by Greg Method
Writers often say that the question they are most often asked is "Where do you get your ideas?" I wish I could say the same, but unfortunately the question I have been asked the most is "Why are you sleeping on my lawn?"
The reason I bring this up is because I had a moment of inspiration over the weekend. I was chatting with someone about the upcoming election. We each had different views, and I had thought we were discussing them in a polite, respectful manner. But it became obvious that the other gent was trying to pigeonhole me into a corner with personal attacks (against me, not against my views), which I'm never cool with when trying to have a mature debate about something.
Anyway, I responded to each of his personal jabs while also trying to steer the conversation back to what we were supposed to be talking about. I had no intentions of stooping to his level. Instead, I had made some good points and had asked some questions, and I made it quite clear that I was looking for answers rather than attacks.
The response I got back was "You should stop reading books."
I was quite taken aback by this. I should stop reading books? But what will I do when I'm on the toilet?
I don't know exactly what prompted this remark. I don't recall using any of those fancy ten-dollar words which you may hear coming out some of our more-renowned book-readers. I didn't end any of my points with little subscript numbers that any bookworm would immediately recognize as a footnote. Nor did I say that my argument was in its eighth printing. So, I'm not sure what I said that could have come off as "bookish."
Not that I am against to being well-read or to know what one is talking about. How else can one have an opinion on something unless they've studied it? I believe this other person claimed to have been more educated than I was, so surely he must have read a book at some point in his life.
Maybe, just maybe, all of his points on the subject of the election were just off the top of his head with no basis in fact (which isn't exactly rare in a Bush fan). He could have felt inadequate because he was more or less shooting off the hip while here I come, Greg the Bookworm, with all of my facts and figures and words that I didn't make up on the spot. I know, I know, how dare I.
It almost reminded me of the scene in 12 Angry Men in which the Ed Begley character (you know, the bigot) grumbles, "Aw, you think too much, you get mixed up!" Is that what my book-hating associate thought? That maybe I read too much, and thus learn too much of a subject? I don't know. I think the very fact that I'm currently writing a column for a web site probably says how much I have followed his suggestion to stop reading.
Anyway, as disturbed as I was by his request, I was actually more disappointed. You see, his non-sequitur of an answer was in response to something that I had asked, something I really did want to know.
What has George W. Bush done that's so great?
Seriously, why is he president? Why do people like him? Why is less than half of this country (on average) convinced that he's doing a good job?
In short, WHY?
Let's start from the beginning. Why was he born? Okay, that may be going too far back, although the question does stand. Actually, I think the more-important question is why was he given the exact same name as his father (minus one of the curious extra middle names)? I mean, I know nepotism was still around in the 1940s, but it was hardly commonplace. Oh well, more on his name in a future column.
So let's jump ahead a few decades and several cocaine benders later to the 2000 presidential election. No, no, I'm going to get into that whole "Who won?" thing (this month, anyway). Why was he nominated to run? Or more importantly, why was he even there? Are you telling me that the best man the Republicans had for the job just coincidentally happened to be the son of their last guy who had the job? I know the Republican Party has the whole phallic father/son thing going on, but c'mon, why?
I'll be honest. Unlike as my fellow political debater accused me of out of left field, I do not hate the Republican Party outright. In fact there are a number of Republicans that I could actually stomach losing an election to (John McCain, for example). But George W. Bush?? Bill Maher said something years ago, and I so totally agree with him (and I am paraphrasing slightly here): Bush comes off as the boss's son who shows up to work every other Friday to fire people. He's like Chris Farley in Black Sleep, the bumbling, not-too-bright younger member of the political family.
Worse than that, he comes from money, which means he's never had any hardships or challenges (the SATs aside). Everything was handed to him because he's Daddy's little angel. No doubt Georgie heard the phrase "You are the apple of my eye" all the way through college. Not that I have anything against the concept of being rich and spoiling your children, but honestly, would you want Paris Hilton running for public office?
So again, why? Why was this spoiled, snobbish, drunken trouser stain even in the running? And more importantly, who believed he was actually qualified for the job?? Well, I think we all know the first answer by just reading his name, but the second? Ya got me. All I want to know is their name, address, and if they have a dog outside.
I can't believe simply being the governor of Texas was enough to qualify him. Cripes, Arnold Schwarzenegger is now governor of California, and I don't think any rational person would say that qualifies him to run the country. George W. Bush was supposed to be just a novelty politician, no different from Jerry Springer or Jesse Ventura. You laugh at him briefly, hope he makes one moronic sound byte, and then let him host a late-night show on MSNBC.
But no! Some monkey-spank in the GOP thought, "Hey Abner, let's run the Bush kid!"
"You know, the governor."
"Oh c'mon, taaarnation! The dim one."
"Hoo-whee! The one whose election win the elder Bush paid for."
"Shucks, Abner! The one whose wife ran over that person."
And so on and so on and so on.
Maybe one day all will be revealed as to why they thought George II would make a good president, but no doubt all references to Saudi Arabia would be blacked out as well.
So let's jump now to 2004. This year marks Dubya's campaign to actually be elected for the first time, and my question--the one that resulted in an accusation that I have overdone my book intake--still stands. Why?
Why should he be elected in November? What good has he done these last three years? Why are so many people convinced that he is the greatest president we've ever had?
I honestly could not answer any of these questions. I admit I don't watch Fox News (on which I'm sure walking the dog warrants the caption "A proud moment for a brave man"), so that's probably why I couldn't answer. That just leads to a bigger question then: have all these Bush supporters been brainwashed, or is he doing all these extraordinary things only when I'm not watching the news, reading the newspapers, checking out Yahoo News, or reading wire reports? Did I miss out on some other form of obtaining news and information that all of Bush's great achievements have supposedly been reported on?
As no doubt many people know by now, there is a funny little "Bush resume" floating around the 'Net in e-mails and on web pages. I was actually playing with the idea of going through each claim and showing the news article that backs it up, but since there were already a couple of sites doing just that, I didn't want to steal any of their thunder.
But still, looking over the "resume" and reading all of his non-accomplishments, and I do realize that a number of the items on it are open to heavy debate, I still had that one question on my mind. Why?
What the hell has he done?!?
I know someone will want to stone me for saying this, but he dropped the ball on our post-9/11 world. He was not a great leader, nor was he a great uniter. In fact, he hid in a plane for two days and then told people to go shopping. What, did we elect the amoeba mayor from Osmosis Jones? If you want to know who really united Americans after 9/11, go look in a mirror. It was you. It was me. It was your neighbor. It was New Yorkers. It was the citizens of this country. There was a headline in a French newspaper that read, "We are all Americans." After 9/11, we were all New Yorkers. I visited Manhattan shortly after 9/11 (and it wasn't a sympathy visit, either...I had made all the plans back in July), and would you like to know what I saw and experienced there? Unity. Openness. Family. The people did that, and it wasn't because they were told to go shopping by some smirking monkey in a hard hat. Americans as citizens don't give themselves nearly as much credit as they deserve. Not that I can blame us...after all, who can be proud to be an American when some redneck is dressing up in a padded flight suit?
Ah yes, I hit upon that other W word, war. I'll get this right out in the open, I am convinced that Bush lied about the war. Of all the phrases to describe what he claimed to have been going after, he uses "weapons of mass destruction." Not simply "weapons," not "bombs," not just "chemicals." He knew if he said that magical phrase, many people would replay the video footage that had become so ingrained into our minds. He was playing the fear card, and he was also playing the revenge card. Unfortunately, neither of those applied to Iraq, but more on that in a future column. The point is that because he lied, because he so personally wanted to show Daddy what his little angel can do with bombs and missiles (remember those phallic father/son ideals of the Republican Party?), at least 500 of our citizens were killed. Trust me, that is most definitely NOT an accomplishment to elect a president on.
Most Bush supporters parrot the line "Well, he did more in three years than Clinton did in eight years!" If that's true, then why was Clinton re-elected? Evidently more than enough people thought he was doing a good enough job. The fact is that after all the "dignity" talk that the GOP tried to lay on us, after all the damning and head-shaking they gave, Clinton was still ten times more popular than Bush ever will be. More people liked the horny guy than the dummy, and they still do. Why else would Republicans even feel the need to dwell on Clinton so long after he left office? Is it because they couldn't drive him out? That must be it. I have nothing against grudges (that would be weird otherwise), but Clinton got away from the Republicans' vendetta to destroy him, and if he could run again he would blow Bush out of the water...again. Deal with it already.
Anyway, I've been asking and asking, but I still didn't get any answers from people. All I got were these oft-repeated propaganda phrases. The aforementioned Clinton one is the phrase du jour, but before that it was the condescending "Well if Gore was in office..." ...what? We'd have a great economy? A better environment? Better education?
But anyway, all that still doesn't tell me what Bush has done. If you need to make a comparison in order to answer a question, then your answer is quite thin on its own.
Imagine a mother discussing a math test with her son:
"What did you get on the fractions test?"
"I did better than Jerome Finley did in first period."
"But what did you get on the test?"
"Well, if Malcolm took it, he would have flunked it."
"But what did you get on it?"
Hopefully you see my point. After a while, the tooth-pulling gets very tiresome. I don't know if this statement is true for the whole party, but it seems as if Republicans do like to generalize and be as positively vague as possible. Think back to when Bush was talking about the supposedly "recovering" economy in the State of the Union. How many actual figures did he give? None. Democrats try to keep it real with actual facts and numbers, while Republicans go out of their way to keep it vague because they know can say anything and every old white guy in the country would nod in agreement.
So, to find the answers I realized that I would need to go back to my old supposed-enemy, reading. How dare I want to learn! Although there are a number of books about Bush out there, I wanted to do my own research. I was ready to do anything...even read! Gasp!
I wanted to avoid using books by right-wing commentators like Bill O'Reilly's Who's Looking Out for You? or Ann Coulter's Who's Looking at that Bulge in My Pants? because I was simply looking for facts, dates, and events. I'm sure those books would have provided me with some, but I'm also sure they would have credited Bush with things that happened on Carter's watch, too. I needed to turn to the place I always go when I need to check a fact. That's right, fellow surfer. I needed the Internet.
Since I'm too cheap to pay for the LexisNexis service, I simply entered "Bush's accomplishments" into Yahoo. Surely there would be a web site out there listing exactly what I was looking for. After all, there are wackos on the 'Net who catalog Weird Al songs or list every Bugs Bunny video ever made.
As I expected, a lot of the results that came back repeated the aforementioned "Bush's resume" thing, but I was looking for a list that was independent of that. You know, a "Bush's real resume" kind of page put up in response to the damning one.
Would you like to know how many such pages I found?
Although to be fair, I do need to point out that I stopped searching after the first 100 results...you kinda begin to lose confidence that you'll find anything good after that.
That's not to say that every single page in those one hundred results copied the "Bush resume." One web site, ProBush.com, did address it last October, as someone had asked the webmasters the very question I was hoping to ask (well, not word-for-word).
Part of their question read:
"I was actually looking for a list of Bush's accomplishments. But I only got a bunch of Anti-Bush pages...I was wondering if you could give me an exhaustive list of all things he HAS accomplished...let me know what you can do or if you have another site you can refer me to."
The web site's answer? "We've begun work on just that." This answer was followed by a very brief list of Bush's highly questionable, pre-presidential, faux-educational accomplishments. He can't be a lousy president...after all, he played rugby! The site then did the inevitable of bringing up Al Gore. You know, for as much as Republicans say how Democrats need to get over the 2000 election, they sure spend a lot of their time dwelling on Gore. Does the jealousy over Gore's popular votes run that deep?
Anyway, they've begun work on such a list. Begun?!? By October 2003 Bush was finishing up his third year in office, and this self-proclaimed pro-Bush web site was still just playing with the idea of listing his accomplishments?? Now, I understand how it is when you may have only two or three people helping you on a web site, but think about the web site's subject for a second. This is a president who still has yet to live down the way he came into office, whose every blunder and slurring mispronunciation makes headline news, who had just launched a heavily debated war under questionable motives, who is being criticized worldwide and especially at home, and who may very well go down in history as causing the most bitter partisan divide in this country since perhaps the Civil War. Don't you think that would prompt a web site meant to support Bush to maybe...oh I dunno...support Bush?? If I was running such a site, I couldn't wait for such a list to be "complete." I'd start posting little snippets as soon as possible.
But anyway, just so you see that I'm not making this stuff up: http://www.probush.com/newsletter_october_13_2003.htm
So I continued along my merry Yahoo way, checking out each result that wasn't obviously just repeating the "Bush resume." I momentarily thought that my search had ended when I came upon the web site Bushpresident2004.com.
I clicked on the Yahoo result and was soon reading it to see where the word "accomplishment" may turn up. That's when I came upon this excerpt towards the end of the page:
The initial election results were razor close, with Al Gore winning the nation's popular vote by over 300,000. However, the nation's electoral system gave Bush an advantage locked up in Florida's popular count, which he led by just over a thousand votes. After this small margin prompted an automatic machine recount, Bush's lead declined to only a few hundred votes. After machine malfunctions and irregularities became apparent across the state, manual recounts were initiated in many counties which the Bush Campaign tried to stop through the courts. The Florida Supreme Court allowed these manual recounts to continue, but the U.S. Supreme Court halted the recount, allowing George W. Bush to be declared the winner in Florida by just over 500 votes.
This was the first time in U.S. history that the Supreme Court decided a presidential election. Unfortunately, it was later discovered that over 50,000 Florida citizens, mostly minorities, were illegally kept off the voter rolls under the specific direction of Florida Governor and Bush-brother Jeb Bush, and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
I was stunned. Why exactly would a web site supporting Bush's "re"-election campaign go into detail about the 2000 election? Something was definitely fishy, so I checked the site's standard-issue "About this site" page:
Bushpresident2004.com is an unofficial site formed for people wanting to learn about the great accomplishments of the Bush Administration that are downplayed or ignored by the liberal mainstream media. Thanks for coming.
I had a feeling I knew where this was going, but still I decided to poke around a bit more. The site's page about Bush's foreign policy featured a photo of an atomic explosion. Either Bushpresident2004.com was the most misguided propaganda web site out there, or it was the sharpest satire site I have ever stumbled upon. As of now, I'm still not sure.
Check it out for yourself: http://www.bushpresident2004.com/bush-background-governor.htm
So whether Bush's fans were being very open about his non-accomplishments or Christopher Guest was now in the webmastering business, I had a good chuckle and continued the search. As I said, at the one hundred mark, I gave up. Either the supporters of this oft-criticized unelected official didn't feel the need to defend him...or there was nothing to defend him with!
I should again point out that I wasn't looking for anything too unique. I was simply trying to find a list of the accomplishments of the current U.S. president, not the record of a 1973 Chicago Cubs batboy.
I needed something...anything! What were Bush's accomplishments?? With little recourse left, I decided to again look over that "Bush resume," just for a glimpse at something that can be considered a job well done. But more on those findings in later months.
Then it occurred to me. Bush doesn't have to do a single thing and Republicans would still love him. And I think that is the bigger "Why?" I am all for supporting a politician in office, but if they don't deliver tangible results, then what's the point? Why not choose another person to support? Backing someone who has done nothing to warrant support isn't patriotic. It's masturbation.
That seems to be the major difference between the right and the left. The right values image over substance, while the left needs something more behind the photo-ops and sound bytes. How else does one explain the Republican hatred of homosexuality, abortion, and immigrants? Those things simply don't fit their image of America: two guys shouldn't be seen kissing, a woman shouldn't have a say outside the kitchen, and every citizen should be white. How such a political party has survived without drastic changes in the wake of civil rights and Roe vs. Wade I'll never know. Hopefully now that Strom Thurmond is gone, things will get better.
I began to think back to my associate who accused me of reading too much. Did he have a point? I did spend all weekend researching and reading, yet I couldn't come up with a single Bush accomplishment. Is it better to be blind than angry? Oblivious than embarrassed? Is the image better than the substance?
I'd like to think not. We're talking about a president here (sort of), a person who is supposed to lead the country and shape it into (hopefully) something better. He's had the job for three years now out of four...so, when exactly was he planning to start?
Bush's presidency has been a failure, perhaps a bigger one than his father's. All of the fake turkeys in the world can't change the fact that he has not done a single thing to better this country. And to me, that's quite important when I'm voting for or against an incumbent. I'm not voting for an image, I'm voting for results.
I know, I know...that's the bookworm in me.
Link of the Month
The Kitchen-Table State of the Union
by Robert L. Borosage for The Nation