As George W. Bush slouches off toward – not Gomorrah, but a tony neighborhood in Dallas, it is worth asking – as it will continue to be, for anyone seriously interested in political history – how much insight he has, or ever had, into world affairs and into his role and that of his administration. Granted, he was surrounded by passably smart people – but so are “idiot kings”, as I call them. When the nominal ruler has an empty skull, it's all the more important that his deputies – who are really running the show – be smarter than average. Of course, when those deputies are not only smart, but evil, then you have a different problem on your hands. Then it's not so much a matter of honest mistakes as of hidden agendas... and success disguised as failure... and, first and foremost, making the nominal ruler into a scapegoat. And this is the fate that seems to have overtaken George W. Bush, almost from the start. For a guy who spends most of his time looking either sheepish or downright bewildered, it's amazing how many acts over the years have been attributed to his scheming brainpower. But then, it's always easier to pick one villain and let the others go free – otherwise things get too complicated. So while the real guilty parties – the ones who have been keeping Bush incommunicado and blowing smoke up his butt all this time – go free, he remains in the corner wearing the dunce cap, or in the stocks, or on the dunking stool of history.
The question is, did he sign up for this duty, knowing what it would entail? Did he volunteer for some kind of political martyrdom? Doesn't seem likely. Well then, was he picked for precisely those qualities that have made him such a laughingstock – his verbal incompetence, his gullibility, his naivete, his rigidity, his blockheadedness, his... well, you get the idea. This is actually quite possible. I'm sure the puppet masters knew exactly what they were doing when they picked out this particular wooden-headed Pinocchio to be our head of state. They knew his weaknesses, his delusions, his failings... and they knew how to leverage them all into a perfectly compliant administration that would end on a high note for them, but the lowest of low notes for him.
So they put him in place, like a pimply schoolboy playing at government at “Boys' State”. Then the game begins. What do they tell him? And when? And for what purpose? Surely he has to be primed for his frequent speaking engagements and press conferences. So do we create an entire reality out of whole cloth? Or are we more subtle – taking the reality that is, and adding our own “interpretations”? And all the time, we have to appeal to his pathetic self-esteem needs and his damaged ego. This is a management challenge indeed! But we're up to it! And we have plenty of examples to go by – Carter, who wound up wrapped around the little finger of virtually everybody he ever met, and Clinton, whose ego and self-esteem needs made him the lowest-hanging of low-hanging fruit. And then, lest we forget, we have a friend in “recovering alcoholic syndrome” -- not to mention the Freudian aspects, you know, Bush Sr. and his “failure to follow through after retaking Kuwait”. Yeah... this is gonna be easy.
And easy it was. And sure enough, “W” was a quick study. Only on occasion did he reveal the vast, echoing hollowness inside his skull – the most notable occasion being on 9-11, where he sat in a grade-school classroom, apparently mesmerized by the story of a pet goat, for how long? -- after hearing the initial news. He really should not have been on camera at that moment; someone obviously screwed up the timing. (They should have consulted with the folks who choreographed JFK's demise.)
But did he, at that point, realize that something had gone seriously wrong – that he had been played for a sucker? Surely he didn't know about it ahead of time – that privileged knowledge was left to cooler heads. But no, he soldiered on, and obeyed orders (although they weren't presented as “orders” so much as “advice”) -- took us into Afghanistan – and then the Iraq question came up. Did he know then that all the propaganda about Saddam was just that? Did he know later? Does he know yet?? His pathetic defense of his administration during his “redemption tour” seems to indicate that, eventually, he sort of caught onto the idea that he'd been had, but by then it was way too late, so the only option is to continue to defend the indefensible. Plus, hadn't they given him the grandest entrance of any conquering hero, EVER? Namely, the “Mission Accomplished” landing on the carrier in the Persian Gulf? Compared to which, the triumphal march from Aida was like the line at the post office. A well-polished ego reflects all that it beholds.
Then there's the last-minute frosting on the cake, namely the economic crisis and the opportunity to change, permanently, the entire political-economic structure of the U.S. -- something only done once, or maybe twice, before (by Lincoln and FDR). Well, who could resist? Especially when a bevy of experts was telling him that it was either that, or total destruction of the American way of life (No more barbeque! No more Dallas Cowboys!!), and of our mission to the benighted peoples of the world, and... who knows what other horrors? So once again he “stayed the course”, like a barroom drunk who keeps getting up only to get slapped down again. And, as he leaves office, he is apparently satisfied with how it all came out. Sure, “mistakes were made” -- but not by him. (This is at least some improvement on Clinton.) It could have come out better. He “coulda been a contenda.” But, doggone it, he did what he had to do. Of course, no one is impolite enough to ask why it is that he is retiring in utter ignominy, while all of his supposed friends and colleagues are chortling and popping champagne corks, having made a killing (in more ways than one) in the course of his administration. Does he have even the slightest hint, the slightest shadow of a doubt? Doesn't he realize that his administration was the set-up to end all set-ups? Apparently not – and that may be the saddest thing of all.