Let me start by saying I'm no fan of President Bush. From the election from hell in 2000 through two terms that went from disappointing to frightening, I've had an on-going headache that's only now beginning to lift, with the approaching inauguration of his successor. I've got a Countdown Calendar on my wall. I've regularly used Molly Ivins' terms - first Shrub, then Twig.
But I've had an epiphany. And I've stopped making fun of the president. And now my tolerance of political satire is at zero. While I know that satire is what political comics do, I think I've had enough. And here's why.
I was watching David Letterman a few weeks ago. He has a bit he calls "Great Moments in Presidential Speaking." He has clips of presidents known for their speaking skills - JFK, Reagan, even Eisenhower - and then he juxtaposes them with President Bush, and of course it's an easy laugh because George Bush will never be remembered for his oratorical skills.
So this particular evening, I see JFK declare "Ich bin ein Berliner," and Ike speaking about the military-industrial complex, and then Bush comes into a room and greets a group of people, presumably reporters, who are standing in front of a bank of microphones. Bush takes his place behind the mikes, smiles at the group of people, and invites them to be seated. What follows broke my heart. It apparently occurred to him only then that there were no chairs and there was no place for the people to sit. The look on his face seemed to say, "Damn. I stepped in it again." It was at that moment that I stopped laughing at George Bush.
I think his story is our country's latest national tragedy, a man of no towering intellect, who presumed to hold the most powerful office in the world, wanting only to impress his father and never quite succeeding. I may not like his politics. Change that: I do not like his politics, nor the people who have surrounded and influenced him. They have produced a handful of crises, any one of which would have sounded the death knell to any hope of a positive legacy. But this is a profoundly flawed man who consistently fails, and no one has the right to point a finger and laugh at someone who fails, since none of us would have done any better in his shoes.
Further, he has the great misfortune to be followed in office by a rock star, someone who has inspired the imagination of the entire world. While the Obamas do not exhibit the glamor of the Kennedys, they are so very different from the Bushes. And I'm watching the clip of the two men walking to the Oval Office for their first meeting, and I can't help but smile at the sight of the young, energetic incoming president, walking with easy grace toward his future office.
I might have wondered what was going through Bush's mind at that time. But as I watched the clip being re-aired on the Daily Show, I hear Jon Stewart doing what he does best - poke fun. But a point came when it wasn't funny. Stewart made the point of the "young, healthy Black man, striding down the corridor, next to the short, aging [excuse me?] little white man." It wasn't funny.
My reaction surprises me. I have laughed as loudly as anyone at the humor that has helped get us through the past eight years. Maybe knowing those eight years are nearly at an end is helping me stop laughing - I don't need to cope anymore because, uh, change is coming. But I really think it's more than that. We've been unfair to Bush. There's nothing wrong with attacking a man's choices and his political style. But we continue to hit below the belt when we satirize George Bush, and I hope it stops soon.