March 07, 2008

Staying Too Long at the Fair

I tried to warn W to leave when Karl Rove did, while the getting, while not good, was at least almost tenable; it's because, beneath all the sarcasm, I feel sorry for George W. Bush. I can't help myself - I'm simply a compassionate guy. It's along the lines of Atticus Finch's admonition to the children in Harper Lee's unforgettable "To Kill A Mockingbird." He told Scout and his son not to make fun of Boo Radley, and used the simile of killing an innocent bird to block any prosecution of Boo by the sheriff. What was the point of punishing Boo for his heroic act in saving Atticus's children from their tormentor? Boo was simple, in the sense the word is used in the Deep South. Not quite right in the head, but well-meaning. Like a dumb bird.

I know that there is something psychologically amiss with George that makes him appear indifferent to all his monumental screw-ups. It's an illusion. All his striving and ambition to live up to standards he perceives as the family destiny belie this casual disregard of his epic incompetence. He knows what he's done; his bravado is in direct proportion to the agony of recognizing he can't do anything right. Every sane person in the country whose salary does not depend on being a Bush partisan knows that he has screwed up in ways that are almost unimaginable, that seem the stuff of fable or science fiction. How can anyone surrounded by so many advisors, with so many resources to help with what is essentially a figurehead job, create so much destruction and havoc? He has broken the back of the military, the national treasury and now, at long last, the American economy. It's breathtaking, really. In a little over 7 years. And every single piece of the catastrophic destruction can be traced to a single cause: his phenomenally bad personal judgment.

It is Bush's particular form of genius. Forget all talk of IQs or personality disorders for the moment, as diverting as those can be while trying to solve the riddle of this strange and simple bird who has presided over the destruction of the United States of America. It is almost impossible to be as bad at being President as George W. Bush has been. Probabilities, aleatory considerations, the laws of chance, dumb luck -- these usually mitigate the effects of the maladroit. Not in Bush's case. "Call it," said Anton Chiguir in "No Country for Old Men," as he put his victims to the test. "What am I playing for?" the old guy asked. "Everything," Anton calmly answered. Every time Bush calls it he's wrong. Every single time, about everything.

He was wrong to ignore the al-Qaeda warnings, allowing the worst terrorist attack in American history to occur during his presidency. He was wrong to invade Iraq, the most colossal foreign policy blunder in that same history. He was wrong to declare "Mission Accomplished" at a ludicrously premature point in the war. He was wrong to persist in the occupation, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, thousands of American lives (more, now, than were killed on 9/11), and literally trillions of borrowed dollars. He was wrong to cut taxes and run huge deficits, wrong to run the national debt to over $9 trillion, wrong to mortgage America's security to an increasingly hostile Chinese government, wrong to allow Greenspan to create a Potemkin housing bubble with that borrowed-and-recycled money, wrong to resist the transition to nonrenewable energy, wrong to hamstring efforts to deal with climate change, wrong to introduce torture into American foreign policy, wrong to engage in routine violations of the Fourth Amendment against American citizens, wrong to hollow out the regulatory agencies to the point where Americans now eat downer cattle and lose entire cities to weather catastrophes.

Sure, I know. You think such effects can be produced through simple neglect. Not at all. However perverse it may be, this is talent, pure and simple. The merely incompetent could not produce the skein of catastrophes listed above. They are, for better or worse, the stigmata of a rare and perhaps incomparable gift. A man so lousy at what he does that it rises, in the last analysis, into the realm of art.

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