Oliver Stone’s W., an unauthorized biopic of President George W. Bush, saddles into theaters tomorrow, presumably to much acclamation and derision along all points of the political arc. I have not yet seen the film, so I cannot in good faith say anything about its content. But I do have a word or two to say about its subject, the 43rd president of the United States.
For the last year and a half ‘-‘- his ‘lame duck’ period ‘-‘- Bush has struck me as one of the most boring presidents in the history of the United States. Granted, virtually all modern two-term commanders-in-chief have spent their twilight years in office either running out of gas or getting into major legal trouble: Bill Clinton was impeached, Ronald Reagan faced Iran-Contra charges and Richard Nixon was drowned out by Watergate. But Bush belongs in a category all his own. He has been a boring president, and a boring person, more or less his entire stint in the national spotlight.
To be sure, the Bush presidency has been defined by controversy and intrigue that Clinton could only dream of, by ideology and actions that historians will deconstruct and analyze for years to come. The Bush Doctrine ‘-‘- which guarantees that the United States will take a vested interest in the slightest disturbance overseas, so long as it somehow affects us ‘-‘- will drive the course of world history long after the Bush family returns to Crawford, TX., on Jan. 20, 2009.’
George W. Bush is a boring president because he achieved all of the above without the slightest intellectual curiosity.
Say what you will about Ronald Reagan, but he campaigned in 1980 on a platform of ‘government is the problem, not the solution,’ and by God did he try to lead that way (with varying rates of success). Bush, by dramatic contrast, ran against Al Gore in 2000 by deriding ‘nation building,’ saying he would conduct a ‘humble foreign policy.’ When push came to shove, he did not merely ignore his promise; he pummeled it with a sledgehammer.’
The explanation for how this man could totally change his world view within a year of entering office, it seems to me, is simply because he didn’t have a world view to begin with ‘-‘- or at least one strong enough to resist prodding from the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld. Bush would have you believe ‘9/11 changed everything,’ but that platitude has since been proved false in more ways than we can count. Iraq was a target by this administration long before 19 terrorists with box cutters breached the security apparatus at Logan, Dulles and Newark Airports.
Bush’s antipathy toward personal growth cannot be overstated. When he was first told that Iraq was divided into two sects, Sunnis and Shiites, he reportedly responded, ‘I thought they were all Muslims.’ Asked at a news conference to name his biggest mistake as president and lessons learned, he couldn’t think of a thing.’ When his chief of staff whispered into his ear, ‘A second plane hit the World Trade Center; America is under attack,’ he sat still and did nothing for twice the length of the guitar solo in ‘Free Bird.’ These days, whenever he expresses his confidence about the bad world economy, no one believes a word he says.
Oliver Stone is an important filmmaker, responsible for some of the most penetrating looks into the American character in the last 25 years (Platoon, Wall Street and JFK come to mind). Why is he wasting his time on this shallow and uninterested buffoon?’
Stone’s 1995 tour-de-force, Nixon, his last biopic of a political figure, was a brilliant and complex movie precisely because its subject, President Richard M. Nixon, was a brilliant and complex man who could effortlessly be made into a tragic Shakespearian figure. As the critic Roger Ebert aptly wrote upon its release, ‘Nixon would be a great film even if there had been no Richard Nixon.’ I defy anyone to imagine that sentence replacing ‘Richard Nixon’ with ‘George W. Bush.’
Perhaps we are too close to the real thing to judge properly. As Bush likes to say, history will register the ultimate verdict on his presidency, and he’s right. After all, Stone made Nixon 20 years after Nixon left office, giving us some breathing space from which to absorb the full picture and appreciate the totality of the man. For all we know, history could be very kind to ol’ Dubya after all.
More likely, however, Bush proves that sometimes a dummy is just a dummy, and that bad decisions are a natural consequence of being a stubborn and incurious nitwit.’ In an American meritocracy ‘-‘- which we should always aspire to be ‘-‘- such a man is not worthy of the highest office in the land, and certainly not the attention of an Oliver Stone production.
Dan Seliber, a junior in the College of Communication, is a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.