Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ballistic Bush vs Lincoln

We've heard a fair amount recently about how obsessed President George W Bush is with history, sometimes in consuming it, sometimes in exploiting it, sometimes in punting accountability to it. You can't find this discussed in various forums, including David Greenburg's column at slate, which suggests that Bush has a Hegelian, or determinist, or what I was encouraged in high school to call "whig", view of history.

Greenburg is not quite describing Bush's view as a belief in history operating inevitably towards fuller human progress, noting quite sensibly that bush can also be capable of some very backward-sounding leaps of faith. He rather peculiarly decides to describe the differences between the various determinist schools as differences in the weight they ascribe to individual actions in the sweep of history.

The above, though, only really serves to illuminate the degree to which Bush's megalomania informs his policy decisions, and I'm inclined to say he's not THAT full of his own grandeur. No recovering alcoholic with Barbara Bush for a mother, I'll venture, could.

It might give the reader an idea of how the president misuses history, although the late David Halberstam demonstrated with his last column that he does not exploit it with any consistency at all. No it resembles more several managers in my current organisation, always in thrall to the last thing they read (or heard, in the case of the surprisingly bountiful illiterates on our payroll).

Still, I'd like to take the chance to highlight one area where I think Bush is being personally led in a very destructive direction by a book. The book is Jay Winik's April 1865, a description of the waning weeks of the American Civil War. It's a very easy read, and while Winik's somewhat florid style is not entirely to my taste it gave me a very good insight into a period of which I have read much too little.

Now David Ignatius suggested in April 2001 that Bush bone up on the book because of the excellent descriptions that it offered of reconciliation following the Civil War. This wasn't a bad idea, since it offers many examples of formerly sworn enemies sitting down together and forging common bond.

Thing is, Bush did not, according to the author, get round to reading it till after 9-11. Assuming he's a slow reader with a short attention span, he'll have been focusing more on the steadfastness that General Grant demonstrated in the war's closing battles and the quantities of men he threw into them rather than any of that conciliatory nonsense.

The final months of the Civil War featured unpopular leaders urging a desperate people on towards a hard fought victory. I'd be gobsmacked if Bush hadn't flattered himself to make the comparison. I think most of you could pick some holes in the analogy without resorting to Wikipedia, but it says a lot for the president's mindset that he hasn't examined them himself.

Right, talking of crude political rhetoric, I'm off to buy flip-flops.


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