OK, how many out there feel that the sitting U.S. president is an embarrassment?
Forget politics, for a minute, and be honest. Ever slink down in your seat when at the national convention your local chairman addressed the masses and got exposed as a doofus in over his head? Worst yet, your child gets his big moment before the packed house at the stage-play and his light goes completely out?
This shame may well be that nagging ache in the lower mesentery that Americans are beginning to feel - but not yet admit - about their 43rd president.
The latest exhibition occurred Tuesday when President George W. Bush addressed the United Nations. Bush's most devoted defenders are joining his parents, who've known all along, that his finger on the nuclear trigger endangers the very future of the republic. That sucking sound you heard last week was these earnest patriots collectively slinking down in their seats.
As the world witnessed the bloodiest days of his Iraq occupation, Bush rose before the General Assembly and walked, as only he can walk, straight through the looking glass. "Freedom is finding a way in Iraq," the president said, even as militants separated the second American hostage from his head in as many days. Preceding Bush at the UN rostrum, Secretary General Kofi Annan had warned the world body "the rule of law is at risk around the world."
No such risks concerned Bush on his stroll behind the looking glass. Still, it was not just the disconnect of this president from reality that exposes the republic. The fault-line runs much deeper and it is as structural as it is personal. The structural must await another visit, but the personal is unfolding apace.
As the secret to each of us lies in our childhood, so too is it with Bush. Far more important than what Bush did with his lost days in the Alabama National Guard is how little prep-school "Georgie" was conditioned to solve problems and deal with the real world. His parents, of course, are aware of their oldest child's manifest shortcomings and must be horrified at the prospects of the rest of us discovering them.
Despite the best efforts of the media, the public is gaining insight into their president as the facts leak out and as Kitty Kelley's "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty," tops the sales chart. Laying aside Bush's raucous drinking, the cocaine charges and his lifelong exploitation of his "legacy," his formative years are instructive indeed about the president who started a needless war to beat his chest as a "war president." His background explains as well the president who is unimaginably ignorant of the history, culture and aspirations of the 191 nations that he addressed the other day at the General Assembly.
The macho swagger we saw at the UN podium was not so much Texas cowboy as wannabe athlete. "Georgie" could dribble a basketball with but one hand, and, unlike his father, could hit a baseball not at all. So he settled for the Yale cheerleading squad with the reputation of a "jock sniffer."
Foreshadowing his flirtation with war, Bush opted for the trappings. "He wasn't the stud jock that everyone liked," recalled Ken White, a classmate at Yale, in Kelley's book. "But he did have a bad-boy swagger that's appealing to other guys," an attraction that continues at least among white guys. "He smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes to be macho."
This pseudo-macho scion of a prominent political family took every advantage of class privilege that got him to third base under the delusion that he had hit a triple. At Andover, Yale and Harvard business school, this swaggering mediocrity nestled at the bottom of every class, perplexed by achievers not of his class, to say nothing of his race. At Andover, Bush reportedly sported on his wall a Confederate flag that might have repelled Andover's two blacks, and perhaps the one Puerto Rican, in its class of 290.
It was, however, Bush's towering lack of intellect that defined him. "That (Bush) coasted on his family name was understandable," said Yale frat brother Tom Wilner. "Lots of guys do that. But Georgie, as we called him then, has absolutely no intellectual curiosity about anything. He wasn't interested in ideas or books or causes. He didn't travel; he didn't read the newspapers; he didn't watch the news ... How he got out of Yale without developing some interest in the world besides booze and sports stuns me."
Chasing down bogus war records and irrelevant cocaine tips, the media have missed the boat on the background of the gloating "war president." It was Wilner who loosed the most salient line in Kelley's book: "Hell, it's not George's substance abuse that bothers me as much as his lack of substance."
Is this not cause for national embarrassment? Think about it.
© Copyright 2004 Newsday, Inc