STRANGE MEN! God has given Bush a visionand courtiers like David Brooks: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2006
STRANGE MEN: Strange man, Hector said to Paris, as they stood near the walls of Troy. The deathless phrase came to mind Thursday morning as we read David Brooks account of a session President Bush had just conducted with a group of conservative journalists:
BROOKS (9/14/06): The other striking feature of his conversation is that he possesses an unusual perception of time. Washington, and modern life in general, encourages people to think in the short term. But Bush, who stands aloof, thinks in long durations.Good grief! Should men and women get into politics to help change a culture? That isnt always a bad idea. But grandiosity can lurk in such a notion—especially if the proffered change-agent is as limited a person as Bush. But Bush did sketch this grandiose goal at the very start of his run for the White House. In June 1999, he flew from Austin to Cedar Rapids and announced that he was running for president. Speaking before pleasing bales of hay, with a stage-managed tractor behind him, Bush said this about his reasons for running:
BUSH (6/12/99): My first goal will be to usher in the responsibility era, an era that stands as stark contrast to the last few decades, when our culture has clearly said, If it feels good, do it, and If you've got a problem, blame somebody else.Much of what Bush said in that passage makes perfect sense in the political context. But some of what he said was strange. Is it really a presidents job to teach children that alcohol will ruin your life? That was a fairly strange thing to say—as was Bushs remark about having seen a culture change once, and knowing it can change again. This past Wednesday, the Washington Posts Peter Baker reported on Bushs meeting with those conservative journalists. (Baker quoted excerpts of Bushs remarks from the National Review web site.) Here is a bit more insight on Bushs view of the culture:
BAKER (9/12/06): President Bush said yesterday that he senses a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation's struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as "a confrontation between good and evil."Those remarks suggest that Bush is a very limited person. Its probably better if such people avoid the temptation to create vast changes in American culture.
Why do those remarks suggest that Bush is limited? Start with his deeply limited grasp of the change that occurred in the 1960s. Yes, American culture changed in various ways from (say) 1956 to 1975. But many of those changes were glorious—a fact which limited men like Bush are disinclined to recall or acknowledge. How did the culture change during that period? For one thing, there were gigantic changes in American notions of racial fairness—changes for which every American should thank God every day. That was a giant change in the culture—and if there is a benevolent God, this change came straight from that source. Bushs complaints about instant gratification and if it feels good, do it, seem to concern changes in sexual culture. And yes—almost surely, there are legitimate complaints a pol can make about some of the changes which were involved in the so-called sexual revolution. But during those glorious 1950s, one part of if it feels good, do it involved the denigration of so-called minorities. Bushs apparent sense that 50's culture was good and later changes were evil suggest a deeply limited man—the kind of man who ought to be kept far away from any vast effort to transform our vast culture. (Note: During the period in question, there were also vast changes for the good in our notions of fairness to women.)
According to Baker, Bush pointed out, in this weeks meeting, that some of Abraham Lincoln's strongest supporters were religious people who saw life in terms of good and evil. In some sense, thats certainly accurate. But Lincoln himself was a man who brooded about our limited ability to know the good as God saw it. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, Lincoln said, with cosmic irony, of the two sides who fought the American Civil War. He then pledged to work with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right. But Bush displays little of Lincolns self-doubt. He seems very clear about whats good and whats evil in the culture—and he seems very clear in his belief that he should march forward to change it.
Strange man! Our own guesses about President Bush would go something like this: Wed guess that Bush had a very tough time when he left Texas in 1961, at the start of tenth grade, and went to Philips Andover Academy, where he confronted, and had to compete among, high blue-blood Eastern culture. Wed guess that he was somewhat dyslexic, which helps explain the academic problems he had at the school, and later at Yale. (Bush would later tell friends he was terrified of flunking out of Andover, afraid that he would embarrass himself and his family, the Posts Lois Romano reported in 1999.) Wed guess that he had a tough time accepting his failure to match the legendary achievements, at Andover and Yale, of his famous namesake dad. Wed guess that he may have met a somewhat snooty faculty, which wasnt inclined to be insightful or helpful about his problems and his fears. And by the time he showed up at Yale, a vast cultural upheaval—called the 60s—was happening. It was a confusing time even for the most directed and driven, and Bush was neither, Romano wrote. He also wasnt one of the deepest—and over time, wed guess that Bush transformed his own frustrations and pains of the period into a vast, and vastly limited, critique of American culture. Beyond that, its hard to read Bushs remarks this week without thinking of the semi-psychiatric diagnosis which has floated around for some time—the diagnosis of Bush as a dry drunk, a man who channeled his own painful struggles with alcoholism into disordered and grandiose thinking.
We would offer those as guesses. But as a candidate, Bush declared it in his first speech—he had seen the culture change once, and he planned to change it again. This week, he said much the same thing: I got into politics initially because I wanted to help change a culture. Bush was certainly right in some of the things he said this week; depending on what you mean by stark, there really was a stark change between the culture of the '50s and the '60s, as Baker quotes him saying. But many of those changes were vastly for the good, a point Bush still doesnt seem to consider. Many things changed in that twenty-year span. But no, our country wasnt involved in a simple-minded war between Evil and Good. Bush seems to love such limited thoughts. He seems to think this wherever he looks.
George Bush is a strange and limited man. And uh-oh! As one part of his vast limitation, God has given him to see that he should transform the entire worlds culture! Of course, Bush has also been given scribes like Brooks, who dress this strange notion in pleasing ribbons. Far-seeing Bush thinks in long durations, this other strange man oddly says.
Hector spoke the truth to willful Paris. Brooks spoke as part of the court.