April 2, 2006
This is one of the most significant pictures of Bush I’ve seen in years.
The shot, featuring “W,” Mexican President Vicente Fox and new Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was taken last Thursday at the Mexican Mayan and Toltec ruins of Chichen Itza.
So, what’s the big deal?
Well, this is one of the few times I’ve actually seen Bush look comfortable in his own skin.
Having worked at several colleges and graduate schools as a clinical psychologist, I’m very familiar with the psychological dynamics of a four year term. (It’s still basically the same, even if Bush had to go back and repeat four years.) To overgeneralize, the cycle is characterized by awe and intimidation in the early phase; a rather robust sense of entitlement in the middle to later phase; and then a fairly dramatic humbling, often marked by some regression as graduation approaches.
Not that he won’t be struttin’ again on Monday, but amid the ruins, Bush had the post-entitlement look of a little boy. Or, more pertinent to the cycle, he looked like a de-fanged old man. (Actually, his old man.)
Bottom line, Bush is showing up where he started. Coming into office, his one big idea was to tackle “the immigration thing.” Which made sense, because the world for him was basically just the U.S. and Mexico. (Clearly, George has never been that ambitious a guy. If he’s spent most of his presidency in a state of panic, it’s because Rove craves the grandeur. Sadly, Bush never saw through the projection.)
But perhaps this trip has been a small watershed for Bush. For a day, at least, maybe he realized he could show up for work, and not have to act like somebody he’s supposed to be. And when you tone down the paranoia, and the sharp edges, what comes through is a truer physiognomy.
Not only that. In the absence of the shaky legs, the darting eyes, and the myriad other physical symptoms, this image speaks to another Bush pathology: the completely manic relationship to time.
How else could one explain Bush’s proximity to a historical monument lasting longer than an inhalation? As James Gerstenzang points out in this almost whimsical piece in the LAT, Bush went to St. Petersburg but raced through the Hermitage. He skipped the Colosseum in Rome, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and the Taj Mahal in India. In China, he did the Great Wall in half an hour.
But graduation approaching, Bush showed up dressed like his CEO brother from across the border, got his picture taken without having to be front and center, and otherwise let down his hair (or actually, his gut).
And oh yeah, he also took in something of Chichen Itza.
(image: James Reed/Reuters. The New York Times. March 31, 2006. p.A1)