When presented with evidence that George Bush doesn’t have our best interests at heart, many in the middle- and working-classes balk. “But he’s down-to-earth and shares our values,” we protest as we dissolve into textbook cases of cognitive dissonance. Following the script of the concept’s originator, psychologist Leon Festinger, we cope with the conflicting messages by falling back on our first impression.
However, the fact remains: Since he was governor of Texas, all George Bush has done is toss regular folk the occasional sop while doling out favors to his wealthy compatriots. He must have slept through civics class the day the teacher explained that a public servant serves the public.
If not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, might George Bush have been more sensitive to our needs? With the populist demagogue an American tradition, there’s no guarantee. It’s not hard imagining, though, that his life would have taken a different turn if he had not been the great-grandson of a business magnate, the grandson of a senator and the son of a president -- if, instead of the chosen one, he had been born Ordinary George.
The grooming of Chosen George began at Andover’s Phillips Academy, though, as evidenced by the Confederate flag he hung in his dorm room, he was scarcely academic material. Meanwhile, Ordinary George attended Midland, Texas High School. Then the red carpet to Yale was rolled out for Chosen George, who showed his worthiness by tearing down a goal post after Yale beat Princeton.
At a home game, that’s celebrating. But since Yale’s victory was at Princeton, it was destruction of property. The decision to drop the charges coincided with his father’s recent election to Congress. Ordinary George, who enrolled at West Texas A&M, pulled a prank too. Before a game against Texas A&M-Kingsville, he and a pal snuck off with the javelina that served as their mascot. Not only did the spooked razorback defecate all over the bed of his pickup truck, Ordinary George was arrested and fined.
Chosen George was inducted into Skull and Bones. Ordinary George worked summers as a gravedigger. After graduation, unable to obtain a white-collar job in the poor '70s economy, he took a job as an oil-field roughneck. Chosen George leapfrogged a long waiting list into the National Guard. Ordinary George, who drew a low number in the draft lottery, accidentally on purpose got his hand caught in a winch and failed his draft physical.
Then the lives of Chosen and Ordinary George dovetailed. Chosen George had no oil experience, but, like every kid from Midland, knew enough terminology to fake it. Both he and Ordinary George, marginally more versed in the field, frequented the Midland County courthouse, where they researched land titles and mineral (oil) rights for concerns seeking leases in Texas’s Permian Basin.
Both, in Chosen George’s words, “pit bull[s] on the pant leg of opportunity,” they borrowed money and began dealing leases and mineral rights. Soon, they’d generated enough income to hire geologists and secretaries.
But their paths diverged again as Chosen George found backers like National Guard buddy James Bath, who allegedly made his fortune investing for the likes of bin Laden family patriarch, Sheikh bin Laden. Under the company name, Arbusto, he drilled for oil. Ordinary George, after borrowing more money, called his company Congusto and followed suit.
With Texas oil tapping out, however, Arbusto would have gone under if, in an obvious attempt to capitalize on the Bush family name, Harken Energy hadn’t bought it out. The country of Bahrain also sought to curry favor with Chosen George’s father, now president, when it hired Harken - a coup for a small company lacking international experience - to explore its offshore holdings.
However, when the threat of Iraqi aggression toward Kuwait cast a pall over the Persian Gulf business environment, Chosen George unloaded sixty percent of his Harken stock for a profit of $848,560. After an investigation by the SEC, whose chairman was an appointee of Bush Senior, no insider trading charges were filed. Unlike his father who made his fortune in oil, Chosen George made his from a stock bailout.
Lacking benefactors, Ordinary George raided the Congusto pension fund. When his company went under, he figured why not make a soft landing in politics? Chosen George announced his bid for governor; Ordinary George threw his hat in the ring for state senate.
Winning points with the regular folk thanks to his oil rig-mangled hand, Ordinary George ran as a Democrat. However, his campaign paralleled that of Republican Chosen George: tax cuts, welfare reform and crime. He too was the beneficiary of campaign contributions from the NRA.
Once elected state senator, Ordinary George insinuated himself onto the criminal justice committee. Like Chosen George, unmoved by the handgun deaths of Mexican music legend Selena and, in another Corpus Christi incident, six others, he repaid the NRA by expediting passage of a bill permitting Texans to carry concealed weapons for the first time since the Civil War. Neither did Ordinary George blink when, despite clemency pleas from everyone from Pope John Paul II to Pat Robertson, Chosen George refused to commute the death sentence of born-again murderer Karla Faye Tucker.
When Chosen George ran for president, Ordinary George revealed his true political colors and was elected as a Republican to the US House of Representatives. After voting for the Patriot Act and the use of force in Iraq, his reelection in 2002 was a formality. In 2004, however, like Chosen George, vulnerable on the faltering economy, he girded himself with values. Though never formally saved or baptized, he became a churchgoer.
After a close election and despite the possibility of losing future votes, he nevertheless supported Chosen George on Social Security reform and, like Chosen George, funded by credit card giant MBNA, he voted for the bankruptcy bill. It’s when he was caught in an adulterous affair, however, that evangelicals, quick to forgive a sinner who has accepted Jesus into his life, discovered he hadn’t and backed away from him. Meanwhile, his legal bills mounted as the Congusto pension-fund case was readied for trial.
With friends in high places, Ordinary George anticipates skating like Chosen George did on insider trading. However, without the evangelicals behind him, he’s deemed damaged goods by the party, but still of enough value to serve as a sacrificial lamb for beleaguered fellow Texan Tom DeLay. After Capitol Hill shows Ordinary George the door, his thoughts turn to bankruptcy.
Ruefully noting that route is closed to him because of the bankruptcy bill he supported, he takes an entry-level job selling oil refinery parts. Distracted, however, by his lawsuit, he makes few commissions. Uncovered by medical insurance, he’s forced to apply for Medicaid after an angina attack. Little as he earns, however, it’s just enough to render him ineligible.
Ordinary George’s wife finally takes the kids and leaves, moves in with her parents and calls Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Welfare reform supported by her husband mandates that she endure messages like, “In the state of Texas, an application for assistance is a request for help in finding a job,” before her application is passed.
Too sick to work now, Ordinary George is finally granted Medicaid. But broke, he winds up on Midland’s streets. Panhandling works out well, though, once he learns to answer in the affirmative to the question, “Didn’t you used to be Congressman Ordinary George?” He tries to work up the courage to step in front of a tractor-trailer on Interstate 20.
Ordinary George is rescued from life on the streets when found guilty of embezzlement. In prison, he finally accepts Jesus as his savior. Released three years later he gravitates toward Houston, where, hat in hand, he appears before the director of Operation PUSH, an inner-city anti-poverty program. It had filled the vacuum left by the folding of Project PULL, where Chosen George, when young and still inclined to indulge his better nature, counseled black youth.
With Americans only too willing to forgive those publicly humiliated, the old contacts to whom Ordinary George reaches out come through. The funding he secures to expand the program make him feel like he’s redeeming himself. Whether or not he gets his comeuppance, is there any redemption available to Chosen George in this lifetime?
(Narrative of George Bush’s life courtesy of Fortunate Son [Soft Skull, New York, 2002] by the late Jim Hatfield.)