True believers and cynics alike seem to be snapping up George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points. No doubt the choir to whom he’s preaching will swallow whole every self-justifying anecdote. No doubt the Bush loathers will find every fact a damned lie. The contents are being scrutinized for insights into the character and Weltanschauung of this man who, through an improbable confluence of historical accident and a ruthless wielding of power, forever changed the American landscape. Of course, Bush would like to act as his own apologist and be the spinmeister of his own legacy. However, three of his more sensational confessions reveal, I believe, something of the allegiances to which he held fealty, to the detriment of the nation and the people he had sworn to serve.
The Lowest Moment
I would think that Bush must have had a plethora of low moments from which to choose: the outing of Valerie Plame, the resignation of Alberto Gonzalez, the 9/11 attacks, his end of term approval rating — the list could go on and on and on. But no. For Bush, the nadir came with the comment by Kanye West, after the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, that Bush ‘didn’t like black people.’ Oh, ouch! Bush’s most persistent impersonation was that of Mister Aw-shucks. Mister Aw-shucks likes everybody, especially Murricans but ‘ceptin’ bad guys. Maybe Mister Aw-shucks likes them have-mores just a smidgen more than the rest of us but, hey, he’s a uniter, a good ol’ boy from Texas who, like his pal Brownie, is just trying to do a heck of a job.
The Biggest Regret
Bush writes that he considers his unsuccessful campaign to privatize social security the biggest regret of his time in office. As per above, one might have assumed he’d chose from one of a number of other regretful occurances, among them the disgraceful revelations of Abu Graib, the false premises of the Iraq War, the staggering war profiteering of Halliburton, the utter incompetence of the response to Hurricane Katrina — again, the list is sizeable. Well, according to Bush’s response to a reporter’s question, he couldn’t think of any mistakes he made in office, not a one, so not overhauling social security doesn’t count as a failure per se but rather reflects a boneheaded public that for some inexplicable reason he couldn’t persuade to see the free-market light.
This could be the most bizarre disclosure of the book: the incident of the stillborn fetus in a bottle that was shown to, and apparently traumatized, the young Dubyah. I certainly don’t intend to mock any miscarriage — they are tragic and sorrowful occurances. However, I’m puzzled by the thought of a mother, having undergone such a painful experience, choosing to share the evidence with a young man. Yes, he was with her when she miscarried, and drove her afterwards to the hospital, but why the need for a show and tell? And I’m utterly clueless as to how what must have been an alarming and upsetting sight, at the very least, transformed the adult into an anti-choice (and of course pro-death-penalty, irony intended) demagogue.
What I take from these various revelations is that Bush’s heart and mind was always firmly in the camp of power and privilege. I find it profoundly more telling what did not fill him with regret, what did not bring him lowdown. Even the fetus incident, and how it supposedly shaped his adult convictions, seems to be more about me-and-mine than any compassionate understanding that others’ needs and circumstances might differ.
The world of Bush, as revealed in the subtext of this memoir, is one of us and them – us being his cronies, the like-minded ideologues, the assumption that whatever enriches the haves-already must be just plain right. His world is one in which those who don’t embrace the program — the poor, the protesters, the bleeding hearts, and of course the ubitiquitous bad guys — can be viewed and treated as less than human, or at least not as fully human as his peers. In that world, why not sacrifice social security on the alter of abstract fiscal policy — his pals aren’t going to need it. Why not treat the poor and misbegotten of New Orleans as irrelevant, at least until the media used it to give his administration a black eye? Why not blow an emotional response to a family tragedy into a policy that at heart says: I feel, therefore it is?
I believe, sadly, that George W. Bush buys his own spin, and has persuaded himself that self-serving interpretation is as close to truth as one needs to get. Many incidents upon which he expounds as justifications for various actions, such as his description of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder offering support for the invasion of Iraq, have been denounced as outright fabrications. But the world of power and priviledge is also one of insulation, and no doubt George Bush, who never put much stock into reading anyway, will respond to his critics and detractors with ‘aw shucks.’ Parse that to mean what it always has: who cares.