Whatever else the Bush Administration has done to/for America, it must be given credit for building vocabulary. "Hubris" used to be one of those $250 an ounce words — it’s cheaper than bologna now. Every third word is hubris — hubris sticks to Bushworld like a tick. Type "hubristic" into Google and find mid-page "Bush’s Hubristic World View." And there are a thousand other ways to get there. "Smirking," for instance, yields "George W. Bush: Smirking Arrogance. Hubris?"
"Petulant" is another word one rarely got to hear pre-Bush. Googling it will take you to "Our Petulant President," four lines down. For those partial to the word "squander," George W. Bush has been an answer to prayer. Squander proliferates. On Google, it brings "How to Squander Moral Capital," page one, starring Dubya. And of course, the word "incompetent" is enjoying a run it hasn’t seen since the Harding Disaster. It appears by the shovelful in the average article on Bush. Even the Neo-cons have started dumping it on, blaming their own harebrained lunacies on Bush incompetence. Googling "incompetent" fetches "The President as Incompetent Liar," line one, page one.
"Liar," incidentally, will take you to "Tony Blair — Biography," line one, page one, part of the official 10 Downing Street website. This may or may not be coincidence bordering on the miraculous. "Lying" is the word to use in case you’re interested in purchasing a "Dishonest Dubya Lying Action Figure Doll." "Arrogant" directs you to Fareed Zakaria’s "The Arrogant Empire" in Newsweek. "Ignorant" brings a Slate article called "Bush the Ignorant Liar."
Disappointingly, none of these words succeeds in dredging up the vice-president, who seems to be lying low these days as opposed to lying brazenly as he did in the flush times. Feeling lonesome for Dick, I ventured "dirty tricks." "Government by Dirty Tricks" mentioned the VP but was not exclusively devoted to him. The serendipitous notion to enter "Go F* Yourself," however, yielded a satisfying six out of ten sites with Cheney’s name preeminent.
In an admittedly smallish attempt to be fair, I tried some kinder, gentler search words: kind, gentle, intelligent, competent, decent, honest…. No Bush, no cronies. I tried "God-fearing," but found only "German Leader Slams u2018God-fearing’ Bush." Poor Dubya. Either he’s broadly misunderestimated or he’s been sending out some exceedingly bad vibes.
If we must thank the Administration for giving words like "petulant" a chance, we must also reproach it for working overtime to kill off endangered words like "democracy" and "freedom." By 1941, George Orwell had already identified these words as abused to the point of losing their meaning. Bushworld has abused them to the point that people today find them less meaningful than "Awesome!" and "Let’s Roll!" "Freedom" was used so freely in the President’s Second Inaugural Address that Freedom Fatigue Syndrome support groups sprang up coast to coast, and a particularly virulent form of FFS now plagues Iraq. Yet if you type "freedom" into Google, it bears no Bush. "Tyranny," on the other hand, yields "How Tyranny Came to America," a text bountiful in Bush. Go figure. Try "democracy." Nary a Dubya. Try "fascism" and bingo: "George W. Bush and the Fourteen Points of Fascism."
Not that such a trawl proves much. What people conclude about a public figure is often unfair and unrealistic, a far cry from the gods’ truth. I once believed that I (or most any other cretin under the sun) could out-lead the likes of our leaders. Such thoughts ended around the time I stopped thinking I’d be a better parent than the likes of my parents, i.e., around the time I had children of my own. There is no sense in getting too high and mighty in one’s condemnation of a leader, unless one has tried leadership on for size. Leadership is a peculiar thing. To what extent do we really need it? Is good leadership even possible within our corrupted systems? And assuming that we really need it and that it is possible, to what extent do we really desire it to be good? "The people," Thoreau wrote, "must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy the idea of government which they have." These words uncomfortably remind us that George W. Bush is less the fault of George W. Bush than of those who conspired or consented to need him.
The Old Testament account on the origins of political leadership is instructive. Samuel was a born leader. He lacked flamboyance perhaps, but he did his job conscientiously and capably. When Samuel got old he appointed his sons judges, but they soon "turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice." People started clamoring for a king, Samuel reluctantly gave in, it’s been downhill ever since. If the prophets are to be trusted (and experience suggests that they are), the string of kings that went on to rule Israel was 99.9% crap of the most disappointing sort. Occasionally there was a star like David. Yet even he was no Samuel. Bill Clinton looks like a celibate saint beside the philandering depravities of David, whose tailors spent a good deal of time fitting him out in sackcloth and ash (a fashion it might be right for contemporary leaders to emulate, even though politicized repentance is about as nauseating as politicized rectitude).
To some degree, one can understand why Bush told the fellow who challenged his policies at a church picnic in 2001: "Who cares what you think?" Similarly, who cares what the menials and cranks who post things on Google think? Who cares what the world thinks? One can almost understand it. On the other hand, Bush’s question is disturbing, and really does seem to sum up a pronounced attitude in the man and his administration. If one believed that it marked a principled objection to the pursuit of "the bubble reputation," or some principled resolve to go against the grain, one would feel a duty and a compulsion to applaud. Unfortunately, falling from the lips of Bushworld, "Who cares what you think?" smacks more of dismissive arrogance than of principle.
So where are we left? Inasmuch as they don’t make ‘em like Samuel anymore, it may be best to say with Thoreau: "…To speak practically and as a citizen, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government." Let us at least hope, if it is not too much to ask, for a day when wisdom/statecraft/decency/intelligence/ integrity raise an American president’s name to page one of Google, and arrogant/ ignorant/warmongering schlemiel/reckless petulant ignoramus do not.
John Liechty [send him mail] currently teaches in Muscat, Oman.