Let us now propose some epitaphs for George W. Bush. In all probability, his official epitaph will exhibit his final lie, something perhaps to the effect of, “From a little Shrub, a mighty Bush,” or a more enchanting “Heaven-Sent.” But it’s the unofficial epitaph—our heart’s remembrance—that will take his true measure.
Lord Byron, the great Anglo-Scottish poet, composed the unofficial final summation for George III, that unwitting instigator of the American Revolution. This epitaph is found in three lines of Lord Byron’s long satiric poem, “The Vision of Judgment,” in which he wrote of the late king: “And when the gorgeous coffin was laid low / It seemed the mockery of hell to fold / The rottenness of eighty years in gold.”
Lord Byron had the decency to wait until George III was dead before describing the king’s decomposition. So eagerness on our part to volunteer a damning epitaph for our George, perhaps decades before his remains are venerated by the media, hints at unseemly impatience. Well, rules be damned. Bush has already signed his own death certificate in the blood and anguish of millions of Afghans, Iraqis, and Americans. His mangled syntax has ejaculated upon us too many perversions of reason, slopped together with Crazy Glue and salivary fear. We need a counter-curse for this prince of darkness, this black raven foretold by Edgar Allan Poe. The prophetic poet has words we can use to inter Bush and his legacy of fear-mongering: “Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!”
History doesn’t need an inscription to remember greatness. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who didn’t want an epitaph, rests beside Eleanor under an ivy-covered white marble stone. Words are superfluous there. Elsewhere, thoughtful and honest final words can complement the Rock of Ages. At the gravesite of our first George the inscription reads: “Looking into the portals of eternity teaches that the brotherhood of man is inspired by God’s words; then all prejudice of race vanishes away.”
Our current president will likely have enough space on his tomb to inscribe his memoirs. He plans to build a $500 million presidential library (three times more expensive than Clinton’s), so we can expect he’ll want a tomb a little fancier than Washington’s (which he was seen to reconnoiter on Washington’s 275th birthday this past President’s Day). While Bush will have space for a lot of words, a chiseled “No spitting” in Rockwell Extra Bold might prevent local flooding, unless someone plans to build his tomb behind a fortified bunker. Meanwhile, if George can muster a little humility, he might settle for a simple enigma, “He came, He saw, He denied.”
Our president sees himself as a latter-day Churchill. He might thereby follow the example of the British Prime Minister who suggested this epitaph for himself: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” George’s version could read, “I’m looking forward to meetin’ the Old Man. I’ll see if He can use me on His lecture circuit, help me replenish my coffers, hehehe.”
In all probability, George’s epitaph will be more formal, perhaps a stellar verse along these lines: A two-time president from the firmament, / A zealous warrior of compassionate bent, / Succeeded in downsizing the government, / Decided how the last dollar was spent.
A better one, though, comes from his own father, the august patriarch of the Bush dynasty who moved heaven and especially hell to bring Junior to power. Bush Sr. said infamously back in 1991 of the late, great Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, “Who is that chickenshit?” Add a little pinch of paraphrase and Junior gets another stigma in stone for his posterity: “Who was this chickenshit, anyway?”