Nixon's Lip and Bush's Palsy
Stop kicking Dick Nixon around, already. The beads of sweat on his lip are on account of the flu. The five o'clock shadow is because he chose not to wear make-up. That he showed up for the first televised presidential debate "as is" should be commended, not excoriated.
Some pundits compare George Bush to Nixon. If only things were that bad. And not just for us. Judging from Bush's bizarre appearance and performance in the debates, he's not just an evil clown; he's a very sick man.
Last night was genuinely frightening.
There again was the box affixed to his back beneath his jacket. Is it a prompter? A hearing aid? A drug pump? The only hard denial from the Bush camp has been to rule out a bullet-proof vest. Otherwise, serious questions are answered with the familiar refrain of "Elvis," "aliens" and "conspiracy theories"; the off-the-rack ridicule delivered whenever they can't answer a charge.
While it's refreshing to see a story like the "box" go mainstream ("Technical Expert: Bush Was Wired"), there is so much more that hasn't, and won't. For instance, what the hell was wrong with his face?
Draw a line down the middle, and you could see two different Bushes. The left corner of his mouth was drooping egregiously, and his right eye was screwed up in a perpetual squint. He looked as though a blindfolded child had played pin-the-eyebrows-on-the-monkey.
Again, one hour into the debate, Bush's mood dramatically shifted down, as though his medication was wearing off. The manic whoops and cackles and bizarre associations were replaced by a sluggish, drowsily indifferent delivery. Simply put, he crashed.
The final debate also saw the white spitball at the right edge of his lip, resembling the classic "cotton mouth" side-effect of certain medications.
Finally, the clincher that there's nothing Elvis-like about this particular "conspiracy theory": Bush has postponed his annual physical until after the election. In 2001, 2002 and 2003, Bush had his check-up in August. What's different about this year? An election hasn't prohibited previous presidents from taking their physicals, not even Ronald Reagan.
In other words, what's Bush's problem? Because undoubtedly he has one. Has he suffered a mild stroke? Does he have seizures? (How many times must he "fall off the bike" or "choke on a pretzel" before his frequent facial abrasions sound alarm bells?) Was the left side of his face frozen to quell his smirk reflex? Could he be afflicted with pre-senile dementia?
His incompetence isn't simply "Dubya being Dubya." Watch this video, courtesy of "Bushbuzz", which contrasts his performance in 2004 with the Texas gubernatorial debate in 1994. The deterioration is striking. The Bush of ten-years ago speaks without stumbling or hems and haws. He's capable of formulating coherent arguments and is a competent debater. Something has happened in the interim, and is still happening to him.
Those who prefer Roman to Nixonian analogies have compared Bush to Caligula or Nero. Perhaps a case could be made in 2000, but both Caligula and Nero led Rome in its health; all their madness and excess could not destroy it. But even then, Bush arose to power - and could have arisen to power only - in the twilight of American Empire. The Empire isn't a Bush/Cheney creation. Let's be honest. It's been an on-the-ground reality for decades, and responsible for millions of deaths. But apart from the front lines of the latest War on Something, it presented, generally, a benign face to the world. That has markedly changed with the Bush years, perhaps because of the exegencies of oil and gas and the bubble-nature of US fiscal health. The seizure of power in 2000 afforded the neoconservative, neoliberal imperialists the opportunity to lengthen the years of American hegemony by employing the US military as an aggressive economic weapon. But as soft power is replaced by coersive, the more fragile the American Empire is revealed.
And after four years of his cheerleading the precipitous ruin of the Homeland formerly known as the United States, Bush does not deserve to be compared with even the worst Julio-Claudian.
Call him, rather, the deranged Elagabulus, the last Antonine. His reign ended in his murder, and his body was dragged through the streets and thrown, weighted, into the Tiber. The Senate ordered his name erased from history.
But Elagabulus had it in his power only to destroy Rome, and Bush doesn't care about history, since "we'll all be dead."
Let's all pray he's not really that sick.