Laugh or scream, you tell me which. I don't know what to do as I watch Southern Methodist University and the city of Dallas drift inexorably toward the Niagara of All Humiliation that will be the George W. Bush Presidential Library at SMU. The Dallas Morning News editorial page today offers a long lead editorial full of smuggly-puggly finger-wagging at a coalition of Methodist clergy and academics opposed to the library:
Certainly, a Bush library, museum and policy institute would "create and impart knowledge that will shape citizens." How could it not add to the university's desire to be a "leading private institution of higher learning that expands knowledge through research and teaching"?
Most importantly, it would reinforce that SMU is "dedicated to the values of academic freedom and open inquiry."
No. It certainly will not. See, the secret here, dear Snooze, is that George W. Bush is not tantamount, as your editorial goes on to propose, to LBJ. Sure, LBJ screwed up on Vietnam and was drubbed for it. But he was also the great champion of national racial integration and father of most of the Great Society programs still keeping our elderly parents indoors and alive.
Here's how it goes with Bush. The Iraqis, probably led by our "ally," Al Maliki, bomb the snot out of the Green Zone. Our troops, whom Bush has pushed out into free-fire zone as human sacrifices to his ego, come home running. If there's time left in his term, Bush is impeached.
Then Dallas gets his library. For an excellent description of what failed leaders do with their own monuments, see a May 29, 2005 piece in the (London) Observer by architecture critic Deyan Sudjic, "TOWERING EGOS: From Hitler's vision of a new Berlin to Tony Blair's Dome and Michael Eisner's EuroDisney, tyrants, kings and tycoons have erected grand monuments to their own vanity."
Sudjic makes the point, salient here, that failed and crazy leaders really love architecture: "Building is the means by which the egotism of the individual is expressed in its most naked form -- the Edifice Complex," he writes.
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An excerpt from his piece:
It is uncomfortable, to say the least, for architecture enthusiasts -- and I'm certainly one -- to find that Hitler chose as his companions for his only visit to Paris, not the army high command, or party leadership, but two architects, Albert Speer and Hermann Giesler, as well as Arno Breker, the Nazi sculptor-in-chief. It was as if George W Bush were to tour Baghdad with Frank Gehry and Jeff Koons. And Hitler's hours spent with Speer and their 100ft-long model of the Berlin that they wanted to build are certainly enough to make you reconsider the apparently innocent charm of the architectural model.
Hitler's trip to Paris is captured in one of the 20th century's most unforgettable photographs, taken on the steps of Les Invalides. Hitler is in the centre, of course, wearing a long white overcoat. Everybody else is dressed from head to foot in black, an eerie precursor of the universal taste for Comme des Garcons suits among architects in the early years of the 21st century. Here is the leader surrounded by his acolytes, the great architect ready to redesign the world.
The Morning News editorial page's notion that this president's library can be some kind of high-minded forum is a pathetic self-delusion, an ugly joke and a monstrous lie. What Dallas and SMU will get from George W. will be a huge neon phallus, lit by lasers, intended to deflect attention from what history is about to do to his real one. And to us.
Oh, won't we be proud. --Jim Schutze