Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Oedipal Presidency

President George Herbert Walker Bush ("H") imposed a moratorium on off-shore drilling in 1990 after the disastrous Exxon Valdez spill. Eighteen years later, his son President George W. Bush(”W” ) has lifted the moratorium. All by itself, this act of the son reversing the decision of his father made in different times and under different circumstances would merely present as coincidental, and perhaps it is. However, after taking a closer look at the father and son involved, this occurrence is symbolic, if nothing else, of what Jacob Weisberg, author of The Bush Tragedy, claims is the son, "W", taking his father as a starting point and defining himself in opposition to the father aka "H", therefore providing the foundation for determining the essential quality of ”W” 's presidency.

Weisberg studied ”W”, focusing on the relationships he had with his family, his advisers, his "cronies", religion ect. and found a tremendous amount of "evidence" supporting ”W” 's relationship to his father at the core of "W"'s presidency, specifically its failures.

"What I've tried to do, is provide an early historical perspective on George W. Bush. Instead of arguing, as so many have, that he is a bad president, I largely assume that he has failed as president, and ask the more interesting question of why." -- Jacob Weisberg
Everything from academics to athletics seemed to come fairly easy to "H", whereas nothing came easily his son. His father's reputation as star athlete and later war hero was a hard act to follow, and being named for his father, ”W” tried to follow in his father’s footsteps but he failed every step of the way…that is, until he reached his 40’s. At this point "W" found religion and the way to differentiate himself from his father. In a nutshell, "W" not only found religion, but religion, evangelical style, the antithesis to his father's blue-blood Protestantism.

"W"’s theology is free of content, just as his politics is free of substance. What does "W" believe? He believes in his religion's transformative power and the overall feeling his chosen religion bestows upon him, a sense of superiority, which is in stark contrast to the very humble Jesus he claims to worship. "W"'s refusal to acknowledge the teachings of the Christian faith creates a political environment full of paradox.

As "the decider" as he calls himself ”W” decides everything quickly, doesn’t need a lot of information, "doesn't do nuance", doesn’t want to hear a debate, doesn’t review his decisions after he’s made them, and most importantly he doesn’t’ change his mind, whereas "H" wanted to hear all sides of an issue, took his time in making a decision, reflected on his actions and "did nuance". "W" saw his father’s style of decision making as a weakness and blamed that weakness for his father's "failed" presidency and his failure to get reelected.

As Clinton said about Bush: “Bush doesn’t know anything, doesn’t want to know anything but he isn’t stupid.” "W"'s deliberate ignorance enables him to embody the vision he has of himself as the strong, unwavering "decider" and allows him to avoid complexity and nuance, the enemy of decision.

The terms "W" uses -- "evil doers," "infinite justice," "axis of evil," and "regime change" -- his polarized, all or nothing thinking, his egocentric single-mindedness, his rigid, judgmental outlook, his tendency to dichotomize reality -- "either you are with us or against us," are manifestations of his determination, unfortunately the kind better suited for a King, not a President of the Free World.
"Look my job isn't to try to nuance. I think moral clarity is important... this is evil versus good." -- George W. Bush
Why is it important that we understand "W" at the deepest level we can? It's not enough to understand someone we are going to elect to such a powerful position at a superficial level. There is a difference between personality, affability and character...who that person really is. We have to understand people beyond the level of policy and politics.

As Weisberg says, we must start to ask questions such as, “What do they believe? Why do they believe it? What do they stand for? What formed them?" in order to separate the "men from the boy, so to speak. We can't afford to elect any more politicians without substance. In a free country, elected leaders are merely a reflection of the people. In other words...the only way to prevent another "W" is confronting the "W" that resides in all of us.


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