Byline: Peter Cunningham
LATE last month, on Friday September 26 in Washington D.C., a rare but eerily defining moment of history took place just before noon.
George W Bush, Americas 43rd president, emerged from the Oval Office on to a press podium flanked by blooming roses. The 62-year-old Bushs appearance was markedly different to his usual jaunty public demeanour. His is not an inspiring face at the best of times.
His weak jaw line, his small and often shifty eyes, his tendency to trick around with expressions, to half smile and sometimes almost sneer when speaking on matters of great importance put one in mind of a spoiled schoolboy who has for all the wrong reasons been elevated to school captain but who has never managed to get over his guilty glee at his own good fortune.
Even on September 11, 2001, in the aftermath of being told that New Yorks Twin Towers had been jet-bombed, Bush still managed to present a nervous, half-jokey expression on television, the kind of Hey, guys, you cant be serious! expression that the weak school captain cracks out when the school bullies finally corner him in the playground.
Recently, however, it has been different. Yesterday, with U.S. house building down 6 per cent last month and at its lowest level since the recession of 1991, he called on anxious Americans to trust in the governments measures to prop up the financial system. Speaking at the U.S Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, he defended his governments interventions saying: I would oppose such measures under ordinary circumstances, but these are not ordinary circumstances.
Yesterdays performance had more than a passing similarity to that of a fortnight ago.
Bush was facing the press to reveal that with just over five weeks to run to the presidential election that will see him leave office, he was presiding over the apocalyptic collapse of the American financial system. The presidents face was grey, his eyes downcast, his lower lip clamped tight to his upper to stop his mouth quivering. The man was terrified.
HE HAD come to plead, through the media, with Americas elected representatives including his own party, who were deserting him in droves to vote through Congress a leviathan $700billion banks rescue package, which he told the viewers was all that stood between America and Armageddon. The financial system was on the precipice, Bush said. No president since Herbert Hoover in 1929 had bestrode such a disaster.
It was terrifying to watch. This was not some obscure dictator whose humiliation we could all observe with detached relish; this was the man in charge of the worlds largest economy, on which we all depend, the powerful man who had attacked and toppled Sad-dam Hussein, and subsequently hanged him.
Here he was in public, fighting back tears of panic and terror. It was the moment, as Peter Steinbruck, the German finance minister. put it next day, that America lost its role as a superpower. The world will never be the same again, he said.
History will judge Bushs presidency as unique, not just for the financial calamity that caught up with it in its dying days, but because George W Bush is the first president of the modern era to be no more than the tool of the men who engineered his election. Like the weak prince of a foundering dynasty, his sole qualification for ascending the throne as king was to be the son of a man who had recently been king before him. George W Bush inherited the presidency from his father. His accession was always a recipe for disaster.
On the count that he is a hereditary president, its sometimes tempting to feel sorry for Bush. That would be a mistake. He may well be a genuine family man with a love of the ranch and the outdoors, whose view of the world outside Texas is one of permanent bewilderment, who has courageously left behind an addiction to alcohol and in its place seized fundamental religion to fill the gaping void but he is also the man who has allowed himself to be the knowing instrument of those whose political philosophy has succeeded in eight short years in devaluing Americas reputation in the world and, in the process, running the country into near bankruptcy. …