LI’s friend, T.S., is astonished that we went out and voted straight ticket Democrat. What happened? We understand the shock. It is a bit like Thersites pitching in to help Achilles skewer those damn Trojans. Where is the cultivated bitterness, the years – the strata – of hatred for every betrayal organized by the Dems – the trail of tears that leads from the betrayal of the poor in 96, with the signing of the welfare ‘reform’ bill, to the rollover and scratch my belly votes for the credit card companies, in 99, to the Patriot Act herd behavior in 2001?
In the 2000 election, LI was confident that we understood Bush. This, in retrospect, was stupid. We saw Gore, the most conservative Democrat since they trumped up somebody to run against Calvin Coolidge; we saw the business culture that Clinton had purposely cultivated in the late nineties, and we suspected that every snake in the grass who called itself a CEO was rolling in wealth pressed out of the very skin of the poor; and we saw Bush as a class clown, a pawn president. It wasn’t until Clinton had stepped down that we realized, looking at the figures, that – setting aside the welfare debacle – the Clinton years had actually been good for the working class. And it wasn’t until Bush showed himself serious about doing two things; spending like a drunken sailor, and at the same time piping money to his upper income buddies in a redistribution of wealth worthy of one of the pharaohs, that it began to sink in: this was not an amiable mediocrity from Texas, with the same relationship to the hardcore Republicans that Hogan’s heroes’ Nazis had to the S.S., but a whole other animal. Still, in August, 2001, I doubt that LI knew the name of the Secretary of Defense – who cared?
In fact, after the attack (and extending a certain human charity to the obviously scared Bush, having his handlers fly him from place to place in Middle America, while his spokesman assured us that, in actuality, he wanted to bare his breast to incoming), I felt like he was not bad. I certainly appreciated the expressions of tolerance about Muslims. After all, George had been growing up around Muslims since he was knee high to a grasshopper. To fast forward a bit, I felt later that one of the uglier parts of Michael Moore’s movie, was its harping on the racist image of the darkskinned Saudi in costume.
It soon became apparent that Bush was determined to reduce his office to the midget stature he felt comfortable with. He began treating the war in Afghanistan as he treated his many failed oil ventures, pulling out, with invariable bad luck, when he should have stayed in. This man didn’t have the cerebellum to make a good decision, nor to understand how he was being bamboozled by those he’d appointed to make good decisions. Worse, once he had adopted the stance suggested by some self-interested subordinate, he grew organically attached to that stance. I had expected a class clown, but I had not expected a class clown who thought he was a homecoming queen.
2002 was an agony. After starting out promising a Marshall plan in Afghanistan and promptly allocating zero dollars for it, and after evidently deciding that Pakistan, of all states, would welcome the chance to bag Osama, he turned his attention to the economy and – incredibly – once against thrust the money from Clinton’s raised tax rates on those people who are technically savers – the investors in currency transactions and bonds. Nobody, at this point, was using equities to raise capital in order to expand, but this didn’t seem to phase the guy. What can you say? The spoiled scion of a Machiavellian numbskull, Bush just didn’t seem to notice that this economic policy was worse than pernicious. It was Keynsianism for dummies.
And then of course, there is his war. Here is a man who would fumble an order for pizza delivery, making the big decision to go to war in Iraq. Decision, in Bush’s case, is always about whether he is for it or against it. It has nothing to do with facts, figures, strategies, history – in fact, any of the rational elements that go into decision making. Now, if the man had been a veteran of many such decisions, one might label this dependence on his gut ‘tacit knowledge” – but we aren’t talking Eisenhower here. This is a guy who sensibly kept away from anything that smelt even vaguely of killing, and whose idea of leading is leading a cheer.
The mistakes cascade. In the aftermath of a terror attack, when one expects a certain prudence in financial matters (after all, there could be another attack), the man shovels money in the direction of the least worthy. At the same time, having zero idea of what to expect in Iraq, having zero feeling for the area, or for the middle east – having intentionally kept out of it, unlike his poisonous pa – suddenly he is an expert.
It is all so … lowrate. How many Texan trust funders have made, on a lower scale, the same kind of mistakes – the coddled ignorance and family luck being mistaken for a divine blessing? And that, in turn, being transformed into some conduit to God. Usually, more harmlessly, these things end up as investment in the perpetual motion machine, or a new way of extracting old oil from exhausted fields. Bush is just the type of rich guy to commit some fraud or crime that Texas Monthly will weave a tale around.
But really, he isn’t, now. The presidency, like Hollywood, has a certain democratic magic: the girl at the soda fountain or the guy from the alcoholic family making it upstream on sheer guts and awareness, sex and bribery, compromises like treerings in the bone. Nixon, Clinton, even Reagan. But Bush was not part of that narrative. The best analogy for him in the literature is Temple Drake’s fatal date in Faulkner’s Sanctuary – that ole Miss boy who measures his virility in the amount that he can drink, and who leaves poor Temple to the tender mercies of a redneck rapist.
So, LI has learned something. We’ve learned that the drama of living under a coup is like watching a wet firecracker fail to light. No, it isn’t about drama and resistance, it is about the universal debasement of choices.
So we voted. And we’re damn proud of it.