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Behold, a child shall lead them (Read 33 times)


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Behold, a child shall lead them
Jun 28th, 2002 at 7:03pm
By William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t

American journalist Gail Sheehy once described the secret of leadership as the habit of action one develops after facing the tests of a lifetime. As a person handles whatever fate throws at them, a pattern of reaction becomes clear. It amounts to the quality of a person's integrity under the onslaught of the inevitable slings and arrows. A good leader's habit of action will carry them across rough passages. A bad leader will make those passages all the rougher. A fool will lay waste to everything with a stupid look fixed to their face.

Even at this late hour, it would be well for America to contemplate the habits of action displayed by George W. Bush. The voters will not be afforded the opportunity to make any substantial adjustments until 2004, and it must be duly noted that all the necessary data has been available for years. Yet here is the man they call the President, and on the shoulders of his rule tilts the fate of the world. What have we learned about him since the beginning of his movement through the crucible of leadership?

Bush often enjoyed touting himself as a leader in education reform before the necessities of war overcame him. He was fortunate enough to receive the opportunity to be educated at Harvard and Yale, thanks to the financial resources and powerful connections of his family. With this opportunity laid out before him, the Education President worked just hard enough to earn the C average he has since boasted of.

With Harvard MBA in hand, he went on to run a number of businesses - Arbusto, Spectrum 7, Bush Exploration and Harken - straight into the ground. It seems the business school lessons absorbed by Enron and Arthur Andersen executives were the same ones Bush doodled through during his student years. He did what they did, but on a much smaller scale. Imagine what he might have accomplished had he earned straight As?

Mr. Bush described his personal politics as being located within the precepts of something called "compassionate conservatism." As a clear definition of this has never been forthcoming, one must extrapolate the meaning of compassion by observing how Mr. Bush promulgates it in his work.

Certainly, compassion must encompass mercy. It is, therefore, a curious parsing of the word when mercy is not present. While Governor, Bush was presented with a plea for mercy from a woman on Texas' death row named Karla Faye Tucker. He refused to commute her sentence, as did former Arkansas governor Clinton when he was presented with a plea for mercy from a mentally damaged man on death row named Rickey Ray Rector.

Clinton never boasted of his decision to let Rector die, nor did he mock Rector's pleas for mercy. In an interview for Talk Magazine from August of 1999, however, Bush was more than willing to ridicule Tucker, who had aired her plea during a CNN interview. When asked by Talk to recount Tucker's plea, Bush pinched his face into a parody of tearful fear and whimpered, "Please...don't kill me." He then smiled and chuckled to himself. The humor of the situation was lost on many.

No President since FDR has been required to address the grave concerns that face Mr. Bush at this point in history. How he has dealt with current realities affords a perspective on his habits of action in this regard. After all, 3,000 American civilians and soldiers died in violence on September 11th, and thousands of Afghan civilians joined them in the aftermath. These are serious times, to say the least.

Mr. Bush has been traveling the GOP fundraising circuit in recent months. During his frequent stops, he often recalls the promise he claims to have made during the campaign: He would not allow the federal budget to slip into deficit unless and until the rise of war, recession or national emergency. After a great deal of research performed by a variety of journalists, no one has been able to pinpoint exactly when during the campaign Bush made this promise. Yet in several speeches made at these fundraisers, Bush has pointedly referred to the promise.
In horse racing, a trifecta is achieved when the bettor correctly chooses the first three horses to cross the finish line. Hitting the trifecta at the track is a most lucrative happenstance, and is considered to be extraordinarily lucky. Mr. Bush appears to have spent some time betting on the ponies, for he has parlayed war, recession and national emergency into a trifecta joke that never fails to elicit laughter from the audiences at those Republican fundraisers.

"You know, when I was running for President, in Chicago, somebody said, would you ever have deficit spending?" commented Bush at one of these fundraisers. "I said, only if we were at war, or only if we had a recession, or only if we had a national emergency. Never did I dream we'd get the trifecta." Delivered with that trademark smirk twisting his features, Mr. Bush made it clear to his audience that he was fishing for giggles, and he got them.

Bush repeated this joke fifteen different times between September of 2001 and June of 2002, using almost exactly the same language each time. Making a joke once about death, war and national catastrophe could be chalked up to nothing more than a rhetorical misfire by a man famous for mangling his scripts. Fifteen repetitions, however, makes it a standing part of his routine. The fact that this joke is used while he is asking for money makes it all the more unseemly.

Habits of action become clear after a time on this ground. When presented with the opportunity to receive an expensive education available only to a select few, Bush did just enough cross the threshold of average. When presented with business opportunities, he failed to capitalize. When presented with instances of woe and suffering, in the guise of Karla Faye Tucker and the murder of thousands of Americans, he resorted to crass jokes that fly in the face of any semblance of decency.

Bush's vision for America and this war can be shocking at times. Consider his solution for the sensation of horror that ripped through the populace after 9/11: "We need to counter the shock wave of the evildoer by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates." Delivered on October 4th, less than a month after the Towers came down, Bush saw fit to exploit the national trauma by pushing more tax cuts for companies like Enron.

Consider his delineation of America's reasoning for making war on terror: "One of the great goals of this nation's war is to restore public confidence in the airline industry, is to tell the traveling public: 'Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America's great destination spots. Go down to Disney World in Florida, take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed.'" After revelations that our intelligence services were aware of serious terrorism threats in the months before 9/11, Bush claimed that security was not elevated because of the harm it would do to the airline industry. These comments from September 27, coupled with the massive bailout he engineered for the industry, demonstrate an odd set of priorities.

Bush heralded the passage of the PATRIOT Anti- Terror Act by proclaiming, "We're an open society, but we're at war. The enemy has declared war on us and we must not let foreign enemies use the forms of liberty to destroy liberty itself." Considering the manner in which the Act burns holes through our Constitution and Bill of Rights, Mr. Bush seems to be right on course. The enemy cannot destroy our freedoms when we willingly tear them up ourselves.

Families of 9/11 victims have been rallying on the Capitol steps for an independent investigation into how and why these attacks could have possibly taken place. They seek a hard look into the inner workings of our intelligence services to ensure that nothing like 9/11 can ever happen again. These families should have listened to promises made by Mr. Bush on September 26, 2001. "In order to make sure that we're able to conduct a winning victory, we've got to have the best intelligence we can possibly have," said Bush. "And my report to the nation is we've got the best intelligence we can possibly have." It is certain such strong and truthful words will help them overcome their grief and outrage, even if no one can quite understand what a "winning victory" is.

Bush's habits of action continue to develop. There are definite patterns to be seen. One cannot entirely fault him for being unsure of what to do in a time of war. He missed a golden opportunity to learn of these things by defending his nation as a soldier. Bush was granted a slot in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam conflict, a boon delivered once again by family influence. Records indicate that he simply failed to show up for a great portion of this non-combat duty.

It is too bad. Mr. Bush might have learned a thing or two about leadership in times of conflict had he seen his obligation to the military through to completion. At least he has a sense of humor about it all. Perhaps, under his leadership, America will develop similar habits of action that allow us to find it all worthy of a joke, too.

William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. His new book, 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence,' will be published soon by Pluto Press.

: t r u t h o u t 2002

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