EMPTY SUIT: A Fantasie. Several people I respect, including my friend Phil from Here Be Monsters, have been talking up James Wolcott and his new blog. So I checked the blog out, and will continue to do so, and hopefully seek out his new book. Ayi Chihuahua , I think it’s called.
Some smart guy (Montaigne? Not sure) once said that in great writers we see our own discarded thoughts reflected back – thoughts that we only half-remember, or that we lacked the courage to articulate. Anyway, I now rate Wolcott as a great writer because of his post saying that GW Bush is scared of losing his election. I remember thinking, fleetingly, during Bush’s convention speech the other night that his eyes didn’t convey confidence but helplessness.
It doesn’t pay to go very far down the road toward psychoanalyzing politicians. Better not to think of them as complete human beings, but as vote-seeking missiles. Nonetheless, almost against my will I’ve formed a strong image of Bush (in a nutshell: rich mediocrity with a huge sense of entitlement and a spiteful streak), and it leads me to believe that in his current circumstance, the guy is way, way over his head. He wanted to be elected President, to prove something to his family and everybody who ever crossed him or doubted him and generally assert himself as a Big Shot. The Biggest. To be able to say anything to anybody and not check his tongue; to hand out favors.
He wanted to get the job, but see, he never relished having to do the job, and being nominally in charge of the nation’s economy and security is acutely unsettling to him. He was shaken to his bones by 9/11. (Though he’ll never admit it. Can’t show weakness, and besides, Cheney and Wolfowitz and those guys obviously think 9/11 was the greatest thing that ever happened.) He never wanted to work this hard, and he never wanted to have people’s lives riding on his decisions. (Regular, innocent people, I mean--not death-row murderers. That never used to be a worry.)
Trying to reconcile the highs and the lows is mind-bending. Giving that speech on the deck of the aircraft carrier, looking at the San Diego skyline: How those sailors cheered! How great he knew it would look on TV! Then, the next day it felt like, that damn press conference and having to try to think of a mistake he could admit to. Serving the Thanksgiving turkey to the troops in Iraq: Take that, forces of evil! Then later, having to consult a criminal lawyer to ensure his ass stays out of jail. Nothing is more humbling than that, am I right?
He doesn’t mind slinging mud in the campaign, particularly if he can cling to a thin pretense of deniability, like with the Swift Boat crap. His conscience, dull thing, is untroubled. But he hates the routine of campaigning, the intense schedule, trying to remember names, shaking hands with some Missouri county commissioner. He’s sheltered from questioning reporters; hell, he’s insulated from anybody who doesn’t worship him, practically. (The quickly squelched heckler during Bush’s convention speech really seemed to throw him for a minute.) Still, he’s nagged by the sense of something that past holders of the office have had, that he lacks: command of the job. Some core beliefs, a sense of purpose, a record of policy achievement to brag on, or at least some hard-earned policy experience to learn from. But that’s the huge vacuum in the room that everyone is too polite to mention. Bush is innocent of belief or purpose or any feeling for policy. He has Cheney and others to supply that stuff. Bring out instead the cheap slogans and bravado and the wisecracks about John Kerry. The applause lines. Let us applaud them.
He often resents his advisors, yet he craves them, for where would he be without them? Some of them are literally irreplaceable. If Rove were hit by a truck, my God, who but Rove could tell him who Rove’s successor should be? Loyalty to his inner circle is desperate unto death, but it comes at a high price for the circle members. Dubya is holy hell to work for. He is furious about any new phrase in the stump speech, any juncture where he has to improvise. Behind the scenes, it takes a brutal combination of browbeating and ass-kissing by Karl, Karen, et.al., to get Georgie even to board the campaign plane or step on the dais.
They wind him up and send him out. He’s terrified of failing and letting them all down. But in his gut, his deepest self, he yearns to go home to Crawford and stay there. Make a few speeches, serve on a few corporate boards. He’d still have his retinue; he’ll always have a Secret Service detail and the armored Chevy Suburban. But please, Lord, he prays, harder than he’s ever prayed before. Let me get through these next two months, sleeping on the plane, prepping for speeches and debates, shaking hands with assholes, facing the goddamned public. Then let me somehow get through four more years of being told where to go, what to say, never quite knowing what’s going on. Then, dear Lord, let me go to Crawford and rest. Finally be a Big Shot, and fuck anybody who doesn't like it. Amen.