A theme of my thinking about Bush and politics of late has been that the folksy charm Bush oozes at public events is just a consciously-constructed public image. Ivins’ essay suggests that maybe I’m only half right, but that doesn’t mean Bush gets new credit for being a man of the people. It’s not that Bush’s everyman image isn’t carefully stage-manged right down to the details of backdrops behind the dais, but that he really believes the image himself. According to Ivins, Bush’s lifelong privilege permeates him so deeply that any other reality is impossibly abstract. The very existence of poverty confounds him. Ivins writes:
The Reverend Jim Wallis, leader of Call to Renewal, a network of churches that fight poverty, told the New York Times that shortly after his election, Bush had said to him, “I don’t understand how poor people think,” and had described himself as a “white Republican guy who doesn’t get it, but I’d like to.” What’s annoying about Bush is when this obtuseness, the blinkeredness of his life, weighs so heavily on others, as it has increasingly as he has acquired more power.
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When the 1999 hunger stats were announced, Bush threw a tantrum. He thought it was some malign Clinton plot to make his state look bad because he was running for president. “I saw the report that children in Texas are going hungry. Where?” he demanded. “No children are going to go hungry in this state. You’d think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas.” You would, wouldn’t you? That is the point at which ignorance becomes inexcusable. In five years, Bush had never spent time with people in the colonias, South Texas’ shantytowns; he had never been to a session with Valley Interfaith, a consortium of border churches and schools and the best community organization in the state. There is no excuse for a governor to be unaware of this huge reality of Texas.
Were he not filled with, as Ivins argues, anti-intellectualism and false machismo, the reality of being working class—or middle class, for that matter—might be more understandable. Or, at the very least, those realities could be something one could seek to make sense of. With such a mind, Bush might be able to consider the effects of the policies he implements and the tax cuts he advocates. As a result, the work—physical and intellectual—that defines the lives of most people in the country over which he presides could be made less of an ideological commitment than a forceful reality.
Absent this, Bush continues to govern from the mistaken perspective that his experience really is the experience of others. Ivins again:
What is the disconnect? One can see it from the other side—people’s lives are being horribly affected by the Bush administration’s policies, but they make no connection between what happens to them and the decisions made in Washington. I think I understand why so many people who are getting screwed do not know who is screwing them. What I don’t get is the disconnect at the top. Is it that Bush doesn’t want to see? No one brought it to his attention? He doesn’t care?
Okay, we cut taxes for the rich and so we have to cut services for the poor. Presumably there is some right-wing justification along the lines that helping poor people just makes them more dependent or something. If there were a rationale Bush could express, it would be one thing, but to watch him not see, not make the connection, is another thing entirely. Welfare, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps—horrors, they breed dependency. Whereas inheriting millions of dollars and having your whole life handed to you on a platter is good for the grit in your immortal soul? What we’re dealing with here is a man in such serious denial it would be pathetic if it weren’t damaging so many lives.