OK, just tell me this. How do we greet him? Say I'm in the plumbing aisle at Home Depot bent forward at the waist searching for a beeswax toilet seal. I look up sideways. Damn it! It's George W. Bush.
"Oh, Hi, Mr. Presi...uh...former Mr....the ex...you... you... can you just tell me what the hell you were thinking...?"
I have respect for the office. I know it's not my place to grill somebody who was president of the United States. I don't want to make an ass of myself. But damn!
George W. Bush
I try to imagine meeting him face-to-face on my own turf, in my own hometown, and I hear very bad words issuing from my lips like an autonomic response.
Don't tell me it's never going to come up. Of course it will come up. Probably not for me, but for lots of people. George W. Bush is returning here to live, and that means people in our community are going to have to live with him. So my question remains.
I'm at a loss even trying to find a parallel. Herbert Hoover, the 31st president, retired to California in 1932. So how did people greet Hoover? "Interesting to meet you, sir. Thanks for the economic depression."
And that was all they blamed him for. With Bush, helping ruin the global economy was only the last thing he did. "Hey, sir, before you leave the plumbing aisle, do you mind my asking about the thing where you attacked the wrong country. I mean, what? We should give you a mulligan?"
You know, we already have some pretty striking examples of how other people react to the man. There is, for example, the shoe guy. Mark my words. Within two years, there will be an enormous, Saddam-sized statue of the shoe guy in the center of a gigantic public square in Baghdad. The flying shoe will be covered in gold leaf.
Maybe shoe-hurling will be common here too. What is that strange, muffled sound in the distance? Thunder? A marching band? Oh, no, it's former President Bush coming our way, and the ominous sound we hear is the rolling tympani of shoes bouncing off his motorcade.
Anything is possible. The area around his home in Preston Hollow may become the site of pilgrimages, like Lourdes, but instead of crutches in the trees and merchants hawking religious trinkets, there will be guys with pushcarts selling shoes. The Secret Service will be out there in helmets scooping shoes off the lawn into wheelbarrows.
I just don't think Dallas gets it yet. We're far enough away from the action that we don't quite understand the flavor of things. This is the worst president in the history of the United States. He started a war for no good reason. He couldn't handle a flood.
And who else will come with him? Cheney lived here before. What if Cheney starts showing up in Dallas again? Oh...my...goodness. The difference between Bush and Cheney is that people give Bush a tiny break for being a hapless character in an Oliver Stone movie. But Cheney is real.
At this point in history, Dick Cheney is a global symbol for real evil. So is Satan coming to town too?
I'm actually serious about this. We need to have some kind of viable social ethic that will allow us to deal with this extraordinary turn of events. After all, we, too, will be in the eyes of the world, to some extent.
Try to imagine what would happen, for example, if Dallas were to greet Bush and his ilk with warmth and enthusiasm. Picture it on billboards along the highways leading into town. "Dallas: The city that loves George Bush."
Oklahoma used to have a motto on its automobile license plates that I always thought expressed the lowest self-esteem of any state in the union: "Oklahoma is OK." I understood the Rodgers and Hammerstein reference, but I still thought it sounded like an awfully low mark for the aspirations of an entire state.
But I'll tell you what: "Oklahoma is OK" sounds a hell of a lot smarter than "The city that loves George Bush." I honestly think we'd do better bringing back the old "Impeach Earl Warren" billboards.
Bush has a right to move here. This is America. The man is free to live wherever he wants, assuming the war crimes thing doesn't happen. It would be small of us to hope for a war crimes trial merely as a way to rid us of a local embarrassment, but the thought does come to mind. Got any evidence? Call me.
Then there is the whole business of the Temple of Bush that Southern Methodist University is building—his "library" and "think tank," for goodness sake. They should call it the what-were-you-thinking tank.
SMU can look out for itself. I'm not worried about SMU. Obviously someone in a position of great influence made a decision that for the next half-century or so the name and academic reputation of Southern Methodist University should be associated with derisive skits on The Daily Show. What do I know? Maybe there's a huge fund-raising market out there among people who feel unwelcome at the smarter schools.
I realize there are people who think the SMU Temple of Bush will be good for the city because they think it will be a tourist draw. I sincerely hope they're wrong. I have visions of huge buses loaded with thousands of clones of the bushy-haired lady who got up at a McCain rally and told McCain that Obama was an Arab.
Is she the future of Dallas? Or the past?
There's another side to this. I believe we must find a way to shield ourselves from the Bush effect, but I do not believe we should take on the whole Bush legacy as our own personal hair shirt. I don't want to walk around town wearing a sandwich board that says, "I never voted for George Bush."
For one thing, there's a point of diminishing returns for those kinds of denials. Ask the Germans. For another thing, in my case, it wouldn't be true. I did vote for him for governor. Long story.
Look, we all have more positive, forward-looking and pleasant things to do. We shouldn't have to plod around barefoot and cursing the air half the time just because his motorcade went by. Life goes on. We need some kind of equanimity.
The range of options for dealing with him is fairly narrow. There is the first one I mentioned: The knee-jerk "what kind of moron are you?" response. It is behavior that might demean us, but there you have it. Life is just demeaning sometimes.
Another response is to say nothing and turn one's back. But that's sort of priggish. I don't think just living in the same town with the man calls for us to be dorks.
My mother was a clergy wife, since my father was a preacher. She had her own pragmatic means of dealing with social problems. She advised me once that the best way to deal with a person in my father's church whom I hated was to follow a plan of scrupulous avoidance, even to the point of fake fainting.
But that goes without saying. Many of us will try like hell to avoid him. I'm talking about the rare circumstance when that plan fails, and we can't get out of it.
Or we could pretend not to know who he is. He says something Bushian. "Heya, pal." We say it back. "Heya, pal."
Let's say he gets defensive about it. "Heya, pal, don't you know who I am?"
"I'm George W. Bush, the former president."
One thing haunts me. In 1978, the same year I moved to Dallas, former Nixon aide John D. Ehrlichman was released from prison and moved to Santa Fe. Back then, before the Californication of Santa Fe, it was still more of an artist colony—very lefty and anti-Nixon. Friends told me that when Ehrlichman was on his way to town, all sorts of agony and breast-beating took place over how Santa Fe should deal with the presence of this pariah in the bosom of the precious communitas.
A friend who lives there now reminded me just a couple of weeks ago. "As soon as Ehrlichman arrived in Santa Fe, everybody was competing to see who could get him to come to their cocktail party."
Tell me that's not going to happen here. Tell me we'll do better than that. For one thing, this is no John Ehrlichman.
This man is the author of the greatest assault on our civil liberties in the history of the United States. Together with Cheney, his Rasputin, he is personally responsible for enormous, unjustifiable bloodshed.
We are absolved from the requirements of social etiquette by the enormity of his deeds and failures. It doesn't mean we have to go around beating our breasts just because he's here. But this is not a person to whom we necessarily should wave and be nice.
I know that his house is not inside the area we call "the bubble," the enclave communities of University Park and Highland Park where all the rich white people moved in the 1960s to avoid integration. But spiritually and politically, it is the bubble that has beckoned him nigh. The bubble probably is the one place on Earth where he could find people who haven't yet heard anything bad about him.
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If we are unfriendly enough, maybe he will withdraw more and more to the plague castles of the bubble and to his tick farm in Crawford. That would be a good thing. By encouraging it, we would do the world a big favor.
But I may also be giving him too much credit. After the shoe incident, he said something to the effect that people tossing their shoes at him was no worse than crowds along the streets giving his motorcade the finger.
You see, that's the whole point. Don't we have an obligation to make sure he gets the message? And, if we do, doesn't that mean we have to spend the rest of our lives hurling shoes and giving the finger to a person who was once president and who now lives in our midst?
But who wants to act like that? Maybe he'll get the same message if we just stare at our shoes and mumble over and over, "Respect the office. Respect the office."