Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Of Dress-Up, Fantasy and Failure

A brief, brilliant excerpt from Boy President in a Failed World: How the president's fantasy version of the world is driving events (and us) in unnerving directions by Tom Engelhardt.... Make the time to read the entirety here.
More than anything else, as I watched him that morning in Gleneagles, Scotland, I was filled with a sense of sadness that we had reached such a perilous moment with such a man, or really -- for here is my deepest suspicion -- such a man-child in power. Yes, he genuinely believes in his war on terror, even as he and his advisors use it to his own advantage. And yes, he's good at being, or rather enacting with all his being, the role of the War on Terror President.

And yet there's something so painfully childlike in the spectacle of him. Here, after all, is a 59 year-old who loves to appear in front of massed troops, saying gloriously encouraging and pugnacious things while being hoo-ah-ed -- and almost invariably he makes such appearances dressed in some custom-made military jacket with "commander in chief" specially stitched across his heart, just as he landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln back in May 2003 in a Navy pilot's outfit. Who could imagine Abe himself, that most civilian of wartime presidents, or Franklin D. Roosevelt, or Dwight D. Eisenhower, a real general, wearing such G.I. Joe-style play outfits?

Let's face it. George Bush likes dress-up. What a video game is to a teenager, the Presidency seems to be to this man. It's a free pass to the movies with him playing that brave warrior part. All in all, I'm afraid to say, it must be fun. When he so cavalierly said, "Bring ?em on," he was surely simply carried away by the spirit of the game. What it wasn't, of course, was the statement of a mature human being, an adult.

I don't usually say such things, but there's something unbelievably stunted about all this. He and his top officials seem almost completely divorced from any sense of the actual consequences of their various acts and decisions. They live in some kind of dream world offshore of reality, which would perhaps not be so disturbing if they didn't also control the levers of power in what, not so long ago, was regularly referred to as the "lone" or "last superpower" or the globe's only "hyperpower." (Even in their own terms, it's a sign of their failed stewardship that almost no one uses such phrases any more or, say, Pax Americana, another commonplace of 2002 and 2003.)

It may be that nations deserve the leaders they get and perhaps it's no mistake that George Bush ended up as our leader -- twice no less -- in a period that otherwise seemed to cry out for having your basic set of grown-ups in power, or that his Secretary of Defense likes to play stand-up comic at his news conferences, or that his first Attorney General just loved to sing songs of his own creation to his staff, or that none of them can get it through their heads that it's not just the terrorists who, in our world, have been taking "the lives of the innocent."

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