Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DECONSTRUCTING GEORGE BUSH....In my adult lifetime there have been presidents I like and presidents I dislike, but I've always felt that at least I understood what they wanted. I may have disagreed with Reagan, for example, but I always figured that I understood what his goals were. Same for Carter, Bush I, and Clinton. They said they were in favor of various things, and they pretty much were.

But George Bush is different. It's not that just that I dislike him there are plenty of politicians I dislike but that I can't figure out what motivates him or what he really wants. His actions don't match his words, he says things that don't make sense, and he seems to be an almost purely political animal. Is he deliberately trying to mask his real intentions, or is there some kind of weird disconnect somewhere in his soul? I just don't know what to make of him.

So I'm glad to see that Molly Ivins, who knows him a helluva lot better than me, also has a hard time figuring him out. Still, she takes a crack at it this month in Mother Jones. First, an anecdote:

There was a telling episode in 1999 when the Department of Agriculture came out with its annual statistics on hunger, showing that once again Texas was near the top. Texas is a perennial leader in hunger because we have 43 counties in South Texas (and some in East Texas) that are like Third World countries. If our border region were a state, it would be first in poverty, first in the percentage of schoolchildren living in poverty, first in the percentage of adults without a high school diploma, 51st in income per capita, and so on.

When the 1999 hunger stats were announced, Bush threw a tantrum. He thought it was some malign Clinton plot to make his state look bad because he was running for president. "I saw the report that children in Texas are going hungry. Where?" he demanded. "No children are going to go hungry in this state. You'd think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas." You would, wouldn't you? That is the point at which ignorance becomes inexcusable. In five years, Bush had never spent time with people in the colonias, South Texas' shantytowns; he had never been to a session with Valley Interfaith, a consortium of border churches and schools and the best community organization in the state. There is no excuse for a governor to be unaware of this huge reality of Texas.

See what I mean? What the hell can you make of something like this?

So what manner of monster is behind these outrages? I have known George W. Bush slightly since we were both in high school, and I studied him closely as governor. He is neither mean nor stupid. What we have here is a man shaped by three intertwining strands of Texas culture, combined with huge blinkers of class. The three Texas themes are religiosity, anti-intellectualism, and machismo. They all play well politically with certain constituencies.

And I like this little passage about Bush's hometown:

In fact, people in Midland are real nice folks: I can't prove that with statistics, but I know West Texas and it's just a fact. Open, friendly, no side to 'em. The problem is, they're way isolated out there and way limited too. You can have dinner at the Petroleum Club anytime with a bunch of them and you'll come away saying, "Damn, those are nice people. Sure glad they don't run the world."

Read the whole thing to get an interesting little portrait that rings true to me. I agree with Ivins that Bush's religiosity and his anti-intellectualism are genuine but his macho act isn't and that in a lot of ways his problem isn't deception so much as self-deception. I don't think it explains everything, but it's a start.

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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