George W. Bush: He taunts us liberals, still.
I’ve been secretly following the former U.S. president on the talk-show circuit the past few days as he flogs his autobiography, Decision Points. For those of us who still cling to the centre-left, Bush-watching is an unsettling experience.
It’s not unlike running into a former spouse in the airport bookstore: It’s awkward, and it brings back plenty of bad memories. But, for the life of you, you can’t turn away.
And, mostly, you find it impossible to dislike him as much as you once did.
There he is, on Oprah, sort-of suggesting he didn’t have the authority to send in the troops after Hurricane Katrina levelled New Orleans in 2005 – while, inexplicably, he had the “authority” to send in the same troops and invade Iraq two years earlier.
Or, there he is on another channel, telling Matt Lauer he has no regrets about permitting terror suspects to be waterboarded – which, the dictionaries remind us, is “a form of torture” wherein drowning is simulated.
“Damn right,” Dubya tells Lauer. He then goes on to say his feelings were “hurt” when Kanye West called him a racist for failing to help the predominantly black population of the aforementioned New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. Got that?
Torture “damn right,” it’s A-OK. Being called a racist by a musician a lot of people never listen to – that “hurts.”
There he is, all over the dial, skillfully rebuffing assorted inquisitors, insisting he doesn’t want to get drawn back into “the swamp” of politics. And then he proceeds to recount in that engaging, laconic Texan twang all kinds of stories about politics.
If you can explain any of that, please drop me a line. I can’t.
Bush was president while we went through three different prime ministers. One day, I asked one of them, Jean Chretien, what he thought of the younger Bush. “He’s a nice guy,” Chretien said. “I always got along with him.”
The conservative commentariat were forever suggesting the opposite, of course. They were in full spit-flecked apoplexy when Chretien declined to follow Bush into the quagmire that would become Iraq. At the time, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper even called Chretien a “coward” over it.
Bush, Chretien recalled, was ultimately surprised Canada wouldn’t participate – but it didn’t affect their relationship.
So, are we Liberals (and liberals) going soft on Bush, the fellow quite a few of us thought made the planet measurably less safe, clean, and prosperous? Nope; we still blame him for all of those things. But, like I say, he’s a hard guy to hate.
I attribute all of this to the one characteristic that conservative politicians generally possess in greater quantities than Liberal politicians: HOAG.
That is, Bush was a Hell Of A Guy. As the political cliche goes, you can picture yourself at a tailgate party with Dubya, swigging Buds, telling lies about the ones that got away. John Kerry or Al Gore, you just can’t. Eating quiche and sipping spritzers at a rich debutante’s coming-out party at Harvard, maybe. But HOAGs? Nope.
This is not to suggest that Liberals are incapable of HOAGism. Chretien was eating at Tim Hortons long before focus groups persuaded Stephen Harper to do likewise. Bill Clinton, too, was a liberal HOAG. Watching him hoover back a Big Mac, you wouldn’t have ever guessed he was once a Rhodes Scholar.
But Bush despite being the son of a New England multimillionaire, despite his pricey Yale education and his connections to American aristocracy was a true-blue HOAG.
And that, I think, is why we effete lefties can’t stop watching him as he peddles his book hither and yon: He speaks to our suppressed inner HOAGs.
Now, where’s that plate of quiche?
Kinsella is a lawyer, consultant and Liberal Party spin-doctor.
He blogs at warrenkinsella.com