First published by this wonderful blog a year ago, these lovely people has chosen to rerun it this year, as a reminder –
We’ve been thinking of what to say about former President George W. Bush, now that he’s officially a former president. Our first impulse was to write about the Florida recount and the time we spent down in Tallahassee in 2000, screaming and yelling like crazy people, demanding justice and fairness and the unalienable right for all votes to count, but considering we had to go to Washington DC on May 31st last year (for the Rules and Bylaws Committee Meeting) to scream and yell for the Democratic party to count all votes in Florida and Michigan, any residual anger we had over Election 2000’s been squarely absolved.
Then, we thought we’d open this by complaining about how silly it was that Bush gave everyone from staff members to world leaders nicknames, and carried on like an old frat boy long expelled but still planning the next kegger, but then we remember the Obama fist-bumps and the “hip slang” (hey, do me a solid) the 44th president tries to work into almost everything he says, and suddenly calling Vladimir Putin “Pooty-poot” doesn’t seem so unusual.
And George W. Bush doesn’t seem so bad after all.
All things considered.
Last night, at Sidetrack here in Boystown, the largest gay bar in the Midwest (if not the US, as its owners claim), the bar was decorated haphazardly with flags and stars leftover from the Fourth of July beer-b-que. The ubiquitously creepy Obama “Hope” lithographs were out in full force (hopefully for the last time) — that haunting picture of himself he likes so much, staring forward and to the right, cast in red and blue silkscreen like something from the Bolshevik’s revoluntionary printing presses. Little cards on all the tables advertised the big Obama party the bar was throwing on Inauguartion Day, “to celebrate history” by mocking the outgoing president with classless, crass, unadulterated hate.
Because interspliced with the lively showtune videos Sidetrack shows on a Monday night, cut into all the singing and laughter and good times, were nasty little jabs at President Bush that drove the crowd wild in a most childish way.
We were embarrassed in the way we are when our nieces and nephews run wild at Chuck-E-Cheese, coming close to lighting the animatronic rat ablaze with birthday candles, or we catch the little hellions making fun of someone who’s slipped on the ice or dropped their lunch tray, in that particularly chilling Children of the Corn way cold, unmitigated cruelty comes shockingly natural to some kids — despite their being sweet, chubby cherubs just moments before.
The VJs at Sidetrack whipped up compilation tapes of Bush tripping on stairs, flubbing lines in his speeches, dropping things, taking a wrong turn and trying to open a locked door, etc. All the things that any one of us does in the course of a week, or a day, but are mercifully never recorded doing (there’s a reason we don’t have a web cam, folks) — since we don’t have film crews monitoring our every waking moment, the way Bush did. For eight years, with zero personal privacy. So, with more than seventy thousand hours of footage from Bush’s presidency available for creative editing, a cobbled-together string of flubs and fumbles sent Boystown into hysterics, mocking the soon-t0-be-former president.
And the nastiness and hate that welled up in the crowd and lasered in on Bush was palpable and frightening, if not particularly shocking, considering where we were (this is the same bar, after all, where another favorite video compilation during the election was mocking Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, using Saturday Night Live’s greatest and most sexist hits — because making fun of women and babies is always a hit with some gay men).
It was ugly, in a world where not a frosted-tipped hair’s ever out of place and fawning over youth and beauty is the order of the day; it was cruel and clumsy where sensitivity and nuanced expression are normally prized; it was unbridled and irrational hellfire from people who stage whole parades to complain about religious people and Republicans’ unbridled irrational hatred of them.
Hello pot? This is kettle, welcome to fabulous — and to the Jekyl meets Hyde cocktail of Bush hate and showtunes at Sidetrack on a Monday in Boystown, where we very much realized we didn’t know where we belong anymore.
Because, as the Bush Administration ends, so too ends our days of believing Democrats are always good, Republicans are always evil, and gay men have a monopoly (or even firm handle) on what’s witty and clever. Democrats can be just as nasty and hate-filled as the insufferably vile Rev. Fred Phelps. Gay Democrats can be a room full of bitchy, malevolent queens, martinis in hand, oblivious to how petty and unattractive hatred of any kind truly is.
And this from supporters of “The One” who was sent to Earth by a God none of them believe in to bring us all together, heal the planet, and distribute unto us unicorns in fluffy rainbow parades of lemonade and pixie dust.
We were probably the only people in that bar who looked up at George W. Bush on the screen and instead of mocking him, raised our Pilsners and toasted a decent and gracious man who stood up to the challenges that confronted him, made tough choices and never shirked his responsibilities, and did the very best job that he could, every day, for the last eight years.
Oddly, it’s the same way we feel every time Madonna turns up on Sidetrack’s screens, in the train wreck that was Evita, pleading for Argentina not to cry for her, while we realize that yes, an untalented actress truly put her heart and soul into this part and did the very best that she could do with what she had to work with, and the script she received.
George W. Bush is a man we wish had never been president, the same way we wish today that Obama had never become president, and the same way we wish Madonna stuck to singing and dancing and left the acting to others. In Bush’s place, we would have rather had Al Gore or John McCain in 2000, and John Kerry (or even Howard Dean or John Edwards) in 2004. This year, we wanted Hillary Clinton, and then John McCain. But, things certainly worked out differently in all cases the last eight years (and there was just no saving The Next Best Thing, Shanghai Surprise, or Body of Evidence, regardless of creative retrospective casting).
For a very long time, we found ourselves firmly in the company of Bush-haters, though we never rose to the level of nastiness we saw on display at Sidetrack last night (a level on par with the worst of the Clinton-hating and gay-bashing the right’s ever put forward). There was a spell when we refused to even refer to Bush as the president, instead calling him “Dracula”. Some people found that hard to follow, as they never knew if we were talking politics, or oddly referencing Bram Stoker while delving into energy policy. Those oil-vampires from Texas, just wanting to get their fangs into Iraq, up to their nefarious schemes, out to get all of us, such evil people.
Evil was a word we threw around pretty lightly, ascribing it to everything in the Bush Administration, the Bush family, and the Republican party in general. Because we lived in an isolated Democratic little world of our own, of course we were never corrected on any of this — far from it, we were always encouraged. Bush is stupid. Bush is a drugged out drunk. Laura Bush is a murderess (for accidentally killing her friend in a high school car accident). The Bush Twins are out of control. Barbara Bush is Lady MacBeth. Dick Cheney shot a man in the face (well, actually, this one is true).
One of the reasons it’s been so hard to put together our thoughts on Bush as he leaves office is because, honestly, we feel badly about the way we’ve treated him, about the things we’ve said about him, all these years.
Because George W. Bush is a decent man with a servant’s heart who did the best damn job he could. He kept us safe for seven years. He stood up to the bullies and terrorists and scoundrels of the world and said with Texas gumption and flare that America under his watch would kowtow to NO ONE.
Maybe too much Texas for the likes of us city slickers, and maybe a lot of his personal style and flare was hokey or unrelatable to urban elites, but even his loudest critics would be hard-pressed to argue the man didn’t always show his heart — a larger than life heart, beating strongly with a love of country and its men and women in uniform.
That’s what we’re thinking about today: what an excellent Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush was, and how he respected and revered all those who serve the nation, in every way under the sun. There’s a lot of things Bush did wrong, but he was good to our troops, and the military obviously loved him, and that’s mighty impressive in our book.
It’s also impressive Bush never cut funding to AIDS charities, and instead INCREASED funding to unprecedented levels, in terms of both treatment and scientific research into a cure.
All those men screaming and yelling at Bush on the screen in Sidetrack’s, making fun of him, laughing at a tired Bush flubbing a speech — and not one of them stopped to think about the simple fact that if this man was truly as stupid and evil as they claim, and if he was TRULY deserving of all that hatred, then why on Earth didn’t he cut funding to AIDS charities and other LGBT resources as president?
No one has an answer for that.
Obviously, Bush knew the gay community hates him, and that he’d never win their votes. So, why didn’t he divert all those millions to causes that would have won him more independent and conservative voters? Why waste all that precious capital on people who hate him, who want to destroy him?
And yet, Bush never lifted a finger to harm us…he never cut funding to the LGBT community…he didn’t lash out at those who made him their enemy.
He really and truly was a compassionate conservative after all — and a kind and decent man who exercised his power with great restraint.
After 911, with media cheerleading behind him and an acquiescent public, Bush could have declared himself Emperor and enacated anything his heart desired. He could have used the cover of tragedy and the unprecedented free hand he was given in its aftermath to do any number of crazy things. He could have seized control of the entire government and forced through any number of draconian measures, sticking it to the left every way he could.
But he didn’t.
His response to crisis was measured, restrained, and even-handed.
Yes, we booed and laughed along with all our liberal friends at Bush sitting in a classroom reading about a pet goat while minutes ticked by on the screen in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911. We ridiculed the president for just sitting there, like a fool we thought, seemingly not knowing what to do.
But, today we see that day differently. After spending two years on the campaign trail for Clinton and then McCain, after doing countless interviews and writing on this site every day, we realize Bush was responding carefully and deliberately to a situation unfolding before him — the way a responsible public figure does. THINKING before ACTING. Not wanting to terrify children needlessly, not wanting to create panic by abruptly getting up and running from the room. What was the man supposed to do as the Secret Service established its plan to get the president to a secure location, and Bush waited the mere minutes it took to arrange a successful and well-executed plan to calm the nation in a catastrophic crisis?
On a day none of us was prepared for, that seemed lifted out of comic books and bad movies, when the federal government moved rapidly to respond to the worst thing to happen on American soil in half a century.
Because he’s affable, because he tells jokes, because he speaks with a twang, Bush is mocked as stupid and slow while others in his place would have been considered careful and even-keeled.
But, none of the men who’ve made it into the White House are stupid (all men so far, unfortunately, but that will change soon enough if we have anything to say about it). And some are better under fire than others.
With seven years to look back on 911, we have a lot to say about the intelligence failures that allowed a preventable event to scar the nation, but we will, until the day we die, be forever grateful to President Bush for being the resolute and honorable Texan who stood up that horrible day and grabbed that bullhorn at Ground Zero and told the world in a loud clear voice that America would soldier on, would prevail, and will rebuild.
That was no weak kumbaya moment. That was George W. Bush at his finest, saying what we all in our hearts wanted a tough Commander-in-Chief to say.
Yes, any president would have said those things.
Yes, any president would have received massive approval ratings in response to an attack (that’s what Americans do, we rally around the president in times of trouble).
But, would President Gore have struck that perfect note? Would he have been the testosterone infused Commander-in-Chief in the body of an average man we needed and wanted that day?
We don’t know. Maybe.
But, Bush sure held the world together that day, when he was just what we needed, when we needed him most.
AND WE WILL ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL. We moderate, gay, Hillary loving, Boystown-living, lifelong Democrats will always hold a special place in our hearts for Dubya and his bullhorn. We were proud to be Americans on that terrible, terrible day — and proud of our president who led us with such clear conviction and courage. We didn’t vote for the man (either time), but were sure glad he was on duty on a day we’ll never forget.
What followed in his presidency was a mixed bag in our eyes — with more missed opportunities than we can recount. If only Bush had asked Americans to enlist in the military, Peace Corps, or Americorps instead of telling them to go shopping to help the economy. If only he had taken our friends and foes in the world up on all of the help they offered after 911, when everyone from France to Cuba extended hands of friendship and wanted to join America at that terrible hour. If only we had found a way to carry those sentiments of “We are all New Yorkers now. We are all Americans today” forward in the months and years ahead, instead of alienating so many with what was perceived as a failed go it alone, it’s us or them mentality. If only he had pushed to rebuild those towers, taller than every, in record time — so seven years later, we wouldn’t still have a big hole in the ground in New York where a phoenix should have risen, as indelible and resolute as our nation itself.
The last eight years is a presidency of if onlys, buffered up against one we believe will be the disappointments of “what might have been” and “we were promised” (we hope Obama proves us wrong and that changes, but that part is squarely up to him)
The loud chorus of angry voices in Boystown claim Bush will go down in history as the Worst. President Ever. We think those cocktails went down too fast last night, because that’s ridiculously far from the truth.
Bush, in our opinion, will be judged much better than Jimmy Carter, just a touch above his father, George H. W. Bush, but below Bill Clinton — all somewhere in the middle of US Presidents when the rankings sort out in thirty years of proper retrospect and dispassionate evaluation that will come.
Iraq some day will be a new Germany and Japan, a once hostile nation so firmly democratic and pro-American we’ll never be able to recognize it if flung into the future from today. Regardless of what you think about the case for war, or the merits of invading Iraq, Bush will one day get credit for creating the future, prosperous Iraq, and all the benefits Americans will enjoy from that. Part of us wishes strongly he had gone to war with Iran instead, because that’s a true threat the world could do without, and is a continuously proven sponsor of terrorist operations against Israel and American interests, but that’s a whole other topic of debate.
Though we never in our lives thought we’d say this, we truly do look forward to some day soon meeting former president Bush, shaking his hand, and thanking him for his service — whatever history will end up thinking of him.
That’s something we couldn’t imagine back in January 2001, when we spent Inauguration Day muttering about Dracula this and evil that and cursing the Supreme Court and that idiot Donna Brazile (for botching the Gore campaign).
After we watched the 747 formerly known as Air Force One wing into the air and bank right towards Midland, Texas this afternoon, we were struck by just how bizarre it is that a bunch of Democrats who positively hated this man eight years ago were proudly a little teared up to see him off to retirement. That’s a fairly good measure of a man right there, if he can, without knowing or trying, change strong opinions of him in the most unlikely of places.
And you can’t get much more unlikely than the lot of us, here in Boystown, wishing George W. Bush a heartfelt and gracious goodbye — and thanking him, from the bottom of our big gay hearts, for doing the best he could, every day, for each and every one of us (whether any of us liked or voted for him or not).
So, channeling him for a moment, “Ya dun good, Dubya. Best ya could. And we’re grateful!”.