Remembering Bush’s phony image as a rancher
I’ve been feeling sort of kindly toward George W. Bush these days, what with this week’s opening of his presidential library at Southern Methodist University. I even posted THIS PIECE the other day defending the man against harsh judgments of his presidency.
The same charitable spirit was with me this morning when I ran across a COLUMN by former Bush aide Keith Hennessey in which he argues that Dubya is smarter than most of us libs suspect. Ah, I said to myself, here’s another opportunity to post something favorable about the guy.
But several brief passages in Hennessey’s piece prompted me to change my focus and go beyond just passing along his paean to his former boss. Taken together — and combined with certain facts Hennessey ignores — the passages at issue effectively ruined the column for me:
President Bush intentionally aimed his public image at average Americans rather than at Cambridge or Upper East Side elites…
President Bush enjoys interacting with the men and women of our armed forces and with elite athletes. He loves to clear brush on his ranch. He loved interacting with the U.S. Olympic Team. He doesn’t windsurf off Nantucket, he rides a 100K mountain bike ride outside of Waco with wounded warriors. He is an intense, competitive athlete and a “guy’s guy.” His hobbies and habits reinforce a caricature of a [dumb] jock, in contrast to cultural sophisticates who enjoy antiquing and opera. This reinforces the other biases against him.
Let’s parse that nonsense, shall we?
First, Hennessey concedes that Bush’s “public image” was “intentionally aimed” at a certain demographic. That sounds kind of calculated, doesn’t it? We know from the record that the image of Bush as a good ol’ boy from Texas was intended to counter the reality that he went to two Ivy League universities and that his family’s roots were in New England. Hennessey even acknowledges that Bush “never talked about graduating from Yale and Harvard Business School, and he liked to lower expectations by pretending he was just an average guy.”
Pretending he was just an average guy? Did Hennessey reveal more artifice than he intended?
As for the references to “Upper East Side elites…” and “windsurf[ing] off Nantucket…” and “cultural sophisticates who enjoy antiquing and opera,” that’s just gratuitous class-resentment crapola that further gives away the phony image-creation game. So, too, does the stuff about Bush “interacting with the men and women of our armed forces and with elite athletes,” as if the current occupant of the White House doesn’t engage in similar activities.
My favorite part of Hennessey’s column is where he says Bush “loves to clear brush on his ranch.” The truth of the matter is that the ranch, a 1,500-acre former hog farm near the tiny town of Crawford, Texas, was a phony setting from the get-go — a way for Bush to emulate Ronald Reagan’s celebrated practice of clearing brush from his rural spread. The message: Here is a man of the land, not some swishy dude from back East.
But Bush had never lived out in the country before he became president. He spent most of his early years in Midland, Tex., which now has a population of about 275,000. It was a smaller city when Bush was a kid, but it was more than just a wide spot in the road. Nor did the need to clear brush ever arise.
Bush didn’t buy the ranch near Crawford until 1999, by which time it had become apparent that he would be the Republican nominee for president in the election of the following year. It was just part of the image-creation effort.
But as soon as his second term as president was over, Bush and his wife Laura bought a pricey home in a tony section of Dallas, where his neighbors include billionaire Ross Perot, sports magnate Mark Cuban and other folks of considerable means.
So much for Laura’s previous claim that the ranch “will be our home for the rest of our lives.” There was no longer any need to pose as ranchers. No, siree. The Bushes were off to the big city and life among the privileged classes.
Before closing here, I still claim credit for being magnanimous enough to publish a link to Keith Hennessey’s argument that George W. Bush is no dummy. Turns out that the real dummies were the saps who bought into his image as a rancher.