George Bush and the Treacherous Country 

Thursday, Feb 12 2004
Illustration by Ryan Ward

I am a traitor. I’m not sure exactly when I first knew it. Of course for a long time I resisted it; I had always thought of myself as a patriot. But sometime over the last 15 years I came to sense it, and certainly I understood it by the afternoon last October when the president officially launched his re-election campaign. That was the day he gave two speeches in New Hampshire on behalf of a war he thought he had won five months earlier; over the next 24 hours, Iraqi guerrillas in Baghdad killed three American soldiers and wounded four, assassinated a Spanish diplomat in the street, and drove a car into a police station, blowing up eight people. This moment wasn’t just the hinge of George W. Bush’s presidency, with the gales of the past and future blowing it open and shut. It wasn’t just the moment that his presidency became the hinge of modern American history. It was the hinge of my very Americanism, between patriotism and treachery.

Some are loath to bestow upon this president any sort of momentousness. Whatever he does or however dire the moment, some can’t bring themselves to believe George Bush deserves such import, given what they regard as the flukishness of his election or what they perceive to be the limits of his capabilities. Among the erudite, ridicule attends his every mispronunciation of this word, his every mangling of that sentence — mistakes that only endear him to a nation of word mispronouncers and sentence manglers. Among those who fret about the unfairness of life, there’s fury at the fortunate son who inherited his power from his presidential father and the Supreme Court, as though Al Gore would have been any less an inheritor from his own senatorial father and the president who made him vice president (none of which is to even mention what Hillary Clinton has inherited, or may inherit still).

To snicker at Bush’s luck and stupidity not only confirms Bush’s gleeful assertions that he’s underestimated, but misreads everything about both the moment and the man. The fortunate son has more natural political skill than his father ever did, and as he proved in his interview on Meet the Press this past weekend, the president is as able to absorb and command the facts of something as anyone else. As was also clear in the same interview, and given the ways in which his reasons for the Iraq invasion have changed from those that he presented to the country a year ago, what’s important about George Bush’s intelligence isn’t its magnitude but its nature. This is to say it’s a perfectly adequate intellect that chooses what it prefers to know, what it prefers to think, what it prefers to believe. Which is to say that the nature of Bush’s intelligence hasn’t anything to do with intelligence at all. Rather it has to do with — here’s a word we haven’t heard in a while — character.

Related Stories

  • Henry Rollins: War, Continued 3

    This morning, I woke up in a small hotel room in Gordonsville, Tennessee. Outside my door: Taco Bell, Subway, McDonald's and Waffle House. I packed my gear and headed down to the lobby for another day of shooting 10 Things You Don't Know About. Scheduled for today was a tour...
  • How to Vote 8

    You know the incumbents. So our June 3 voter guide is about the other stuff - like a comedic race for judge featuring candidates so bad the bar association finds both "Not Qualified." One is Charles Calderon, who L.A. Weekly previously reported as one of the worst legislators in California. There's...
  • We Wish We All Could Be Caprice's Kind of California Girl

    “This is myself with my best friend at the time, frying my skin," says the across-the-pond celebrity Caprice Bourret while looking at old photos, nibbling a scone at high tea at the Culver Hotel. "I used to be such a California girl. I used to fry. Hawaiian Tropic, no sunscreen at all."...
  • Porn Flight 14

    California porn studio Kink.com, which last year came under scrutiny for a condom-free production in which a woman who afterward turned up HIV-positive had performed, said this week that it's opening facilities in Las Vegas. The company, which was investigated by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) following...
  • Laker Girls Auditions: 10 Dancers Explain Why It's Their Dream Job

    Most of the hundreds of young women who showed up at the Laker Girl tryouts on Saturday had been dancing their entire lives. Some went to Juilliard. Some danced with world-class ballet companies. Some were professional cheerleaders with NFL teams. Since dance is not a fairly compensated field even at...

Bush’s presidency may be more fraught with significance than any since Franklin Roosevelt’s. If you believe in any sort of fate, if you believe things happen according to any sort of Scheme, there was nothing flukish about Bush’s election; to the contrary, there was no way he could not have become president when he did. Gore may have had a better résumé, but manifestly Bush was better suited to the dark poetry of 2000. George W. Bush is the Millennial President, and not simply according to the arithmetic of calendars. He’s the president of all the millennium’s metaphors, a commander in chief for the End Days, collecting RSVPs for the Rapture.

By all accounts the president believes the 11th of September, 2001, was his hour of destiny, the great event with which he was born to contend. Uniquely in recent history, the al Qaeda attack had about it an unalloyed evil that didn’t simply conform to George Bush’s worldview but validated it. Beyond that, radical Islam is an enemy to which Bush relates not on a historical or sociological level but rather one deeply intuitive; at heart the president embraces the same kind of absolutes, and the same promise of eternity and yearning for self-obliteration in which such absolutes are rooted. To a lesser degree, he’s also temperamentally grounded in the same suspicion of the modern world and its complications. For about five weeks this made Bush the perfect president for September 11. When those weeks passed, increasingly he found himself first checked by the mechanisms of democracy that routinely check presidential power — beginning with questions by Congress and the press about secret military trials — and then outclassed by Osama bin Laden, whose vocabulary of obliteration exceeds Bush’s even if his means for achieving it doesn’t.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • 21st Annual Classic Cars "Cruise Night" in Glendale
    On Saturday, spectators of all ages were out in multitudes on a beautiful summer night in Glendale to celebrate the 21st annual Cruise Night. Brand Boulevard, one of the main streets through downtown Glendale, was closed to traffic and lined with over 250 classic, pre-1979 cars. There was plenty of food to be had and many of the businesses on Brand stayed open late for the festivities The evening ended with fireworks and a 50th anniversary concert from The Kingsmen, who performed their ultimate party hit, "Louie, Louie." All photos by Jared Cowan.
  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.