Almost eight years ago, just after the election of George Bush, I found myself in the company of some academicians who were consoling one another by sharing jokes about the newly elected president. Periodic fits of despondency troubled the jovial mood. Dire prophecies were exchanged. Bush spelled doom. America was going to become a plutocracy. A new age of ignorance and barbarism was upon us. A pall of despair would descend. Then someone would summon up a Bush joke and another round of therapeutic chortling would begin.
Mockery is an attempt to disarm something that threatens us. But many found it impossible to make fun of Bush. They were mortified by his election. A kind of hysteria gripped them. They roamed the streets like zombies, accosting strangers and venting their grievances about Bush. When Michael Moore's "Farenheit 9-11" came to town, Liberty Hall filled up like a revival tent with Bush haters, holding hands and reaffirming their loathing of Bush. A "Bush Growl" supplanted conventional greetings.
A friend of mine moved to England because he couldn't stand the thought of living in a country presided over by Bush. A visiting family member left a Bush joke book in our house, like a talisman to ward off evil spirits. Bush-haters thought of themselves as enlightened intellectuals. But they seemed possessed with the kind of fervor usually associated with religious fanatics.
Shortly after his election, before Bush had actually done anything, someone told me she wanted him to fail - so that he wouldn't be back for a second term. I was astonished. Bush didn't appeal to me. When his robotic voice came over the air, I winced and turned the radio off. But I couldn't imagine wanting him to fail. For the good of the country, shouldn't we want the president to succeed, even if he says things like "misunderestimate?"
Bush seemed incurious and lazy, but those qualities might be preferable to nervous activism in a president. It worried me that he didn't read the papers and said that his staff told him all he needed to know. Shouldn't everyone do a little thinking for himself? I cringed when he pumped his fist and shouted, "Feels good," as the bombs started falling on Baghdad. Ditto when he suggested that people show their patriotism after 9-11 by shopping.
When someone didn't show him proper deference, he said, "Do you know who you're talking to?" That indicated an unpleasant mixture of ego and insecurity. In short, he was not my kind of guy. But most politicians make me want to gag, and I couldn't believe he was a monster or an idiot.
For me, the first sign that something was really wrong was Bush's protection of the steel industry, a violation of his own profession of faith in free markets. He started off promising to deal with the looming crisis of middle class entitlements and then signed the Medicare drug benefit, a prodigal contribution to the fiscal train wreck that looms ahead. The current bailout of financial institutions reveals an administration that is fundamentally statist, indistinguishable from the opposition party's fondness for government solutions to all our problems.
As far as Bush's Iraq adventure is concerned, I defer to Zhou Enlai's famous comment about the impact of the French Revolution: It's too soon to tell. But even if it eventually provokes some improvements in the Middle East, that would be accidental. Bush should get no credit. He went into it without considering the consequences, without any understanding of Iraq, without a plan. It exemplified the ignorant, bullying hubris that gives America a bad name.
For a long time, I tolerated Bush on the theory that unpopularity is probably a good sign when you're dealing with an ill-informed, fickle and self-indulgent public and that anyone who is so universally despised must be doing something right. It took me a long time to come around. But I'm a slow learner. At last, I have seen the light. No one will be happier to see him go than I. For one thing, I won't have to put up with people foaming at the mouth and ranting about Bush. But I worry about them. What will they do after Bush is gone? Who will become their bete noire?
Goodbye, George Bush. You are not solely to blame for the plight of our country. I refuse to demonize you. But you won't be missed. On the other hand, who am I to turn to? Neither of the candidates speaks to me. For the life of me, I can't understand how anyone can say, "I'm a Democrat," or "I'm a Republican." I have no idea what either party stands for. As far as I can tell, the Republican Party doesn't even exist. Whatever is left of it needs to spend 10 years in the wilderness figuring out something to believe in.
The country's a mess. The politicians are busy making things worse. Americans have become so fearful, so insecure that they're ready to fly like children into the arms of Uncle Sam. Obama looks promising. But what does it say that so many look to him as a miracle worker who will magically "transform" us and save us from ourselves?
It doesn't bode well. But it's a gorgeous autumn on Spider Hill. Nature moves on in timeless rhythms, unperturbed by our jerks and jitters. The leaves are turning. Wild geese are in the air. If Britney Spears were running, I'd vote for her.