Opinion » Bill Cope

Them Sad Eyes

How much is that doggie to the widows?


Have you seen Bush's doggies? Or rather, his paintings of doggies? That's right, George W. Bush has taken up the brush to occupy his post-presidenting days. I haven't seen lot of his work, but from what I have seen, it's apparent he has a predilection for painting pooches. There's one photograph in particular where he is standing, grinning, next to two of his creations, little white fuzzy-face dogs. They're both looking straight out from their canvases, right into the eyes of the observer, all adorable and such. You can almost hear them rawlfing, "Aren't I just the cutest thing!?"

I'll leave it to others to judge Bush's talent. It's not the merits of his art that intrigue me, but his decision to do it in the first place. I've known my share of artists--musicians, writers, a sculptor or two--and I'm always interested in what compels them to spend hours--years, even--alone, dabbing color splats of oil on canvas, sanding cedar beams down to a sensual curve, repeating a passage of Bach or Debussy that would seem impossible to merely human fingers.

Why do they give up so much? I wonder, and what do they gain in return? It goes back as far as my adult self does, this curiosity, and by now, I've learned there is no single answer to the enigma. It's seldom the prospect of financial gain, whatever it is that urges a retiree to join an art class or a sophomore jock to write poems about feeling afraid. Nor is it always a pursuit of truth and beauty. (No one could convince me that Jackson Pollock thought his drips and spills were adding either one to the universe.)

However, there are (at least) two motives for making art that few artists would deny as being components to their compulsion. One is the desire to create something memorable that will outlast our frail and limited lives. The other is to be engaged, to be swept up, in something that might calm the troubled mind, a mind understandably troubled by the inescapable reality of how frail and limited we humans truly are.

And I can't help it. When I see Bush standing there aside his easels, grinning over his doggie pictures, I can't help but wonder what prompted him to take up painting. Is he consciously trying to leave something memorable behind? Other than the slaughter and waste of an unnecessary war, that is.

Or is it to calm his mind? A mind we would understand might be troubled over thoughts of how many lives he let needlessly slip through his fingers.

I'm a little late getting to the 10-year anniversary of Bush's adventure in Iraq. I thought I'd already said everything I had to say about that damnable travesty. I've also found a measure of satisfaction that Americans, by and large, have come to understand the lies and deceit and villainy that set the stage for the war. It will never come true, alas, my dream of seeing Bush and Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleezza Rice and the rest of that slimy crew, squatting behind bars in cells they will never leave--even that, a punishment too lenient for the crimes they conspired to commit--but at least, it's consoling to think they will be collectively regarded from here on as one of the greater stains on the story of America.

But of course, they are out there right now, you know--10 years later, patting themselves on the back for a shifting mission accomplished, claiming that from the very beginning, their intentions were to set the Iraqi people free, even if it meant 125,000-or-so of those Iraqis might not make it through the shock and awe of Bush's benevolence.

They are trying to do to their own history what the modern Republican Party is always trying to do to all of America's history--that is, to change it. Or the collective recollection of it, at least. To recast the memory. To paint over the failures, sand out the flaws, and set the finished picture into a false new frame. It will be shockingly easy to do, I'm sure, particularly among people with so feeble a grasp of both history and honesty that they are attracted to whatever oozes forth from Fox News, just as a stupid moth can't resist an even stupider flame.

So it will be no surprise that there are millions of stupid moths--the sort that flutter on the right wing only--who have already forgotten the fruitless search for those WMDs, the equally fruitless search for a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, the empty boasts that the whole operation will cost less than California's yearly education budget, the promise of happy Iraqis dancing in the street as our boys roll in, the assurances of negligible American casualties... etc.

Iraq is now dictator free--that's what it was all about! that's what counts!--and never mind that hardly a day goes by when a Baghdad marketplace or a Shiite wedding party isn't shredded with chunks of Iraqi flesh from a sectarian suicide bomb. Or that the true cost has long passed 13 figures, and is still climbing. Or that the damage to American soldiers in PTSD alone will haunt our country for generations, not even counting the maimed, the mutilated, the burnt or the 4,000-plus who didn't live long enough to suffer with PTSD.

So I'm sure the memory makeover will work. Certainly, for those who don't see truth as a value worth holding on to. But I still have to wonder... while Bush is painting his little doggies--his eyes focused intently as artists' eyes must be on the stroke, the tone, the perspective, the light--might there be something he's trying even more intently not to see?