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wRog
Is GWBush a mean, nasty person? 
10th-Feb-2004 06:35 pm
howitzer
I don't know how meaningfully these questions can be applied to politicians, seeing as I have yet to be in a position to have a beer with or otherwise socially interact with officeholders of any sort. Meaning everything I've seen about Bush's (or any other politician's) personality has been a matter of careful staging and media interaction. And since the stage presence can be anything, you just don't know for sure.

My take on on GWBush is that he's lived in a bubble all his life. And bubbles like his lend themselves to certain attitudes, namely the whole idea that life is fair and you are where you are because you deserve to be (insert however many made up reasons/rationalizations you like), that if people are suffering from what you're doing, it's because they're lazy and don't want to work as hard as you did --- and if you didn't work all that hard to begin with, this only increases your contempt --- or they'll be better off in the long run if you give them a good swift kick in the ass now, and it's not like it's anybody you know anyway. Or maybe the ones you do know are the ones who were able to pull themselves up and survive; the sample tends to be a bit biased.

To put it another way, it's the alternative way of looking at things that keeps you from sliding into that self-hating "liberal guilt".

I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out he sincerely believes it, because I know plenty of people with this mindset; I've been there myself at various times in the past.

I've started reading Kevin Philip's An American Dynasty. What really struck me is how I used to think that what Washington (or government in general) truly needs is people with a sense of humor, i.e., someone to deflate all of those hard-ass politicos who take themselves way too seriously, someone --- like all of those joke candidates we used to vote for student council back in high school and college --- who would bring some fresh air into the process, get people to the point where they can laugh at themselves, mend their differences, and concentrate on the stuff that really matters. Note that the student government entities at Princeton and Stanford had budgets in excess of $100,000 to spend (and that was 15-20 years ago); there are quite a few things you can do with that kind of money at that level. And the amazing thing about it all is that I remember the joke candidates often did a pretty good job once all of the dust settled, i.e., once they realized that they were in the hotseat now and had do something useful, and once the politico types stuck in the room with them got over their outrage at what the election results implied, realized that their goals and the joke-candiate's goals weren't actually all that dissimilar, and settled down to work. This occasionally happens in real governments, too (cf. Jesse Ventura in Minnesota).

And I'm now realizing that Bush is almost exactly this kind of person/politician. He's a 50-year-old frat-boy who never completely grew up. Until now, I always viewed this not-quite-grown-up thing as a positive quality; as I said, you want someone in there who has a sense of humor, is able to tear down stuffy archetypes, has the capacity to see things from new angles, and so on. And Bush's constant wisecracks and practical jokes are, I'm sure, one of the reasons he connects so well with reporters and colleagues.

So in essence, he's my ideal candidate if one can manage to ignore a few small details:
  • Because he's lived in a bubble, his sense of what you can joke about and what you have to take seriously is decidedly skewed (cf. "Bring 'em on!", "Fuck Saddam, we're taking him out!", Karla Faye Tucker, etc...)

  • For him and the people around him, the "stuff that really matters" is almost diametrically opposed to most of the things I care about. Yes, he has new angles and fresh perspectives, but it's all about new ways to advance the cheap-labor-conservative agenda, roll back the New Deal, and cement Republican control of everything into place. And given his decade+ of alcoholism and the fact that he has somehow gotten it under control, I don't find it hard to believe that his church played a role and that he is at least somewhat sincere about advancing his faith. Which all helps to explain why the social/religious conservatives have gotten traction in this administration that they never had under the elder Bush or Reagan (both of whom personally detested the fundamentalists, saw them as useful allies and that's it).
In general, only the most sociopathic individuals deliberately set out to be explicitly evil and nasty. And that particular kind of sociopathy doesn't get one very far in the political realm where you need allies in order to get anywhere. (Other kinds of sociopathy, e.g., the ability to lie with straight face, are, of course, emminently useful.)

I'm sure that to his colleagues, W is one of the nicest and friendliest guys who ever walked the earth. And if it so happens that he's also a petty, vindictive asshole, you have no one to blame but yourself. ...

... because, of course, you should have known before you crossed him that he's a loyal guy who sticks by his friends --- I mean what the hell did you expect?
Comments 
10th-Feb-2004 08:22 pm (UTC)
Good analysis, if a bit depressing.

What I see as nasty is really just intense loyalty to his faith and his circle of friends.

I can buy that. It's not so much contempt that I see on his face, but bewildered exasperation.
10th-Feb-2004 11:26 pm (UTC)
i think most of this is pretty spot on. i think, though, that there's one other important factor: he's not terribly bright (or at least, doesn't come across that way). not to say that all our presidents have been geniuses, and i'm not old enough to personally remember a great many presidents, but golly gee, every time i watch him say something on tv, i'm always somewhat amazed that what i'm hearing isn't "duhhhhh, welll, i dunnno!" i'd prefer a president who actually seemed to understand a little bit more in depth about the consequences of his actions and the motivations behind them; as it is, he seems more than a little like a puppet on a string.
11th-Feb-2004 07:16 am (UTC) - Re:
Dan Quayle is stupid. GWBush is something else.

I think what we're seeing is a combination of
  • the dyslexia he inherited from his dad, who was also known for odd turns of phrase, as it were.
    Bush the Elder was, I might add, very much not a stupid guy,
  • 20 years of alcoholism that may manifest itself as slurred or otherwise messed up speech.
    Whether it's actually decreased his intellectual capacity is anybody's guess.
  • a generally anti-intellectual bent;
    that is, it's not so much stupidity as disinterest in learning about stuff for its own sake or even at all.
    Include in this his pride in not reading newspapers and letting his staff digest stuff for him instead.
Note that people have before made the mistake of assuming that he's stupid and had their heads handed to them (cf. Ann Richards).
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