In exactly 56 days, George W. Bush will leave the office of President of the United States. Hot damn. It’s about time we had a human being back in office. You see, I am under the impression that George W. Bush is NOT a human being, as commonly understood.
The question of what makes us human has been debated, oh, for a good many years now, from Socrates to The Big Lebowski (“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski? Is it doing the right thing, whatever the price?” “Sure, that and a pair of testicles.”) Of course, some buttoned-up scientist could barge into this column and point to 10 toes and 10 fingers and human parents and say: “Voila! There’s your human!,” but the real distinction here is what makes us human beings, instead of merely animals, and often this is attributed to our ability to have a wide range feelings like empathy, sorrow, pathos, etc.—the ability to see, if only fleetingly, life through another’s eyes, because only then can we appreciate and assess what we have in our own lives.
Or something like that. You could completely disagree, but you probably have some idea of what ideas and feelings you think are unique to the human experience. So here’s my question: at what point, ever, do you feel like George W. Bush has acted as if he is a vessel for these feelings?
The fact is that, to me, George W. Bush seems like someone whose investment in actual human beings is shockingly low, and thus his general outlook of and experience amongst other people is horribly warped. Perhaps the most mind-bending statistic from the 2004 election was the one where more people said they’d like to “have a beer” with GWB despite the fact that:
a) George W. Bush does not drink: and
b) What on earth would you talk about?
The question was loaded from the beginning, as it was an assault on Kerry’s supposed effeteness—which may in fact be real, but not so much as to forgive the question’s false premise. But the more than 50 percent of respondents who said “W” still have some explaining to do. What would you say to this man to provoke a real conversation? Not just small talk—as getting beers usually leads to the very opposite of small talk—but actual, meaningful conversation: how would you go about it? Do you think there’s a single question you could ask Bush in which he wouldn’t give an evasive, squirrelly answer?
Think about it: at what point has George W. Bush addressed the American people and said something that was, unambiguously, straight from the heart? You might find something in the aftermath of 9/11, but given what we know now about the strategy that was set in motion in the hours following the attacks with an eye toward Iraq—a strategy that almost no one denies, as even steadfast Iraq War proponents stress its long-term benefit—it’s hard not to see his announcements as threats to Saddam. Since then, there’s been nothing. Nothing. President-elect Obama may keep an even keel, but that’s an entirely different matter altogether. There’s a difference between balancing one’s emotions and not having them.
Perhaps Bush has just shut off his emotional barometer because reading it would be too much to handle in light of his epic failures. I don’t think so. Every time I see him meet with a sworn enemy—Obama, Paul Krugman—and flash the same empty smile he reserves for world leaders and the press, I think there’s a little less “there.” Bush is not a vessel for human qualities, but he’s a vessel for other people’s qualities. He has allowed himself, as a potent symbol, to be used to their ends. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rove are human beings, and angry ones. Rove realized long ago that his future in politics rested with someone who could deliver his Christian Conservative message without belying its soul-sucking message, and Bush was his guy. For the last eight years, Rove and others have been the puppet masters, pulling the strings on a willing supplicant who seems to have no regard for his fellow man. In 56 days, with no one to pull the strings any more, we probably won’t hear from Bush any more. He doesn’t care about us; I can’t imagine what he does care about.
This is our dually-elected President, America.
Perhaps our greatest achievement in electing Barack Obama is not electing a black man, which has been so long discussed, but electing a human being at all.