Girlie Man

George W. Bush is a coward

He’s strong. He’s resolute. He looks evildoers in the eye and doesn’t blink. He’s our national daddy, standing in the doorway with a righteous six-gun and a steely gaze, striking fear in the hearts of all who would do us harm. By god, George W. Bush is a real man.

Or is he? We certainly know that Bush wants us to believe he’s a real man – in fact, there are few things he works harder at. Sometimes it seems as if the entire might of the United States government is being wielded for the purpose of creating photo ops where Bush can look manly. We saw plenty of examples at the Republican convention; the video introducing Bush, narrated with the profound vocal stylings of actor/politician Fred Thompson, begins this way: “How do you tell the story of a presidency? How do you tell the story so far? The story is, in part, but inescapably, the story of a man.”

Despit being billed as a “biography,” the video told virtually nothing about what Bush has actually done in the last four years, let alone his life to that point; instead, it was mostly about Bush’s September 11-related moments of theater. For the umpteenth time, we saw Bush vowing revenge through a bullhorn at Ground Zero; then Bush being photographed visiting soldiers in the hospital. The film ends with an extended retelling of Bush going to Yankee Stadium and throwing out the first ball at a World Series game not long after September 11, presented with swelling music and slow-motion, as though his ability to walk to the mound and throw the ball was some act of extraordinary heroism of which no mere mortal would have been capable.

And in his convention speech, Bush reemphasized his masculinity. “Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger,” he said, “which in Texas is called walking.” There’s certainly a swagger in Bush’s walk, but what is most notable about it is how affected it is. It’s not about being strong, it’s about looking strong.

Who’s Your Daddy?

New York Times columnist Frank Rich recently noted that “castration warfare has been a Republican staple ever since Michael Dukakis provided the opening by dressing up like Snoopy to ride a tank.” Democrats are understandably frustrated that Bush has been so successful at painting John Kerry as the one possessed of insufficient testosterone, down to calling his Vietnam service into question. After all, when their country called them to go into harm’s way, Kerry said, “Where do I sign?” while Bush said, “How do I get out of this?”

Vietnam was hardly the last time Bush would show himself to be something of a sissy-boy. In fact, when you begin to think about his history, an unmistakable picture emerges: George W. Bush is a coward.

I do not use the word lightly. Speaking as someone born too late to be drafted, I can’t say whether I would have been brave enough to follow John Kerry’s course into Vietnam. But Bush’s cowardice doesn’t only emerge when his physical safety is at stake (although he’s quite happy to proclaim his courageous indifference to dangers that will be faced by others, i.e. “Bring ‘em on”). Let’s look at some other cases:

  • When Bush was told that America was under attack by terrorists, he froze like a deer in the headlights, sitting there listening to “My Pet Goat” for seven interminable minutes before someone came and told him it was OK for him to get up and start doing something presidential. Ask a Bush partisan about this and their spinning will generate enough centrifugal force to suck in anything in the room that isn’t bolted down. He was trying to reassure the children, they’ll say, and project strength. When Ari Fleischer held up a sign that read, “Don’t say anything yet,” a real man would not have complied, as Bush did. A real man would have stood up, said, “It’s been wonderful to meet you children, but I have to go” and gone to check on the status of the country he was supposed to be leading.
  • When the September 11 commission wanted to question the President, he ran like a little girl who just saw a spider. First, he said he wouldn’t testify. Then he said he’d talk to them, but not under oath, and only for an hour. Finally he agreed, but only so long as no one recorded the session, and Dick Cheney came along to bail him out if things got uncomfortable. These weren’t just the actions of a man who had something to hide, they were the actions of a man afraid to answer for what he did and didn’t do. And what kind of a wimp can’t be questioned without his vice president by his side?
  • Bush has held only twelve solo press conferences in his presidency, fewer than any other modern president, and you can rest assured there won’t be another one between now and November. A real man would take questions from the press, even if some of them are going to be confrontational.
  • At his last disastrous press conference, Bush couldn’t bring himself to admit to a single mistake he had made in office. Real men admit it when they’re wrong.
  • No undecided voters – let alone Democrats – are allowed into Bush campaign events, lest the farcical “Ask the President” events include a question that is not accompanied by fulsome praise of Bush’s greatness. A real man would have the guts to encounter voters who don’t already love him.
  • Bush’s representatives are now pushing to eliminate from the schedule of debates the “town hall” scheduled to take place in St. Louis. According to news reports, they are concerned that, though the audience is supposed to consist of undecided voters, a Kerry supporter might sneak in and get to ask a question. What kind of a wimp is scared of answering a question from someone who supports his opponent? After all, Bush is supposed to be the president of all Americans not just those who support him. But he doesn’t seem to have the guts to look voters in the eye.

Since September 11, polls have shown President Bush rating particularly high on whether voters perceive him to be a “strong leader.” And there’s no doubt that Bush knows how to appear strong; put him in a flight suit or a cowboy outfit and he’s in seventh heaven; the frontier-justice catch phrases will tumble from his lips – dead or alive, smoke ‘em out, get ‘em runnin’. But when it comes time to actually demonstrate strength, Bush withers and fades.

And of course, he was a cheerleader in high school. How girlie is that?

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