"The psychopath is defined by a psychological gratification in criminal or aggressive impulses and the inability to learn from past mistakes. Individuals with this disorder ... lack a conscience."
"If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied."
—from Rudyard Kipling's Epitaphs of the War, 1919
Two weeks ago, I told of how I've spent Bush's entire time in office wondering what to write about him when he was done. In that column, I didn't get said, didn't even come close to saying, what sort of man I consider him to be. He is so unlike anyone I have ever associated with, or ever wanted to associate with, I have no point of reference from which to draw. Even after eight years of watching him, all too often, the best we could do is describe the damage he leaves in his wake. So in Part I, I ended up contrasting him with a few dozen of his ideological enemies and alluding to a few of his more notable failures.
But that's not good enough. That's not the cat, himself. And I can't believe it is wise or healthy to go forward without coming to a complete understanding of that which we are wanting so desperately to put behind us.
In Part II, I tried to use humor to get a handle on the essential George Bush. Except for those few who still respect him, that is generally how Americans have come to grips with Bush. His discomfort with multi-syllabic words, his embarrassingly theatrical antics, his schoolyard posturing, his talent for changing the discussion from one subject he has no understanding of to another ... these have made him pretty much a universal laughingstock. And if that's all he were—a post-Caddyshack Rodney Dangerfield whose biggest contribution to civilization was a dependable archetype of an ignoramus for the world to have a giggle over—then I'd wish him a happy retirement and forget him.
But humor isn't good enough either. For at least the next two generations, for thousands and thousands of families from Boise to Baghdad, there will be a lingering sorrow where a loved one once was. Out of the multitude of blunders that Bush presided over, the war in Iraq is the one we can say without doubt could have been avoided. Bush lied us into a war of his choosing, a war which was started only so that a thoughtless man could impose his inadequate thinking on another culture. There's nothing funny about that.
In an important sense, Jon Stewart has done us a great disservice. Same with Letterman and Leno and Bill Maher, the Saturday Night Live cast, Lewis Black, Colbert, Ferrell, all the comedians and satirists and wags and humorists who have spent a significant part of the last eight years exposing the absurdity in George Bush and everything that came with him.
It's understandable why so many chose to laugh at Bush. For comedians, it was more compatible to their natural perspective to joke about him choking on a pretzel or his mangling of the English language than the decisions that led to chaos in the Middle East or the precipitous decline of our own nation's fortunes and future.
And for the comedians' audiences—us—it was easier to accept that we were being led by a buffoon than by a psychopath.
But I fear by portraying Bush as nothing but a fool has softened the edges of an authentically atrocious and dangerous man. Let history record that for eight shameful years, we were being led by a buffoon and a psychopath. Rodney Dangerfield as war criminal. Jerry Lewis as mass murderer. The yin of stupidity in perfect balance with the yang of brutality. That is the essential George Bush. Be not deceived that he veils his brutality with a disguise of righteousness. It's not unusual that brutes often hide behind a mask of piety.
I admit my hatred for Bush is visceral—possibly even genetic—and traces back to the first time I saw him. Even during those days and weeks immediately following 9/11, I was not among the majority of Americans who approved of how he was doing. Not for a second do I believe he ever considered the tragedy as anything more than an opportunity.
I am also pleased to say that not once have I ever called him "President," not in print or in private. Along with millions of other Americans, I don't believe he ever won a presidential election honestly, and as far as I'm concerned, he never in his life, not before he came to the office or during his stay there, accomplished anything worthy enough to fit the title.
Yet it has nothing to do with his stupidity. I can accept a bone-headed move or two. The economic collapse, for instance, or the gutting of environmental regulations can't be pinned on Bush as much as the ideological plague which was endemic in his administration. True, that ideology, as most of us now recognize, is supremely stupid. But I can't fault stupid people for not understanding that what they zealously believe in is stupid.
I can also accept a degree of incompetence and ignorance, both of which George Bush has excelled at. America has a rich history of petty men who rose to a position far beyond their capabilities. Bush isn't the first leader to have no idea as to what he was doing, and I'm confident he won't be the last.
What I cannot accept is his arrogance. He disgraced America and continues to be proud of himself for doing it. With no evidence of any personal talents other than he was born into a wealthy and powerful family, he considers himself a superior man. It shows in his repugnant smirk. It shows in the way he sluffs across a stage and in his juvenile attempts at humor. It shows in the way he decides that innocent deaths are simply the price weaker people must pay to have someone else's ideology enforced upon them.
To complete the portrait that I pray will hang in the national memory forever, Bush considers himself to be superior in the worst possible way: morally. Just as that baseless confidence has done to so many witless people, his sense of moral superiority has put him among the worst of humans. The most immoral. Those who believe that anything they do or any crime they commit is justified in the name of whatever savage theology they bow down to. That is what Americans should recognize as he slumps away to irrelevance in Texas: He is not a mere fool, but a profoundly immoral fool.
And that, I suppose, is what will have to pass for justice upon him.