June 15, 2007
No Other Besides Him
(click for fuller size)
What if Bush had possessed more weight and substance? What if he had actually been equipped to handle 9/11? What if he hadn't submitted to the war mania of Cheney and the neocons? What if Rice had had the bearing and the "vision-thing" to steer Bush on a more tempered and mindful path? What if "Compassionate Conservatism" hadn't been a total line?
Then, and only then, would these VF fantasies (the one above, and the "what might have been" cover with Bush and Rice) have had any legitimacy in the latest Vanity Fair/Bono/Leibovitz "20 cover" Africa chain.
We at Vanity Fair didn't think there could be a silver lining to the Bush administration, but perhaps it is, of all things, President George W. Bush's work for Africa. As the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development—an independent monitor of global spending—reports, the U.S. has quadrupled aid to the continent over the last six years. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush pledged $15 billion to fight AIDS primarily in Africa, and two years later pledged a $1.2 billion initiative to fight malaria in the 15 African countries hardest hit by the disease.
The fact that Desmond Tutu has to close his eyes to pose with Bush, and the fact it takes someone of Leibovitz's skill to fabricate Bush as having the capacity for an honestly committed and contemplative mood (body and facial tension not withstanding) makes this cover seem more like the act of apologists.
Seven years in, with all the damage done, if this is a great portrait, it's because Leibovitz captures the blind, perpetual, knee-jerk tendency, in looking at Bush, to imagine some kind of silver lining. (Annie, by the way, is the same person who brought us this.)
I welcome your thoughts on this shot, the Bush/Rice cover, and the overall series.
VF Africa issue TOC
(images: Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair. July 2007. vanityfair.com)