It is probably a deep-seated weakness I admit, but there is something about President George W. Bush that is really quite likeable.
Maybe it was watching him present Britain’s very own Tony Blair with American’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, where the contrast between the two men, partners in the shameful war in Iraq, showed a regular guy showering praise on a weasel.
Tony Blair, we know, avoided this gift for as long as it was practically possible, as he thought it would be politically damaging to receive honours from one of the world’s most unpopular leaders, whilst he was still the British Prime Minister. He couldn’t delay it any longer as this is the last week of the Bush administration – three cheers for President-elect Obama.
Tony Blair was a proper fidgetty Phil whilst President Bush acknowledged “The truth is I did feel a close connecton.” “
For goodness sake, George!” you could hear Tony think, “Don’t forget I have still got political ambitions.”
Somehow, I believed George. I think he really was saying what he thought was “the truth.”
He went on with the same lack of tact: “The former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will stand tall in history. And today the United States honours its gallant friend.”
So there it hung, a medal of honour round the neck of President Bush’s principal partner in shame. Tony wore it like the proverbial dead albatross. Much good may it do him.
So as Mr. Blair spent the rest of his day creeping round the new Secretary of State to be, Hillary Clinton and the future National Security Adviser General James Jones, George Bush continued his whimsical walk into the political sunset.
The thing is with George, as he admitted to the press the other day, is that he believes that his presidency was based on sincerity inspired by his “gut instinct,” and, with unexpected self-irony, he repeated one of his best known one-liners “Sometimes you’ve misunderetimated me.”
The 43rd President, whose unpopularity in the American polls is the greatest since Richard Nixon’s resignation, can be misunderestimated as a human being for sure even if his political record is pretty well set in concrete as a disaster.
The former drunk, charmer of the ladies and tear-away son from one of America’s patrician families, has certainly seen his share of fun, human frailty, and the low life.
His personal charm must be more than public relations or he would never have sustained his long and successful marriage to the delectable, liberal-minded, clever but, lets face it, long-suffering Laura Bush. If only she, instead of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, had been the “gut” in his instincts. She, allegedly, got him off the booze, if only she could have got him to share her thoughts on abortion, AIDS, and the unacceptable politics of the Burmese junta.
Tragically, a potentially warm-hearted and “caring” conservative with, maybe just not enough brain power for the job, had to confront the international trauma of 9/11.
With the World, for the first time in may years, willing to offer its sympathy to the United States, he was just not up to the challenge and he blew it big style. His ill-conceived “War On Terror” with its barely legal misinformation on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, led the World into the nightmare that will be remembered as his eight years in power.
Once begun, that famous “gut” carried on with a lot of help from his neoconservative Vice President. So torture was no longer just an implement of injustice in the hands of evil dictators, it became an American policy. The abandoning of the rule of law was ignored, not just by tyrants, but by the land of the American Dream. A country that he could have led to creating a more peaceful World in the new millenium, has turned itself into an international pariah.
But for all that, at this moment of his departure, it is also worth registering his human qualities. His charm is unavoidable whether it is just in the twinkle of his eyes or the wonderfully stumbling phrases which sometimes shine with a unique honesty among public figures. I could not help but warm to him when he was asked at a press conference to name his biggest mistake since 9/11/2004. “I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hasn’t yet.”
There was also something very human about his response to the shoe throwing journalist, Muntadar al-Zaidi, after he had done two highly succesful and athletic ducks to avoid these oddly undignified missiles. “If you want to know the facts, it’s a size ten shoe that he threw.”
It was lucky for him that he hadn’t upset Imelda Marcos – one of her stilleto heels could have proved fatal.
So George, I wish you a happy retirement – happy in the thought that you have gone too.
A final word today about yesterday’s blog:
The much debated story about Prince Harry and his “little Paki friend” has thrown up a sequel now that a source from Prince Charles’ polo club, who wishes to remain anonymous, has revealed that Charles has an Asian friend, property developer Kuldip Dhillon, who delights in his royally designed nickname “Sooty.” This source went on to say that Charles uses the name as a way of “putting two fingers up to political correctness.”
Yet again, what can be seen as a charming use of an unintentionally offensive word, has been put down to the Prince’s jolly all-inclusive sense of humour. As in the case of his younger son, Harry, it is undoubtedly true that he does not think of himself as a racist. In fact some of his longest, least original and most rambling speeches have reinforced his sincere views on racial intolerance.
I am sure Mr Dhillon is delighted to be on nickname terms with the heir to the throne but the fact remains that a future monarch wants to put two fingers up to political correctness and perpetuate condescending and racist words in public must reveal something about how out of touch he is with society outside the rarefied world of polo clubs and their like.
I wonder if I could stick two of my own fingers up at political correctness and suggest to His Royal Highness, that he too could delight in a new nickname. I wonder if he would laugh if we all called him in a sense of jolly comraderie, Fuckwit.
Can one separate the person from their work? It’s an interesting dilemma. In the case of George W. I can’t–a likeable guy does not promote torture end of story. But I love Picasso’s work despite his treatment of women, I listen to Wagner despite his antisemitism. You make the separation more easily for Bush than for Prince Harry. Is it easier to forgive an odious person than it is to forgive odious work? What do the lines we draw say about us? Yikes, enough questions. Look what you started.
Of course, I agree that I am on dodgy ground over George Bush. I said I thought it showed a weakness on my behalf.
Actually I have worried over this when I have thought about him for some time.
I try to see human qualities in the worst of people and recoil from the idea of evil which can be used as an excuse to hate someone without reservation.
I don’t hate Prince Harry for all that he represents the fag end of a hopefully defunct section of British society. He is probably a friendly enough buffoon albeit dangerously thick and vastly over-priviledged.
George Bush, was much more dangerous and destructive, I agree but, unlike the prince, he does not represent a class system which has the capacity to outlive the individual. He is, at least, very unpopular to his own electorate.
They both have redeeming features, I hope, but maybe that is the optimist rather than the judge in me talking.
I too love the works of Picasso and Wagner and do try to separate their output from their lives.
I suppose there could be a distinction between Picasso’s cruel effect on various women and Wagner’s legacy which inspired fanatical anti-semites into the murder of millions but then we are back in the ethically uneasy world of playing with numbers.
They were both flawed human beings without doubt. Both were gross egotists, riddled with insecurities and prone to talking nonsense.
They were also full of contradictions and not totally unloveable as people.
In a fairer world, Picasso would have married Cosima Wagner (one of the most unloveable figures in the history of the arts) and she could have used her ferocious talents in subduing the monarch of sexism.
Wagner may have been much less dangerous if he had been lucky enough to love one of those loving partners so callously thrown aside by Picasso.
That did not happen sadly and we are left a damaged legacy but also some of the most inspiring work that I know. Nothing would be gained by throwing away their art.
GB Shaw wrote (ok, in the guise of Jack Tanner but still) “All men mean well.” I have always been fascinated with that quote because year by year I become less and less sure of whether or not I believe it. I would like to, I think. Shaw was the most romantic of cynics.
I want to believe it but it does get tough I know.