As my nineteen regular readers have probably figured out by now, I don’t do a lot of writing about politics. There’s a good reason for this: I’m not very politically inclined. I mean, I’m your average mook, on the lefty side of things, I have a general grasp of most issues, but beyond that, meh. Besides, the current political tenor in this country mostly inspires in me a deep, screaming terror that makes me want gulp down vast quantities of Xanax and watch porn flicks all day in a kind of narcotized whackathon of sheerest denial. However, it’s really hard to get paid to do that sort of thing, unless you are Marlon Brando.
But the other day, I read–well, scanned . . . well . . . flung to the ground–an article in The Atlantic Monthly that purported to be an examination into the mind of George W. Bush. It is deeply stupid and makes virtually no bones about its own rah-rah bias towards our President; it is, in fact, such a naked, ass-up, lube-at-the-ready valentine that one wonders why at the end the author doesn’t beseech the administration for at least a courteous reach-around. This from the same magazine that published a po-faced article a while back similarly purporting to be an examination of the mind, habits, and fuck, I don’t know, bathroom fixture preferences of Saddam Hussein. It was similarly filled with portentous and utterly unverifiable claims as to what Saddam thinks and does and what he likes to eat and the various deep thoughts he deep thinks during the day; in other words: bullshit. The author could have claimed that Saddam enjoys wearing rubber boots and pounding finches to death with golden hammers while listening to Blondie; who’s going to argue? You?
Anyway. The article pissed me off (but it does have some great howlers in it, like this early on: “[Bush’s] two most obvious personal traits are humor and seriousness.” They are? And who doesn’t possess these obvious traits? Okay, Marlon Brando again, you got me). So I figured I’d take another look at it. And just so we’re clear, I repeat: I have no intention of being fair, nuanced, judicious, rational, or thorough. It’s just not my style. In fact, just for fun, I’m going to pack it full of malicious lies. See if you can spot them!
It starts off with some of the usual introductory hoo-ha about where Bush started out, and how he fumbled his way into the presidency: Harvard Business School, governor of Texas, etc., and some discreet obligatory mentions about his hard-drinking days and subsequent Jesus-locating. That’s cool. I don’t have any problem with the J-folk. It is fun to learn that (as an example of his crazy humor) that Bush teases Condi Rice by calling her a “mother hen;” it’s even better when he quotes former head of the Christian Coalition Ralph Reed as saying, “I’d fuck dead goats for that man.” Reed, who knew Bush during the taxing Texas Rangers years, was also apparently struck by how “focused” and “disciplined” Bush was as governor. So it’s kind of unfortunate to read the next sentence: “The governorship of Texas, however, scarcely allows those to hold it to get much done otherwise.” Well, if you’re going to be focused and disciplined, you might as well be doing nothing at all.
Then the author (Richard Brookhiser, senior editor at National Review) gets down to brass tacks and enumerates the “traits he has shown and the factors he pays attention to” since assuming office. They are:
“Thriftiness with time.” Uh, does he even have a choice? He’s President! I’m not really that grooved out that he manages to make his meetings run “briskly,” as if other administrations took time out of difficult policy sessions to unwind over a relaxing game of Uno. Let’s talk Clinton when it comes for thriftiness with time. “Hey, lover, you want to go into a broom closet? I think I know where Harding’s is.” “No time! Blow me right here! And no slurping! I’m on a call!”
“The team.” Well, this isn’t exactly a trait or anything, but whatever. Brookhiser spends a little ink lauding the staff for their closed-mouthedness, which I of course uncharitably prefer to think of as “stark terror.” Would you be inclined to shoot off your mouth with people like Torquemada Donald Rumsfeld creeping around, ready to set fire to your children’s feet if he didn’t like something you said? Or Dick Cheney, who in stressful times is given to pulling his incredible heart right out of his chest and holding it in his hand, while fixing his poor victim with a steely gaze and intoning “I keep this beating by pure force of will. You are an insignificant stack of worthless paste.” Or, worst of all, Bush could always sit you down in a closed room with Ari Fleischer and make you listen to him, a Boschian nightmare too outre and frightening to contemplate for any amount of time.
“Q&L.” That is, “Questioning and Listening.” Notably missing in that set of activities is “Comprehending,” but it’s nice to listen to people. Brookhiser then goes on to cite this uncanny ability to listen to other people in the context of the stem-cell research debate, a topic that I had better not get too wrapped up in, or I’ll just fucking burst into flames, so I’ll just note that Bush effectively shut down government funding of the research, citing the J-Man and His Pop (a sort of divine Q&L). Here’s Brookhiser’s flinty-eyed assessment of the performance: “Another President might have ducked the problem by following the emerging consensus of the country, or of his own base. Bush handled it like a manager–staffing it out and then making his own decision.” I’m entering this usage into my own lexicon. “Say, you really handled that like a manager.” “What?” “I don’t know.”
” ‘Instinct.’ ” This one is fucking great. “Almost everyone calls Bush an instinctive decision-maker, including Bush himself.” Oh? Who, exactly? Four paragraphs later, you discover that “almost everyone” is, in fact, Newt Gingrich, an assessment that Newt would probably enthusiastically endorse. Newt cracked me up here, though, I must admit, because he really delivers the straight lines: “[Bush] hs a very wide repertoire of experiences [like snorting cocaine off the backs of strippers].” And in new situations or encounters, sez Newt, “he cues off things he probably doesn’t even remember.” You know, I’ve done this; I recall the sensation as “Oh, God, What Did I Do Last Night?” And then I cued myself off of things I didn’t even remember, like where am I and who is this in bed with me?
“Providence.” This one is puzzling. During one of the 2000 debates, some of the Republican candidates were asked to pick an important political philosopher from whom each person got his particular swerve on. Steve “Glint O’ Crazy” Forbes named John Locke. Bush was next, and he mysteriously said “Sondra Locke,” and then praised her performance in Bronco Billy as “fucking hot.” The networks confusedly cut to a commercial, except for FOX, which instead simply showed some footage of Sondra Locke spare-changing on Sepulveda Boulevard.
“Follow-through.” Brookhiser uses the example Bush’s withdrawal from the ABM treaty to bolster his argument, I guess, that Bush . . . follows through . . . on things. It’s really tedious, as are any assortment of words that contain the name “Paul Wolfowitz.” When I can’t sleep at night, I usually count Paul Wolfowitzes leaping over meadow fences and then landing on an array of poisoned spikes, and it really works well.
Finally, after this litany of gee-whillikers shit, Brookhiser concedes to at least a hat-tip of balance, and enumerates three–three!–limitiations. He also tellingly makes them more or less incomprehensible, or at the very least, dauntingly veiled: “Restricted habitat,” “Phantom framework,” and the enigmatically question-marked “Lack of imagination?” Note the weird, obfuscatory phrasing of these “limitations” as opposed to the previously Spartan entries that lauded him. But really the best thing here is the “Lack of imagination?” entry, which is so baffling and strange that it defies description. Brookhiser starts out thundering like a herd of mice: “Bush has intelligence, energy, and humility, but does he have imagination?” Then he segues into a freakish rumination on the relationship between Hitler and Churchill, and one kind of wonders how much cough syrup Brookhiser’s had. Then, when you think it can’t possibly get farther afield, Brookhiser wraps up the topic with the out-of-deep-space musing, “Bush thinks in prose. Can he hear music?”
And that’s when the magazine hit the wall.