One day as I sipped my morning coffee, I found myself wondering what our last president was up to that day. Right then. That moment. Was he running, golfing, or watching a football game? Perhaps he was sitting on a tractor mowing a field on his ranch (that’s if his wife hasn’t made him sell it yet). I don’t normally sit around thinking about George W. Bush — his administration’s many disastrous policy decisions are something I’d rather forget as I sit on the edge of my chair every day wondering if my next meager paycheck will actually arrive — but since I had watched Oliver Stone’s film, W recently, the subject was fresh in my mind.
While I realize Stone’s film is merely an interpretation of the man’s life, one has to wonder how much of it is based upon the numerous little grapevine murmurs that undoubtedly fly around the White House at any given moment. At the base of it though, I felt my self drawn to the humanity and tragically perpetual mediocrity of President Bush, El Secondo. To be honest — disregarding the fact that my family is not particularly influential in national affairs, and that I’ve never run a company (let alone run one into the ground) — I really kind of identified with the guy. He came from a successful family that prided itself on hard work, but he himself was sort of a happy-go-lucky ne’er-do-well with a knack for schmoozing. “Hey!” I thought to myself, “That sounds a lot like me!” Throw in a penchant for the redneck lifestyle and a bit of boozing here and there, and voila, there you have it — me in a nutshell. The only thing is, I wouldn’t consider myself a good match for the office of president. Granted, I think I’d take the job a bit more seriously than to be seen throwing fist pumps at the G8 Summit, but then, I’ve never had the opportunity to do that, so who am I to judge. It probably seemed like the thing to do at the time.
I’m not saying that ol’ W wouldn’t have made a great district manager for a chain of propane stores based in Lubbock, Texas, but even then he may have affected a few lives by allowing his ill-intentioned, but sycophantic intellectual superiors to run the show in that forum as well. As it played out, we had guys like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney calling the shots while making this guy feel as if he were actually in charge. Little did he know.
Bearing all that in mind, it dawned on me that there are a great many elected officials that share similar characteristics with our retired Commander-in-Chief. One need only to look at the long list of political scandals which have occurred over the years — from the top all the way down to the office of municipal dog catcher — to realize that good-natured buffoons placed in positions of responsibility often allow people to take advantage of them and their constituency. But should they quit while they’re ahead? Hell no! That just ain’t the American way! Here in the land of opportunity, anyone can do anything, whether we’re talking about a traveling salesman’s son who pulls himself up by the bootstraps and becomes a Rhodes Scholar, or the offspring of wealthy patricians whose only freedom from failure has been the guarantee that he will always be given a hand up by his connected elders. Clearly, anything is possible in this most promising of democracies.
Fast forward from the movie to another day at the office: Looking around the newsroom at the Santa Barbara Independent a few days after I had wondered after our exited executive, I looked at my co-workers and saw a heap of political potential. While none of us come from wealthy families, we all share in common the history of coming from solid middle class backgrounds, as well as the fact that most of us did a notable amount of frittering with the time and money provided to us for undergraduate studies. That’s what sounds to me like a guaranteed recipe for political success.
Sitting in the corner reading a book he was assigned to review by our editor, one guy muttered that he wouldn’t have even cracked it in college. “I never read a single book,” he said, “but I got all C’s.” He’s now one of our best reporters.
Another guy shared his experience. “I don’t even remember college, man. I was too busy selling drugs, but I made more money doing that than I do here!” he chipped in gleefully. One of the other guys, who now consistently turns in solid copy about everything from forest fires to theatrical reviews, was known for all manner of raucous behavior during his days at UC Santa Barbara (although to be fair, attendance at that school almost guarantees a certain degree of debauchery). The ranks of the rowdy are quite deep on the rolls of Indy staffers, though, so those fellows (and I must confess I am one of them) are not alone. Despite the track record of bad decision making amongst those in the room, they looked like a good slate of candidates for the next school board race.
So who is the best type of person to decide important policy issues within American governmental institutions? My guess is, based on precedent, any manner of utter fuck-up — well, visually presentable ones, anyway (that rules out a few of my colleagues right off the bat). Based upon my less-than-stellar academic record and a list of occupations which died of unnatural causes, I’m starting to feel like Harry Truman here (you know, the failed haberdasher who became the number one gun?). Maybe I oughta run for office. Hell, I got laid off from a job that my mother procured for me, and I’ve certainly done a bang-up job at providing other employers an excuse to send me on my way, so perhaps it’s time for me to get serious and start collecting signatures. There’s a water district election coming up in a year. Gotta start somewhere, right? I would only hope that, unlike W, I (and other fuck-ups out there who decide to run for public office) would use my common sense and discontinue a good bit of whatever has been ailing other endeavors in my life. But if I didn’t, that’s ok, too. I would neither be the first nor the last to make a royal mess of things in my quest for competence, and hey, people love a bit of drama. Besides, there’s almost always some smart do-gooder who comes along to pick up the broken pieces to make things sane (and boring) again. It worked like a charm for our old friend W.