Friday, December 7, 2018

George H.W. Bush: Our Latest Aristocrat

George H.W. Bush: Our Latest Aristocrat
Peter Schultz

            For a few days now, ever since his death, I have been wondering why George H.W. Bush, although he seemed to me to be little more than a mediocrity, is being elevated into the pantheon of great presidents and American politicians. Heck, he couldn’t even win re-election against a virtual nobody from Arkansas who had dodged the draft and was admittedly guilty of adultery – depending of course on whether you think a blow job is sex or not. The outpouring of emotion for Bush was impressive if somewhat inexplicable. But then I stumbled upon the answer for this phenomenon.

            Reading The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills, I came upon the following passages: “conservatism in its classic form . . . involves some ‘natural aristocracy’ [for] in the end, such an elite is the major premise of a generally conservative ideology.” And given the importance of such an “aristocracy” to a “conservative” – read “decent” – political order, it is only to be expected that there will be “attempts to find or to invent a traditional elite for America…. [326]

            So, there it is. George H.W. Bush has become just the latest example among recurring attempts “to find or to invent a traditional elite for America.” Especially today, when a crass, real estate tycoon, unsullied by culture of any kind, is in the presidency, we the people need to think that there are “natural aristocrats” and that our society not only produces them but rewards them with the honors of our highest office. We the people desperately need to believe this because we don’t want to believe that our “best” people, those elected or appointed to our highest offices, are little more than sharp operators who know how to strike shady deals or dodge charges of sexual misconduct. We need to know and, hence, want to believe that these “aristocrats” are not manipulators who know how to arrange their own successes even at the cost of making society suffer. And given our past experiences, and recent experiences with crass, real estate tycoons or philandering draft dodgers, we the people fear these types are not aberrations but actually the product of our legitimate institutions and of our deep-seated mores.

            And why shouldn’t we be fearful given the immorality that has been and continues to be exposed, especially by those who have been most successful? We need, desperately need to believe that “Papa Bush” was a man with an inner moral sense a man with a conscience, and not just another sharp operator seeking to close shady deals.

            The thing is though it is not clear that Bush can carry this load. Looked at closely, Bush’s political career does not reveal an inner moral sense or a conscience. For example, Bush occupied by choice offices that did not require him to win the moral consent of the governed, like his time at the head of the CIA. This is definitely an office where an inner moral sense or conscience is not recommended. And if the officers of the CIA are to be believed, Bush flourished there, so much so that they named a building after him although he had served for only a short time. It would be hard to describe Bush’s campaign against Michael, and as it turned out against Kitty Dukakis as upright and honest. And Bush was intimately involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as vice president, a fact he successfully hid from the independent counsel until it was too late to matter. And of course he had to hide his involvement because the scandal involved actions by Reagan, et. al., that violated the nation’s moral sense that we ought not deal with terrorists. Reagan was practicing a low-level kind of Machiavellianism and Bush supported and participated in that project. And Bush’s pardons of Casper Weinberger and others, after he had lost the 1992 presidential election, revealed anything but an inner moral sense or conscience as those pardons ended that investigation just when it was about to reach Bush himself.

            Inner moral sense? Conscience? Hard to find with regard to “Papa Bush,” who is better described as a sharp operator who knew how to do shady deals. But because we desperately need to think we admire moral persons, we cling to our fairly tale Bush as if he were the only thing keeping us from drowning in a sea of the crassness and greed. Without this fairy tale Bush, we are stuck with Trump, not just as our president but what’s even more troubling, as the kind of person our society produces and rewards. [And it is, once again, time to re-read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.]

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