing glimmer in his eye. I’ve never been good at graceful anger. I sputter, wave my arms, roll my eyes, and, when things get too hot, storm out of the room. I can’t recall a single argument after which I didn’t feel at least a little ashamed of myself.
The Democrats have recently taken over Congress, and the overriding question is whether they will stand up to the president and stop him from expanding the war in Iraq. Matthews keeps asking guests if the Democrats will have the “courage” to defy the president. Yet roughly 60 percent of the country wants us out of Iraq. Why should it take courage to align oneself with a significant majority?
“Pam!” I call out indignantly to my partner. “Can you believe this maniac Bush is actually trying to escalate the war?”
“No, I can’t,” she says. “And I also can’t believe that you actually used to support him. I’m glad you’ve finally seen the light.”
I didn’t vote for Bush, twice choosing the Libertarian candidate instead, but I did support his war for a while, and as much as I might like to forget that, there’s no getting around it.
“OK, I admit it,” I sputter. “I believed all that crap about weapons of mass destruction. And why wouldn’t I?” I demand with a trademark wave of my arms. “What kind of person would just make that up?”
What I don’t admit is that Bush succeeded in scaring me with his talk of nuclear devices and biological weaponry, while at the same time seducing me with his strangely comforting rhetoric of us versus them. I feel so ashamed I could cry.
Two weeks ago Theo and I watched the CNN coverage of Saddam Hussein’s execution. Of all the ways to go, hanging seems one of the least desirable, and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the bastard. The cable shows aired documentaries about the dictator’s early life and rise to power. It turns out he had a miserable childhood: he was unloved by his mother, who had to be talked out of an abortion, and his stepfather beat him with sticks. It’s the rare human being who can be treated that badly as a kid and turn out to be a decent person. Still, most people who have unhappy childhoods manage to avoid becoming mass murderers.
What of George W. Bush’s childhood? There’s no way to know for sure, but his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, has always struck me as a nice guy. His air of slightly geeked-out awkwardness is endearing. I can’t help thinking that this apparently reasonable and moderate fellow must be mortified by his extremist son. I’m guessing George Bush the elder is one heartbroken dad.
What troubles me most about the president is his apparent lack of shame. “I must tell you, I’m sleeping a lot better than people would assume,” he recently told a reporter. Can he really mean it? Or is it simply bluster? Either way, the implications are alarming.
I stroke Theo’s ears and meditate on the value of shame. I seem to have been born with an overabundance of it — a distinct liability, of course. On the other hand, wouldn’t the world be in better shape if the president had at least a modicum of shame?
Interestingly, shamelessness was the quality Bush and Saddam most seemed to share. Might this explain some of the contempt Bush obviously felt for the fallen dictator? We tend to dislike people who embody the qualities we abhor in ourselves. It’s a disquieting thought that so much blood is being spilled so that our commander in chief can avoid looking himself in the eye.
While Googling “George W. Bush revolting narcissist” (23,200 hits), I discover that as boys he and his buddies allegedly entertained themselves by blowing up frogs with firecrackers. It’s not clear from the article whether they put them in the frogs’ mouths or asses. Perhaps both. In any case, I’m guessing the story, true or not, won’t find its way into the treasure trove of cherished presidential lore alongside George Washington cutting down his old man’s cherry tree.
I wonder if I could use this in an essay. I’m a writer — or, at least, I used to fancy myself a writer. “It’s been a long time since I’ve actually seen something of mine in print,” I complain to Pam.
“Well, sweetheart,” she says gently, with just a hint of reproach in her voice, “perhaps if you wrote more than one essay a year you might get better at it.”
I pause and consider how Chris Matthews would respond. Rather than rolling my eyes as usual, I glare at her through narrowed slits.
“Are you all right, dear?” Pam asks, peering at me with sudden concern. “You look a little strange.”
Exasperated, I take Theo out for a walk. At least my dog appreciates me. To be appreciated is all I want in life, really. Am I any different from Bush in this regard?
“The true terrorists are the ones who live inside us,” I imagine I will write in my new essay. “Vanity, self-importance, self-deception, blind ambition, pettiness, jealousy, fear. That’s the real axis of evil.” I feel a surge of pride at my own eloquence.
It’s going to be a fine piece, I think to myself. Now all I have to do is write it. Suddenly brimming with self-confidence, I decide to forgo my usual research. I’ll just wing it. Best to travel light.
“Mission as good as accomplished,” I reassure my faithful dog. He wags his tail happily as we turn and head for home.