A Perfectly Normal President

March 24, 2002

The Los Angeles Times reports that in an interview with a German magazine, Bush was asked about his flights around the country on Sept. 11 and he said, in effect, that they were an effort to save his ass. Totally understandable of course, isn't it what most of us would do in the event of a disaster? Or would we? I guess we know, starting with the firemen and the policemen and many of the people on the street and in the area that day, that saving one's own ass was not the only thing that was on everyone's minds. But it's a perfectly normal reaction, and he is, after all, a perfectly normal president.

That's how he presented himself in the campaign, remember? Just a normal guy. Not even a politician, he said. A really likable guy, a guy with great people skills. In reality he's a politician of uncanny ability, but he sold himself as a regular guy whom Joe Sixpack would like to party with, certainly much more than that nerdy wonk Al Gore. So that's what we got. So what does a cheerleader do when disaster hits?

If you search out Bush's behavior that day, it is illuminating. Someone said character is what is demonstrated by the actions of people under pressure. When the most colossal disaster ever hit the U.S., how did George W. Bush behave? Like a leader, a protector? He behaved like a valuable jewel, which must be saved at all costs. No matter if the world should be destroyed, this above all things must be protected.

You couldn't blame him if that was the way he thought, that's the way he has been treated. And in a very literal sense, that's what he is. He is the hottest property out there. A great act. He does magic for the Fortune 500 companies. As Jim Hightower said, Bush is a corporate wet dream. They are falling all over themselves there is so much money to steal. It's open season on the treasury for major corporations. Not for poor folk though. Nah. Times are tough, budgets are tight. You know. Recession.

So Bush -- the hottest property around to the richest 5% of the population, and useless to the rest of us -- falls as usual into the arms of his handlers and lets them tell him what to do. They will protect him against any odds, against any danger. He is worth way too much money for them to let anything happen to him. So they start flying him all over the country, winding up in Nebraska.

What is missing in this whole situation? No one seems to know what to do. It's a chain of command that runs in a circle. There is no leadership. This would be bad if the talent being handled was John Travolta or Madonna. But in this case the property being handled was the president of the United States, the man who is supposed to be the prime mover for the whole country, and he's like some scared puppy that is waiting to be told what to do.

The trouble is, the Bush machine pulled off a marvelous heist taking over the government, but when the country is in crisis, it is in need of leadership, and there is no trace of leadership in the Big Money politics game. George Bush portrayed by the desperate efforts of the major media as a leader isn't credible and no one really believes it. Everyone, even the people who work closely with him, know he's not a particularly bright bulb, but it doesn't matter. He serves a purpose. He's a poster boy. An actor, not much more.

Bush reads some lines with something that looks enough like conviction to convince a lot of people of his sincerity. That is fine for soundbite production, for maintaining a propaganda campaign. But when it comes to leading your country out of crisis, what is needed is something extraordinary.

Anyone who has looked even casually at Bush's history - even the public, scrubbed version - knows that the lack of substance he seems to project on camera is no illusion. No profile in courage this boy. So when disaster struck - it's no great mystery -- he ran like a chicken with its head cut off.

Now here is one final thought, a world away. The man who coined the phrase "Profiles in Courage," knew there were threats on his life when he went to Dallas, yet he went through the entire city with no shield, from getting off the airplane until the moment he was shot. He walked along beside the car for a while. He knew he could be shot. He had spoken of the possibility of being shot. He was a fatalistic man. He was vigorous, but physically failing. His mortality was very real to him already. He had suffered severe physical ailments. He had been in action in World War II.

He knew there was danger, but he did not run from it. He went forward with what seemed to be the honorable thing to do. Though millions cried that he did not take more pains to protect himself, and he was lost to the world, his destiny was one of honor and of dignity. His place in history will always rise to mythical proportions because he did not blow his cool. He did not falter when things got tough. No matter what his detractors say about his sexual behavior, he was a man of honor. Certainly not perfect, but essentially a man who came through when he had to.

The applicable phrase came to me this afternoon as if in someone else's voice, and when I heard it I knew it to be true. Bush wouldn't know honor if it bit him. -- By David Cogswell

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