Democratic Underground

A Bush By Any Other Name
January 19, 2002
by Michael Shannon

Borrowing from the parlance now so in vogue; reflecting on the first year of a Presidency is to fly over a target rich environment. Regardless of how the office has changed hands or who has assumed the throne it is a story of widespread interest and paramount importance. First is the election and peaceful transfer of power; themselves two of the most significant acts of American democracy. Followed by the initial surge of legislative initiative as the new administration endeavors to strike while the iron is hot. Frame all of this within the natural interest the electorate has in learning who exactly this new boss and his team are and you have yourself a deep well to draw upon.

This reality has never been more readily apparent than in the case of our 43rd President. With Mr Bush we have from the onset of his ascension to power been witness to a series of, at the minimum, remarkable, and in many cases, extraordinarily unprecedented events. Events that have coalesced to place our nation and its leadership in very deep and uncharted waters. A development made all the less comforting by noting that our current President was in over his head from the moment he stepped into the pool. That this pampered and coddled son of the Texas oilocracy now finds himself in a raging ocean of geo-political and economic turmoil is ironic drama worthy of the playwrights of ancient Greece.

Of course such a damning assessment of our chief executive's mettle flies directly in the face of the opinion of the vast majority of my fellow Americans. A fact that in istelf is extraordinary. Although it seems a long time ago, it was only year since Mr. Bush failed to garner a plurality of popular votes and was generally perceived - even by many who did support him - as less than ideally suited for the responsibilities of the Presidency. Now he is widely hailed as our knight in shining armor. It is this sea change in perception which is the basis of these comments.

According to much of what we now read and see; from his inauspicious start Bush pere has metamorphisized into an heroic and steadfast figure worthy of comparisons with some of the great men in American and world history. A development that seemed scarcely imaginable just a few short months ago. Then again, it is still scarcely imaginable that those two soaring towers - and the thousands of people who brought them to life - could have vanished in a cloud of pulverized concrete.

That the mythmaking machinery both within the government and in the private media has succeeded so dramatically in reshaping the collective opinion of Mr Bush is really no surprise. The etymological base of the term patriot is the Greco Latin word patr. In its earliest usage its meaning ranged from father to protector. The patriotic fervor presently on exhibit is primal in its source. It is hardwired within the human psyche to turn to the head of the extended family for reassurance and strength during times of crisis and danger. As long as the object of that veneration is deemed capable of facing the challenges at hand heretofore troubling shortcomings are eagerly overlooked. Mr Bush is text book case in point.

But regardless of how he may have come to hold his current position and place - and whether you love him or hate him - he is the President. And as such I too wish him well, for the stakes at hand are enormous and deeply resonant. What could stand a little critical examination is the accompanying hyperbole.

George W Bush is no Harry Truman. He lacks both the latter's real world experiences - spending a year in the Air National Guard can scarcely be compared to commanding a front-line artillery unit in the First World War - and his lengthy and step by step climb up the political power structure of his day. Nor is he Winston Churchill. True he shares the luxury of a well to do and politically prominent family but that is where the similarities end. Mr Churchill's life experiences are even far greater in depth and range than Mr Truman's. And while Mr Bush gave two well presented speeches at critical junctures in the early days of this crisis he neither wrote them himself as Mr Churchill so famously did or as is far more plainly evident, does he contain an iota of the eloquence and wit of his British counterpart.

Closer to both home and ideological tilt, Mr Bush is no Ronald Reagan. You may not have agreed with what Mr Reagan said but it was impossible to fault how he said it. He had a presence about him when he spoke that was undeniable in its effect and impact. What is also beyond dispute is that Mr Reagan had a vision. To his detractors it may have seemed simplistic and unworkable but it was genuine and heartfelt. Mr Bush gives every indication of being the son of the father: he simply doesn't do the "vision thing".

By the fathomless hand of fate Mr Bush finds himself President at a time in our when the need for an overarching grasp of the world's soci/economic and political intricacies, with all their potentials and pitfalls, has never been more apparent and immediate. For America to truly win this war we now find ourselves in will take an understanding of not just how to defeat our enemies but to insure that the conditions from which they metastasized do not reappear. If Mr Bush does rise to the occasion and meet these challenges in a decisive and inspired manner he will come to deserve to be listed among the greats of history. If he fails the failure will not be his alone, we will all be the worse for it.

Michael Shannon can be reached at

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