My new-found admiration for George W. Bush is undergoing some strain. What I have come to admire most about Bush is his implacable belief in himself. In an age where the weak-kneed and lily-livered cower and cave - here is an alpha-man. He knows who he is and doesn't need his views contaminated by newspapers, books or other tools of the Eastern establishment. And like his illustrious predecessor Richard Nixon - whose record popularity ratings he is threatening to eclipse - he has been a staunch resister of the effete habit of apologizing and expressing regret and sorrow.
As Nixon memorably told his own version of Scott McClellan - the hapless Ron Ziegler - "Contrition is Brit." Or something like that...
So no one was remotely surprised when Prime Minister Tony Blair - who after 9 years has proved himself to be a total Brit - slithered into qualified apology and concession mode. The usual politicians' non-apology apology. "We could have done the de-Ba'athification in a... in a more differentiated way than we did."
Sure - and I could have done my flunked school examinations, my failed marriage and my selection of the wrong Super-Lotto numbers 'in a more differentiated way than I did"...
But to my surprise and disappointment George Bush had preceded his fit-to-be-red-tied pal Blair down the same path:
"I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner..."
Well that's a little bit scary. Who wants a more sophisticated Bush? And how recently did he learn these lessons? "Expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner." Say what?! Using better syntax than Jed Clampett? Surely not possible.
But it was the next sentence that made me wince and wonder if he has been spending too much time with Blair or that other serial-apologizer - Bill Clinton."... you know 'Wanted: Dead or Alive' - that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted..."
Well that sent me scurrying back to the original quote. What exactly DID George Bush say about "Wanted: Dead or Alive"? Was any part of it open to misinterpretation? And in what parts of the world WAS it misinterpreted?
Here's the full quote. Given in the Oval Office just 6 days after 9/11. On Monday September 17th 2001.
"I want justice. And there's an old poster out West that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive'. We are going to find those evil-doers, those barbaric people who attacked our country, and we're going to hold them accountable..."
Well first off - can we not give Bush SOME credit for this tough language? "Evil-doers" and "barbaric people." Surely we'd acknowledge that this was an improvement over his very first statement on 9/11 in Florida:"We're going to find the folks that did this..."
I do recall being baffled that the perpetrators of what was immediately evident to have been the most horrific attack on the US since Pearl Harbor - were being described in terms that suggested a pick-up truck-load of delinquent hillbillies with bib-fronted dungarees and corn-cob pipes would soon enough be under lock and key in the ol' hoosegow.
So that was definitely a step in the right direction. Thank the Lord we had a REAL sheriff running the town! Imagine if that white-flag-waving Al Gore had been President during 9/11? As Bill Maher shrewdly observed - there's no doubt that we would all now be wandering around in burkahs reading the Koran.
Of course the specific people who "attacked our country" had all perished in the attack - but he clearly meant the masterminds. The ones he'd read about in that CIA briefing paper "Bin Laden Determined To Attack In The US" on August 6th 2001 amongst his light summer vacation reading.
Incidentally - the criticism of Bush for not having done anything about that document is SO unfair. I mean if you've got a stack of Sidney Sheldon, Tom Clancy, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steele and Deepak Chopra paperbacks to wade through in a scant six weeks of vacation - you CANNOT seriously expect a man to take note of every little detail that some spook has scribbled in a briefing paper.
But the words referring to the "out West" poster WERE unusual...I do recall being somewhat puzzled at the time. "There's an old poster out West..."? WHERE is this poster? "Out WEST"? When did Bush live "out West"? In fact when was the last time that they had such posters "out West"? I have lived "out West" for nearly 20 years and I've never seen such a poster. Though - come to think of it - there ARE a few "Wanted!" posters in the local Post Office - but the last ones I remember seeing had photographs of all George Bush's buddies on them - Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. Surely he can't have been alluding to those...
But maybe we are - as usual - 'misunderestimating' this man. He is deeper than we imagine. Perhaps like Shirley MacLaine he has lived previous lives. Perhaps he was a ranch hand in the 1850s and actually recalls seeing "Wanted!" posters for Jesse James?
Or maybe he was remembering the music video for Bon Jovi's hit "Wanted Dead Or Alive" that was so popular in 1985 - when he was still in what he has described as his "irresponsible youth" (a timeless Dick Clark-like eon that lasted until his early 40s. Would that we could all have had an extended childhood of that duration!)
Perhaps there are clues for us in Bon Jovi's song? A 'subliminable' message that was being sent to Osama bin Laden who Bush KNEW would be listening to his copy of the "Slippery When Wet" album on one of those Sony Walkmans that the CIA supplied to the Mujahideen as part of the essential freedom-fighter supply kit in the 80s. Back when Osama bin Laden was one of our FRIENDS.
"I'm a cowboy - on a steel horse I rideI'm Wanted - Dead or AliveWanted - Dead or Alive"
Nope... nothing special there. Let's try a verse...
"Sometimes you tell the dayBy the bottle that you drinkAnd times when you're all alone All you do is think..."
Wow... Who KNEW that Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora were that profound? No wonder Bush got off the sauce... No wonder Cher got off Richie Sambora...
On the other hand - maybe that's just TOO obvious... Maybe Bush WASN'T alluding to Bon Jovi after all. Perhaps he was making reference to that New Wave 80s band from England named "Dead Or Alive." The one fronted by that gender-bender singer with the billowing pirate shirt and eye patch. How did their big hit go?
"You spin me right 'round, babyRight 'round like a record, babyRight 'round, 'round, 'round..."
Hmmm... maybe the first verse will shed some light?
"If I get to know your nameWell, if I could trace your private number baby..."
BINGO!!!! It's a CLEAR signal to bin Laden that there will be surveillance equipment utilized to track down Osama's cell phone number! And that the full weight of the NSA will be deployed on tracking down phone calls made to him from Anytown USA.
Not only was he sending an "I'm getting tough" signal to Mr. Big - but he was also invoking FISA! So much for all those bleeding-heart liberals whinging and whining about riding rough-shod over the constitution. Come on - get with the program! It's all in the lyrics! (I think that Alberto Gonzalez should cite this next time he is cross-examined on the topic. It's certainly no less plausible than his other excuses why the eavesdropping program doesn't break the law.)
So - I really don't see why Bush felt compelled to regard his "Wanted Dead Or Alive" statement as an excess that he had to apologize for or regret.
Unless of course he's just looking for a way to send his poll-numbers soaring back up into the low 30's...
Hang tough Mr. President! Keep spinning us right 'round baby! Right 'round like a record, baby. Right 'round, 'round, 'round...