George W. Bush’s “Life to Live”: on Dubya, Defoe, Cindy Sheehan, the Personal, and the Public

This article I did (see below) went up on the ZNet top page last week. I thought I’d give people a chance to comment on it if they wish. Looking back, the main problem I have with the article is that it’s perhaps over-focused on boy-King Bush, for whom I confess considerable personal animus….

…Truth is, the sentiment that he expressed and which I found so distateful in this article (see below) —— this notion that Bush is privileged/entitled to just go ahead and live his (stupid) personal brush-clearing/bike-riding/napping/working-out-2-hours-a-day life in what he calls a “balanced” way, remaining oblivious to the suffering visited on lesser others by his actions— is pervasively “mainstream” in our corporate-crafted mass culture.

Just watch Oprah. Or read any number of the personal advancement and self-help magazines that are on display at your local Borders or Barnes and Noble. It’s all “I me me mine,” to quote George Harrison. Just watch television sit-coms or dramas, where everything seems much of the time to be all about the purely personal dramas of individuals and their small circles, divorced from any relevant engagement with broader and deeper societal, dare I say structural issues of empire, inequality, racism, exploitation and other not-so-happy stuff like that.

It’s amazing how dedicated the corporate-state thought-controllers are to keeping us in this delusional, Robinson-Crusoe-fied state of personal indifference and irresponsibility, disassociated from the suffering around and even (perhaps especially) inside us (those two disassociations are inseparably linked to each other). Still, it seemed almost odd to hear the nation’s hyper-plutocratic, ultra-silver-spooned “messianic militarist” (Ralph Nader’s description) president, who once said that Jesus Christ was his favorite political personality (“because he touched my life”), talking in such pedestrian, mass-cultural terms.

But of course, this toxic, pervasively American and perhaps inherently bourgeois-Western state of apathy and indifference — this deeply hostile attitude of “couldn’t care less” — towards people on the wrong sides of our guns and hiearchies (people who just happen to be very disproportionately non-white) operates at different levels.

It’s one thing to be a cold narcissistic bastard when the extent of the harm you inflict on others is limited to mistreating your 2 employees and driving a car that spews inordinately high amounts of climate-warming carbon into the air.

It’s another thing to be a cold narcissistic bastard who has used the most powerful job in the world to kill more than 100,000 Iraqis (spare me the Lancet statistiics debate…go to www.iraqibodycount.org for the lower estimate of directly killed Iraqi civilians if that’s what you need) and 1,800 US soliders, to injure (some quite horribly) 13,000 US GIs, to turn Iraq into a terrorist training ground, to LIE constantly about the reasons for all that killing and maiming, and to do all this (and much more of a terrible nature) while using foreign policy crises of your own making as cover for your efforts to radically concentrate wealth and power yet further upward in what was already the “advanced” world’s most unequal and wealth-top-heavy nation.

Robinson-Dubyoe’s crimes hit home to Cindy Sheehan in a very personal way — a way that she has decided to take out of the narcissistic realm of the purely personal and into the public sphere by camping outside Bush’s protected imperial island, asking why he can meet with deep-pockets campaign donors but can’t look a woman straight in the eyes after she donated her flesh and blood — her child — to his illegal war.

She’s doing something all of us Fridays aren’t supposed to do. She’s sacrificing mainstream personal balance for the noble, inherently life-un-balancing (but morally and spiritually grounding) act of rebellion. Much to the war-masters’ regret, she has created a public drama that helps advance public understanding of what the president really is: a selfish, authoritarian, and murderous scourge upon the republic.

Figuratively at least, she’s turned off Oprah, recycled Self magazine, and entered the front lines of public history in the best sense.

Anyway, here’s the article I did last week:

“I’ve Got a Life to Live:” The Obliviousness of Boy-King George

Paul Street;
August 19, 2005

Here are 24 words from the mouth of George W. Bush that deserve to live in infamy: “I think it’s also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life…I’ve got a life to live.” Bush recently gave reporters this declaration in response to reporters’ queries as to how he can take off five weeks to play on his Crawford ranch while United States troops sink deeper into misery and catastrophe in imperially occupied Iraq (see Maureen Dowd, “Biking Toward Nowhere,” New York Times, 17 August 2005, p. A23).

There was no comment from Bon Jovi, who once said: “It’s my life. It’s now or never. I ain’t gonna live forever. I just want to live while I’m alive.”

The president likes to spend significant parts of his life off the clock. As Washington Post reporters Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker noted two weeks ago, “President Bush is getting the kind of break most Americans can only dream of: nearly five weeks away from the office, loaded with vacation time. The president departed yesterday for his longest stretch yet away from the White House, arriving at his Crawford ranch in the evening for a round of clearing brush, visiting with family and friends, and tending to some outside-the-Beltway politics. It is the longest presidential retreat in at least 36 years. The August getaway is Bush’s 49th trip to his cherished ranch since taking office and the 319th day that Bush has spent, entirely or partially, in Crawford – nearly 20 percent of his presidency to date, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS Radio reporter known for keeping better records of the president’s travel than the White House itself. Weekends and holidays at Camp David or at his parents’ compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, bump up the proportion of Bush’s time away from Washington even further.”

“Until now,” VandeHei and Peter Baker added, “probably no modern president was a more famous vacationer than Ronald Reagan, who loved spending time at his ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif. According to an Associated Press count, Reagan spent all or part of 335 days in Santa Barbara over his eight-year presidency – a total that Bush will surpass this month in Crawford with 3 ½ years left in his second term.”

As the angry and grieving mother of a dead GI camps outside his west Texas playground, daring “Bring ‘Em On Bush” to look her in the eyes, the president is alternately clearing brush, napping, riding his bicycle, and working out two hours a day. Perhaps he’s poring through issues of SELF, MEN’S HEALTH, or some of those magazines’ pseudo-Christian-fundamentalist counterparts. Bush is certainly spending time in spiritual consultation, hearing from his favorite mega-ministers about how Jesus needs him to re-charge his batteries to more effectively spread what he calls “freedom.”

Bush’s “life to live” comment sends a shockingly narcissistic message at a moment when he has sent tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis to morgues, burn units, and prosthetic clinics in the execution of an immoral and unnecessary war. How “balanced” are the lives of returned American soldiers struggling with amputations and/or the loss of their sight and/or hearing and/or with terrible scars inflicted during their utilization in George “Mission Accomplished” Bush’s assault on “easy targets” (Donald Rumsfeld) in Iraq. Some of these Americans need nurses to turn them over during naps. It’ll be a long time before many of these veterans get back on a bicycle or a treadmill.

What sort of “balance” is available to the survivors of those killed by Bush’s failed and criminal Iraq policy – the mourning parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends, and lovers of mostly working-class soldiers sacrificed in W.’s new imperialist charnel grounds? Unlike America’s “Fortunate Son” president, who cheered poorer and browner others to death and murder in a Vietnam War he managed to physically avoid, their sons, daughters, cousins, fathers, daughters, wives, and husbands no longer have lives to live. The notion of living one’s own life is a fine, venerably American sentiment, but problems emerge when the way you act on the principle leads to death, maiming, and other forms of misery for masses of other people.

What sort of “balance” is available to the practically invisible (within U.S. media’s electronic bubble world)Iraqis, whose country as been turned into chaotic shooting gallery so that Bush could look like a big man and deepen America’s grip on the Middle Eastern oil spigot after 9/11?

At least Bush’s fellow Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson had the decency to lose some sleep over the miserable mass-murderous fiasco he criminally escalated in Vietnam. There’s no such agonizing for War Criminal Bush II. As Maureen Dowd noted in yesterday’s New York Times, Bush’s “war, which has not accomplished any of its purposes, swallows ever more American lives and inflames ever more Muslim hearts as W. reads a book about the history of salt and looks forward to his biking date with Lance Armstrong on Saturday.”

She might have added that “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (do they still call it that?) also takes ever more Iraqi lives and that its purposes were invalid and deceptively stated from the beginning. But her basic point is a good one: America and the world is captive to the oblivious, self-satisfied, and mass-murderous whims of a narcissistic, delusional, and out-of-touch “Boy in the Bubble” who happens to hold the most dangerous job in the world.

Amidst all the misery he has imposed at home and abroad, full of dangerous implications for his own citizens, the president is pedaling through his own personal Neverland Ranch in anesthetized indifference to the consequences of his actions. “I’ve got a life to live” is his New Age version of “Let Them Eat Cake.” If this isn’t a call for revolution, or at least impeachment, then I’ve never seen one. Here’s my own little pearl of not-so New Age wisdom on how to achieve some personal balance in these troubling times: it’s okay to hate this president and his administration. Come to Washington DC on September 24th and join the rising chorus of revulsion at Bush and his crimes.

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