Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blood and Bones

Just nine days ago, George W. Bush was the President.

Doesn’t it seem like he’s been gone for much longer than just nine days?

Obama’s transition team certainly hit the ground running and his cabinet appointments took over the front pages in January but even back during the campaign Bush was pretty quiet. (Except when he over-ruled congress and gave the auto-makers $25 billion…)

It seems like he was content to let the heat of the spotlight shine on someone else for a while. Let’s face it; it couldn’t have been easy for him. The general consensus is that his administration has been a total car wreck. Iraq, the economy…his approval numbers have been the lowest ever. Most objective accounts place him at the bottom of the list of modern presidents.

Imagine looking into the mirror each day. Imagine looking into your wife’s eyes, or your kid’s eyes, or your dad’s eyes and wondering what they were really thinking in their heart of hearts.

You have to wonder how much the pressure really got to him. How much did it hurt? I have this sad vision of him taking his time as he packs up the Oval Office, pausing to reflect on a photograph or laughing quietly as he recalled a funny moment.

And then he pauses. And thinks about dead kids coming back from Iraq.

Does a guy like that ever have a moment where he hunches over his desk and cries?

The last we really heard from the Bush administration was that strange document called “Policies of the Busch Administration, 2001-2009” which was released in early January and was intended to highlight his successes and begin the long process of burnishing his image and spinning his place in history.

It will be interesting to see how our culture looks back on Bush and his presidency. History can be pretty kind - I remember how the coverage was mostly positive when Nixon died and history might have a make-over in store for Bush as well.

But we all should remember what it was like during the run-up to the war in Iraq. Outside of pockets in the expected urban centers, you couldn’t stand up against the idea of invasion without being considered unpatriotic and naive.

Remember how mainstream American culture reacted to the French refusal to support the invasion of Iraq? We got “freedom fries” instead of French fries in the Capitol building cafeteria. One of my whack-job college roommates announced that he was boycotting Poland Spring water because they were owned by Nestle, a French company.

Au Bon Pain, the sub-par sandwich chain even posted large banners in front of their stores reaching “A Proudly American Owned Company” lest they be tainted by association with the French.

The Busch administration ginned up a mob mentality and dissent was not tolerated in most circles. Don’t you remember that?

Of course, the French were right. And the dissenters were right but Bush did everything he could to shout them down.

Whatever else history ends up saying about the eight years that he was President, you should also remember that under George Bush, we became a country that uses torture to coerce information from captives.

Is that who you want to be?

But at the same time, he’s just a guy right? A human being. He must feel sadness or shame or guilt or envy just like all of us. He must have self-doubt. He must have regrets.

This morning I came across Errol Morris’ January 25 entry on his blog at the New York Times . He asked the photo editors of the three wire services - AP (The Associated Press), AFP (Agence France-Presse) and Thomson Reuters – to select the pictures that they thought best captured the character of George W. Bush.

It’s a great post with some classic pictures that I’ll share below but it is this series of three consecutive shots that really caught my attention. I’ll let Jim Bourg, the photo editor from Reuters, describe what he saw as he was paging through thumbnails of images from Bush’s farewell address…

Bush finished his address to the nation, went back out through the doors, and
the doors closed behind him and the national TV broadcast went off the air. And
then after the live TV was off, the doors suddenly reopened, and he came back in
to say goodbye to all the guests – his former cabinet members, his current
cabinet members, Dick Cheney, his daughters, Laura and lots of other friends and
supporters. He popped out that door, and when the door opened and he came
through it, the look on his face was like no look I’d ever seen on George Bush’s
face in my life. I actually flagged three versions as he comes through the door
and his expression changes. And I turned to one of my editors — First I said,
“Oh, my God.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “You’ve got to see this picture
of Bush. This is really stunning.” And I flipped it over to him to process and
his first reaction was, “Wow.” And I said, “If he wasn’t just back there behind
that door crying, I don’t know what that look on his face is.” Because he just
looks absolutely devastated as he comes through this door after essentially
ending his eight year presidency. And it’s just really striking. He just looks
absolutely devastated.

See it? For just a second, self-doubt, regret, sadness. A little bit of that might have been useful back when we put our heads down and charged into Iraq.

Anyway, there are lots of other interesting shots on the blog that you might want to check out. I have included a few here along with the original wire captions. ..

IRAQ, AL-ASAD AIR BASE : US President George W. Bush waits behind a camouflage curtain before being announced to speak to the troops at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq’s western al-Anbar province 03 September 2007. Addressing cheering Marines at the base, Bush rejected intensifying pressure from the Democratic-led Congress to start pulling troops immediately out of the unpopular war in Iraq. “Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground, not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media,” the president said.

ETATS-UNIS, ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE : US President George W. Bush is caught in a sudden rain storm with a faulty umbrella while walking from Marine One to Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland 01 June 2004. (Tim Sloan/Agence France-Presse)

President Bush’s Chief of Staff Andy Card whispers into the ear of the President to give him word of the plane crashes into the World Trade Center, during a visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

.S. President George W. Bush jokingly makes a face as he tries to open a locked door as he leaves a press conference in Beijing, China, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2005. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

U.S. President George W. Bush delivers a speech to crew aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner reading “Mission Accomplished” as the carrier steams toward San Diego, CA, May 1, 2003. Bush declared major combat in Iraq over on Thursday and called the six-week war “one victory” in the campaign against terror. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

1 comment:

molly said...

EXCELLENT f'n post, hop. SO well written. I want to talk about the whole thing in a big long conversation, not in a comment box online. But, you nailed it.