Monday, May 12, 2008

An American Experience: Lauren, Heidi & George H.W. Bush

Last night I fell into watching a really important show. It was called something like "The Hills: Stuff you've never seen." Since I'd never seen the actual show, but have read about Heidi and Lauren (boob job, sex tape respectively, I believe) on the covers of magazines, I was a little curious about what hadn't been seen. And apparently what hadn't been seen was a lot of drinking and crying and groping and fighting. Apparently, some pretty smart sounding people take their jobs creating a "reality" show around people being miked and taped (and scripted?) pretty seriously. What that says about reality, I just can't say.

Anyway, I started surfing during a commercial break and landed on a PBS show about George H.W. Bush. Weirdly fascinating.

Bush seems to have had an outsized sense of loyalty to his Presidents, country and the potential for his own political power. Much of this is admirable (you make some money, you serve your country), and much of it is profoundly cynical (e.g., his willingness to build the Texas Republican party and his own political footprint with white Democrats angered by Civil Rights). But honestly, it's all hard to figure out what I think of Bush because the veil of my own political opinions is so thick. I feel downright icky saying I think George H.W. Bush was not so bad all the time. And then there's the means-ends problem.

For example, while watching the show, I wanted to like the Bush who voted for the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and faced death threats for it. But I couldn't forget that he faced those threats because he had cultivated the votes of those opposed to Civil Rights in the first place.

Then there's the ickiness-means-end matrix. Because in this political climate it can be impossible to remember that reasonable people can disagree reasonably and the body politic is better for it. It's like I've forgotten that a Democrat and Republican can sit down to a meal and debate and walk away and not feel like the other person is a bad human being, but just someone with whom each disagrees.

I can think 41 is not so bad and that's not the end of the world. Except when I think he's willing to compromise too much and that's bad. I can't tell if my standards are the same all around, though. Because let's face it, nobody's perfect, and yet imperfection in the service of one's own goals and ideals is somewhat palatable, or at least sympathetic or understandable. Isn't this what we struggle with when faced with both Clintons? Imperfect choices when it comes to means when the ends are on the other side? That's some seriously bad stuff. (Witness John McCain's ethics problem. Would I feel the same way about them if he wouldn't pack the Supreme Court with as many more Alitos as he could possibly find? I think so, but I can't be sure.)

That Lauren, Heidi, Spence and Justin led me down a path to George H.W. Bush seems particularly appropriate -- the truest of American Experiences, right? Pop culture flows into political culture, and we can then examine what incites our passions. What's right, what's wrong, when do you draw the line? It gets all muddled up pretty quickly. A little like this post.
Coffee anyone?


Roni said...

I think it's fair to suspect that W is a decent man in private life. But as president, he's one of the worst this country has ever seen. Abusing executive privilege, disregarding pre-9/11 intelligence, waging a war and occupation of Iraq that financially benefits mercenaries and other corporations who have privatized the military, weaking civil liberties in the name of national security, the smearing of John McCain in South Carolina in 2000 in order to win the goes on and on.

Where do I draw the line? I draw the line when the president gets contributions and political support from CEOs who get bonuses for shipping jobs overseas where there are no OSHA protections. I draw the line when W's presidential libary will be fully funded when libraries in my city are not. I draw the line when all that makes this country great--an affordable college education; quality medical care irregardless of ability to pay; the most stable infrastructure in the world--are dismantled piece by piece by a man whose ideology is shrouded under the seemingless harmless goal of "small government."

Let's transcend partisanship, but let's not get fooled into thinking that bi-partisanship is the end goal. I draw the line at rebuilding the country.

Robin Aronson said...

Clarification: I meant George Senior. (HW) NOT the current president (W).

I suspect that George Jr. is amiable in his private life but not a decent man. As you've pointed out, he's made too many awful decisions and has refused to revisit them and has adopted some of the worst tactics in our history. His father is a more complicated case. But I'm more willing to grant that he at least grapples with difficult questions, the son just takes the thoughtless way out.....

roni said...

Well now I feel silly for not seeing the "H" in the initials in your post. :)

Robin Aronson said...

Don't feel silly! But I have to admit, I was panicked! I was like, oh no! Roni thinks I think it's OK to be, like, a torturer!