The Bush Zeitgeist

I’ve been thinking back some more to the Superbowl broadcast (no! anything but that!), and it occurs to me that it may point the way to the story we are eventually going to be telling ourselves about the Bush years.

What prompted the reflection was a conversation I had with my 12-year-old daughter while driving her to school. I forget how it started, but it ended up with my giving a capsule summary of each of the presidencies I’d experienced personally. In my case that meant from Nixon on, since I don’t really remember Johnson, who left office when I was six. (It’s kind of a long drive, so we had time.)

So I talked about Nixon, and Ford, and how the first was eventually revealed to be a shockingly foul-mouthed and generally Very Bad Man indeed. And Ford’s apparent quid pro quo of the pardon pretty much doomed him, and how we then elected the most honest, sincere, humble, and virtuous man we could find, Jimmy Carter, only to realize afterward that maybe we really didn’t want the most honest, sincere, humble, and virtuous man we could find as our president.

So then we had Reagan. And I think you righties would actually have been pleased with the treatment I gave him. Yeah, I talked about secret negotiations with the Ayatollah during the campaign, arms-for-hostages, funding the Contras, James Watt, and stuff like that. But I also talked about winning the Cold War and the general perception that overall, Reagan was actually pretty effective as President, at least in the eyes of non-ideologues. “Morning in America,” and all that.

And then I talked about Bush the First, and Clinton, with the latter’s presidency being basically the mirror image of Reagan’s: hated by opponents, revered by supporters, and effective enough to deliver the middle and win a landslide re-election.

Which brings us to the current Bush, and my glimpse of the underlying zeitgeist of his presidency in last weekend’s Superbowl broadcast. And if Reagan’s time in office was “morning in America,” Bush’s is more like 1:00 a.m. at the frat house, with the fifth or sixth kegger having been tapped and things well into the ugly stage.

You couldn’t miss it. The way the profit-is-everything types at CBS ran all those teenage-male-oriented Bud Light commercials (after refusing to air MoveOn’s “Child’s Pay” issue ad because it was “too controversial”). The way the halftime opened with that video montage of various pop-culture icons urging viewers to exercise their freedom of choice, to choose, choose, choose… segueing into Jessica Simpson on stage, completing the sentence for us: “…to party!!!” The way CBS used its mega-media-conglomerate MTV lackeys to produce the ensuing halftime show, which ended up as a monument to lip sync, raunch, and the spectacular failure of an ill-conceived plan.

The more I think about it, the more appropriate a symbol of Bush’s last year that Justin/Janet fiasco was. The decision to have Justin rip off Janet’s leather top at the end of the song was made without consulting older, wiser heads, professionals who would doubtless have expressed grave doubts about it. Yeah, you think it’s going to turn out great, but you aren’t exactly known for your deep thinking, are you? What if something goes wrong? That’s why you have professionals to plan these things. You’re the performer. You’re not the brains of the outfit.

So it was with Bush, choosing to invade Iraq, arrogantly confident, ignoring the cautions of his dad, the intelligence community, the French. He invades, and rips off Saddam’s leather top, live, on camera, for all the world to see the red bustier of his vast stockpiles of WMD. Except, just like Justin, his reach exceeds his grasp, or rather the other way around: his grasp exceeds his reach, the reach of his foresight, and he gets more than he bargained for, or rather less, and now he stands on stage with the leather and red fabric clutched in his hand, a colossal fuckup, all eyes on him.


Yeah. It’s party time in America. But the fun part’s over, and we’re well on our way to the hangover that follows.

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