In the 835 days Americans have passed since the inauguration of George W. Bush, we have come to know him as a man who wears many masks to suit a variety of political purposes. Even before he won the lawsuit that put him in his lofty position, we saw a man who cloaked his vision in terms that smacked of humility. "Ours will be a humble nation," Bush said during the Presidential debates. There are a number of words which can be applied to the actions of this administration, but "humble" is not one of them. At the time, however, it suited his purposes to make Americans believe he saw himself as unassuming, perhaps even small.
This was the same man, however, who mocked Texas death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker so viciously before she rode the lightning to whatever awaits us on the Other Side. He was asked, in an interview for Talk Magazine during the campaign, what Tucker might say to him if she were given the chance to plead for her life. "Please," said Bush with pinched face and lips drawn down in a quivering bow as he imitated the woman about to die, "don't kill me." Then he laughed.
You would think we'd have known better 835 days ago. We didn't, mostly because the news media decided such stories were without merit. Now we are a humble nation that brazenly disregards the entire planet as we seek military solutions to diplomatic problems. Now we are a humble nation that breaks treaties by the boatload and 'punishes' nations that foolishly believe they can make decisions for themselves. One is forced to wonder if Bush sat in front of a television as the 'Shock and Awe' firebombing/cluster-bombing of Baghdad began, face pinched and mouth drawn down, saying "Please, don't kill me" in the voice of an Iraqi civilian. One is forced to wonder if he laughed afterwards.
We have come to see a new mask in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11. In the 18 months that have passed since that dark day, we have been introduced to Bush the Soldier. Draped in flags and the veneer of patriotism, Bush has spent a great deal of time and energy identifying himself with the very military he described as unfit for service during the 2000 campaign. The metastasizing of Bush into some sort of military hero reached a crescendo during this past week when he landed on the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln in the co-pilot's seat of a Navy S-3B Viking combat aircraft. According to the lore that has been rapturously reported on every hour by cable television news services, Bush took the stick "momentarily" to pilot the craft. He hopped out, garbed in the flight suit of a Navy pilot, and flashed a thumbs-up sign across the deck. This, we were told by the media, harkens back wonderfully to Bush's service piloting F-102 fighters for the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.
The problem, as with any mask, is that whatever is underneath bears little comparison to the mask itself. According to the reports, it was appropriate for Bush to don the gear of an actual military pilot, because it mirrors the reality of his experience back in the Texas Guard. In reality, Bush may as well have put on the standard attire of a Mongolian yak herder from the Asian continental steppe. That would have been fitting, too, because neither the Navy suit nor the yak gear have anything at all to do with Bush the Actual Person. Neither has anything to do with history, or with fact.