“[Bush’s] face seems to be involved in a somewhat painful, quasi-involuntary struggle to prevent itself from erupting into a broad, self-satisfied smile... a what-me-worry?”
- The New Yorker's Joe Klein
In a recent Associated Press photograph, President Bush flashes his “what-me-worry?” smile at the camera while shaking the hand of Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha. Abu Risha is not smiling, by the way. He is deadly earnest... or worried... or scared.
For the ex-Texas Ranger front man and glad hander, it was just another photo-op — one of the thousands he’s posed for and walked away from and forgotten about since 2001. For the sheik, it was a death warrant — a specialty of the ex-Texas Ranger and governor. But because of pressing business elsewhere in Iraq the Reaper was a short while in arriving.
Abu Risha, a Sunni Arab tribal leader and one of the Bush/Cheney administration’s highest profile allies, was killed by a roadside car bomb planted 150 feet from his home ten days after Bush smiled for the camera and shook his hand.
Commenting on the sheik’s assassination, Bush pledged to continue supporting anti-insurgent efforts in the Anbar province, an area he called “a good example of how our strategy is working” in Iraq. Abu Risha’s home is in Anbar. Enough said.
On May 1, 2003 the Commander in Chief, in the co-pilot seat of Navy One, landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Before standing beneath a banner which read “Mission Accomplished” to announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq, the ex-Texas Ranger glad hander spent his time shaking the hands and slapping the backs of young men and women who were engaged in the deadly business of war.
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In an official White House photograph, the president is seen smiling in the midst of orange-clad members of the carrier’s crew. For Bush, his flight-suit charade on the Abraham Lincoln was just another photo-op. For U.S. military personnel and the Iraqi people it was a death warrant.
By the end of “major combat operations,” 139 Americans and thousands of Iraqis had been killed. In the years since Bush flew away from the “Mission Accomplished” photo-op, an additional 3,637 Americans have died along with possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — too many of them Iraqi children... all of them someone’s child.
By any unblinkered account, George W. Bush’s natural endowments are best described as mediocre, considering the pack he runs with. He failed at, or was bailed out of, every scheme he tried his hand at save two... renting his Texas-sized smile and his “ah shucks” charisma to a major league baseball team and a political party. In both cases, he’s sat in a box seat behind home plate while the game has been played for his pleasure — and apparent amusement — and for that of his bosses and invited guests.
Here’s the major rub. Being the president of the United States, currently the most influential nation on Earth, a nation with the might and resources to be either bully or benefactor, is not a sport, neither is it a party — political or frat house or whatever. It is a responsibility so grave that it’s hard to imagine a smile gracing the face of any sitting president who truly understands the gravity of their position. I’ve yet to see a picture of Abraham Lincoln with a “what-me-worry?” smile. He understood. George W. Bush never will.
Predictably though, Bush will walk away from his job of putting a happy frat boy face on neocon ideology and corporate conservatism and he will walk away — if not run — from the Iraq War and the blood on his hands as if they were no more than the dry oil wells he abandoned in Texas. He will begin a new career renting his smile and his ghostwritten “ah-shucks” speeches to any fundamentalist mega-church or right wing organization willing to meet his price.
Keep in mind that Bush will have had eight years at taxpayer expense and sacrifice and sorrow to perfect his shtick. He will be a pricy jester according Texas writer Robert Draper who asked him about life after leaving office, “I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers. I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75 thousand dollars a speech... ” And he will not doubt smile his Texas-sized grin as he swaggers his way to the bank.
Keep in mind also the tens of thousands of wounded U.S. Iraqi War veterans who are not so much concerned with beginning a second career as they are with surviving one day to the next with whatever they have left of their bodies and minds. Be assured that their smiles, if there are many, will not be of the “what-me-worry?” variety made famous by their glad handing chicken-hawk Commander in Chief.
There may yet be a way to wipe the Texas-sized “what-me-worry?” smile off the mug of the Glad-hander in Chief. That would be impeachment. That would be justice. That would be something for the rest of us to smile about.
Robert Weitzel is a freelance writer whose essays appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI. He has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Skeptic Magazine, and Freethought Today. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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