Sunday, December 14, 2008

If the Shoe Flits, Bear It

George W. Bush, who dodged the draft in his youth by copping an appointment to the Texas Air National Guard and who dodged fulfilling his obligations to that very same branch of our armed services, successfully dodged not one, but two, shoes thrown at him during a press conference with Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, today on his latest - and likely last - unannounced trip to Baghdad. President Bush may not be an artful dodger, but he's a damn good one in anybody's estimation.

Now, I, for one, am glad that Bush was not struck by the flying footwear. And, honestly, I would never endorse or approve of an attack on his person. Although I may want to see the guy charged with violations of national or international laws, and, if found guilty thereof, sent to prison, I do not want to see him hurt. Mr. Bush's actions as president of the United States these past eight years have only served to consolidate my belief that violence in the pursuit of political objectives is, more often than not, ineffective and usually morally repugnant.

There was, though, something about the incident in Baghdad today that so aptly captures the obtuseness of our 43rd president that it bears noting.

Bush's attacker, an Iraqi journalist named Muntader al-Zaidi, is reported to have shouted as he threw the first shoe, “this is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” and to have shouted, "this is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” as he threw the second.

Bush acquitted himself with poise during and immediately following the attack. Having ducked the first shoe, he did not cower, but rose from behind the podium, I assume, to address his assailant, seeming more interested in conversation than in his personal safety. When the shoes stopped flying he joked about the situation, which, I believe, was an appropriate way to try to defuse the tension in the room and to get on with the briefing.

But what was, sad to say, unsurprising was the president's response to a reporter who later asked him about the incident. Perhaps Bush did not have the opportunity to have Mr. al-Zaidi's words translated from the Arabic, but he should, nonetheless, have had a hunch as to what the ruckus was all about. Apparently that was not the case. Here were his speculations concerning his attacker's motives.
It's one way to gain attention. It's like going to a political rally and having people yell at you ... It's a way for people to draw attention. I don't know what this guy's cause is.
In other words, for George Bush having shoes thrown at you by an Iraqi journalist in Baghdad is not unlike enduring political protests in this country in that such things are not motivated by a substantive cause - that is to say ideas and concerns that merit consideration - but, instead, by a misguided need for attention.

In the Bush universe opponents are either evil doers or wayward political adolescents, people who haven't yet seen the light. Villains are to be crushed and misbehaving children are to be ignored.

The telling thing about Bush's take on the attack on him today is that it so acutely reflects his signature lack of intellectual curiosity. Not only does he inhabit an institutional bubble that protects him from threatening ideas in newspapers, for example, he also lives in a personal bubble that blinds him to the motivations and concerns of people with whom he does not agree.

Hundreds of thousands of war dead and wounded - not to mention millions of displaced Iraqis - and he still can't fathom why anyone should hold a grudge. It's almost enough to make me want to throw a shoe at him myself.
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