A Review of Absurdistan for Your Holiday Pleasure
Oh wait, actually it’s a review of Bush Junior’s Decision Points from Eliot Weinberg over at the London Review of Books. Thanks to Mircea, always on the look out for the absurd, for sending my way. For those of you who are not regular readers of the London Review of Books or my facebook wall I am providing some key moments. Consider it a holiday treat [question: does my use of the term “holiday treat” constitute a Battle on Christmas?]. I would provide extensive commentary except that really, at this time of year, all we want is to get to the good stuff:
I will note that the review, presumably reflecting the book, plays as a tragicomedy — the further you go in it the sicker you feel. Apply Foucault to Bush! Clever! But keep going on and the fictionality of the text and the vagueness of the author makes your stomach do a few flips. “Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality?” are all fine things to ask about J. M. Coetzee, but they’re not ones you want to have to ask constantly about the actions and words of a president who ran your country for eight years:
‘Damn it, we can do more than one thing at a time,’ I told the national security team.
As I told my advisers, ‘I didn’t take this job to play small ball.’
‘This is a good start, but it’s not enough,’ I told him. ‘Go back to the drawing board and think even bigger.’
‘We don’t have 24 hours,’ I snapped. ‘We’ve waited too long already.’
‘What the hell is going on?’ I asked Hank. ‘I thought we were going to get a deal.’
‘That’s it?’ I snapped.
As Foucault says, ‘The author’s name serves to characterise a certain mode of being of discourse.’
This is a chronicle of the Bush Era with no colour-coded Terror Alerts; no Freedom Fries; no Halliburton; no Healthy Forests Initiative (which opened up wilderness areas to logging); no Clear Skies Act (which reduced air pollution standards); no New Freedom Initiative (which proposed testing all Americans, beginning with schoolchildren, for mental illness); no pamphlets sold by the National Parks Service explaining that the Grand Canyon was created by the Flood; no research by the National Institutes of Health on whether prayer can cure cancer (‘imperative’, because poor people have limited access to healthcare); no cover-up of the death of football star Pat Tillman by ‘friendly fire’ in Afghanistan; no ‘Total Information Awareness’ from the Information Awareness Office; no Project for the New American Century; no invented heroic rescue of Private Jessica Lynch; no Fox News; no hundreds of millions spent on ‘abstinence education’. It does not deal with the Cheney theory of the ‘unitary executive’ – essentially that neither the Congress nor the courts can tell the president what to do – or Bush’s frequent use of ‘signing statements’ to indicate that he would completely ignore a bill that the Congress had just passed.
I never know whether to admire or detest Barbara Bush. I admire her brute strength and the fact that she whips George Junior into shape, but Margaret Thatcher had some of the same qualities. I like that she called her son out for fabricating or at least falsifying the fetus-in-a-jar story. But at the end of the day all one can say is that she might be the best of a very bad lot:
Mother – she’s never Mom – pops up frequently with a withering remark. As middle-aged Junior runs a marathon, Mother and Dad are, of course, coming out of church. Standing on the steps, Dad cheers ‘That’s my boy!’ and Mother shouts ‘Keep moving, George! There are some fat people ahead of you!’ When Junior decides to run for governor, Mother’s reaction is simply: ‘George, you can’t win.’ Not cited is Mother’s indelible comment on the Iraq War: ‘Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? Why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?’ But the single newsworthy item in this entire book is the get-this-boy-to-therapy scene where Mother has a miscarriage at home, asks teenaged Junior to drive her to the hospital, and shows him the foetus of his sibling, which for some reason she has put in a jar.
Bush claims this was the moment when he became ‘pro-life’, unalterably opposed to abortion and, later, embryonic stem-cell research. (The thought would not have occurred to Mother. At the time, patrician Republicans like the Bushes were birth-control advocates; like Margaret Sanger, they didn’t want the unwashed masses wildly reproducing. Dad was even on the board of the Texas branch of Planned Parenthood. )
Decision Points flaunts its postmodernity by blurring the distinction between fiction and non-fiction. That is to say, the parts that are not outright lies – particularly the accounts of Hurricane Katrina and the lead-up to the Iraq War – are the sunnier halves of half-truths. The legions of amateur investigative journalists on the internet – as usual, doing the job the major media no longer perform – are busily compiling lists of those lies. Gerhard Schroeder has already stated that the passage in which he appears is completely false. And even Mother has weighed in. Interviewed recently on television, she said she never showed Junior that jar, but maybe ‘Paula’ did. (It was assumed we would know that Paula was the maid.)
And finally the infamous claim that the worst moment of his presidency was Kanye West, which I’m surprised was actually let in by whatever crowd of advisers/consultants/focus groups vetted/wrote the thing
The book states that, for him, the worst moment of his presidency was, not 9/11, or the hundreds of thousands he killed or maimed, or the millions he made homeless in Iraq and jobless in the United States, but when the rapper Kanye West said, in a fundraiser for Katrina victims, that Bush didn’t care about black people.
West was only half right. Bush is not particularly racist. He never portrayed Hispanics as hordes of scary invaders; Condi was his workout buddy and virtually his second wife; he was in awe of Colin Powell; and he was most comfortable in the two most integrated sectors of American society, the military and professional sports. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about black people. Outside of his family, he didn’t care about people, and Billy Graham taught him that ‘we cannot earn God’s love through good deeds’ – only through His grace, which Bush knew he had already received.
And that’s where the devastation really hits. Because who would want a president who lacks empathy, and why would such a man ever become president except for the most noxious of reasons.