Saturday, August 11, 2012

Remembrance of Prez Past

I have a friend who, every day on Facebook, posts the names of the latest servicemen and women who've died in Afghanistan. It's a depressing reminder of what's still going on, more than a decade after 9/11, and while I hate seeing the names, I'm glad he does it. I need the reminder of what our foreign policies mean for American military families. I know, also, that our lists will never include the names of the hundreds of thousands of civilian dead in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I think about former president George W. Bush from time to time. I thought of him especially when Bin Laden was killed, and wondered about what he thought and felt about it. I disagreed with Bush's policies almost across the board. And yet I've found myself, since he left office, occasionally wondering if he stays up thinking about his legacy, whether he now has any doubts about how he handled things during his presidency. He faced crises during his term in office that no one could have been adequately prepared for, and yet he always projected such certainty.

(I go back and forth about whether such utter certainty about deeply complicated issues is a good thing. When I see people driving around with bumper stickers passionately advocating scores of strong opinions, I sometimes feel woozy. Occasionally I think of creating a bumper sticker that reads, I have some opinions, but I may be wrong. I doubt it would have much of a market in a world where people have passionate opinions about everything from foreign affairs to boxers-vs.-briefs, and are willing to yell at each other on the Internet about them.)

Still, with less than three months left until the next election, I keep thinking about the potential consequences of electing a man who's unprepared for the insane complexities of domestic and international policymaking, who's not an idea man, who's not comfortable being a global citizen as well as an American. And about how many lives can be affected by the decisions made at those levels.

I don't think Romney is Bush. And I don't think Obama is perfect by a long shot (among other issues, I find the drone strike issue really troubling). But Romney's apparent glibness reminds me a bit of W. Glibness is a scary quality in the leader of the free world. After keeping a reasonably regular eye on the campaign for months, I still have no idea who Romney really is, what he believes and what he's merely saying to be electable, or how he would actually govern. The issues Bush expected to handle during his presidency were not those he ended up with. How might Romney deal with a terrorist attack, or a massive natural disaster like Katrina? Some of his campaign's recent targeting of welfare recipients and apparent cluelessness about the realities faced by those living in chronic poverty make me worry he could make "Heckuva job Brownie" seem sensitive by comparison. But I'll cop to the distinct possibility that I'm just unfairly suspicious of the super-rich.

(By the way, in looking for a Bush jogging shot, I found it here, accompanying an old piece from the White House in 2007. Bush got a lot of smack about his comic tendency to misspeak -- "nuculerr," "fool me once," etc. -- and smart, humane, responsible policies are more important than being an inspiring speaker. Still, it gave me a little "oy" moment here seeing that Bush, in addressing the press corps during this photo op, initially got the name of one of these wounded veterans wrong.)


Elegy for a Failed Statesman

Every time he lifted his pen,
blood and treasure ran down his leg,
soaking his sock.

Prime ministers and sheiks covered their smirks
hearing his foot squelch
as he strode grinning
into rooms
more serious than he was,

rooms sealed and reinforced with steel,
hung with gilt-framed glowering portraits
of patriots, their scalps
sweating under powdered wigs.

He did what he could:

When towers fell, he grabbed a bullhorn.
When rains came,
he flew over the coast frowning,
to show how much
he disapproved of weather.

Healthy, he jogged for miles
over marble
inscribed with names of the dead,
his lips sliding easily
over his teeth.

He had ideas
for how the world should change,
and sat at his huge desk humming,

stitching them
onto a veil thin as sand
that kept tearing
at the dull prick of his needle.