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.