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We've Seen How This Cowboy Movie Ends

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One of the biggest dramas in American history may be moving slowly to a climax. In the past half dozen years, the most dangerous presidency in the history of the United States has arisen to challenge the constitutional order and to shatter the peace of the world. Gradually, its crimes and its failures have been catching up to this presidency and now, with the Congress under the control of the opposition, it seems that a turning point has been reached.

One question since the election has been: how will it end? Will the president seek accommodation with the countervailing power of his opponents and critics, and gain thereby at least the possibility of completing his remaining two years without Congress confronting him over his "high crimes and misdemeanors"? Or will the president stick to his arrogant course and force such a confrontation?

With Bush's recent moves regarding the war in Iraq (and Iran?), the president seems to have signaled his choice. And now we who have been raised on Western movies should know how this movie ends.

We've seen characters like this in a dozen classic Westerns.

It's the character of the gunfighter who simply insists on proving he's the fastest gun. He picks fights because he needs to annihilate all potential rivals in order to demonstrate his superiority. This kind of gunfighter won't leave our hero alone-- the hero who's expert at handling guns but would rather live in peace. There's an intensity, an insistence about this trigger-happy cowboy. It's as though he's hell-bent on meeting the destiny to which the Western script inevitably carries him. Apparently so eager to prove themselves by killing others, these characters always end up instead shot dead in the one-fight-too-many they insisted on picking. It is their karma to end up sprawled in the dust.

Now our cowboy president is that gunfighter.

His whole approach --domestically and in the world-- has been to pick one fight after another. And for a while he seemed to be riding high. But his war of choice went sour. As more and more of the American people perceived the disastrous mess he'd made, he lost support. In the elections last November, the electorate sent him a message. He got the same message, in a different form, from the Baker-Hamilton (Iraq Study) Group: it's time to admit your failure and climb down off your high horse to cut our losses.

Perhaps if he'd heeded that message, he could have completed his term without a shoot-out. But he could not or would not do that. Instead, he's delivered a message of his own: I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing, only more so, and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks because I'm the Decider.

Many of us have struggled to understand the strategic reasons for this move, but the explanation is more likely at the level of psychodrama. Character here is destiny.

This man evidently cannot climb down from his arrogant posture as the Decider, as commander-in-chief, as God's annointed.

Not many people could fail as spectacularly as this man, yet apparently feel no shame. Not many people could demonstrate themselves so incompetent at making strategic decisions about war and peace, yet still assert his judgment against that of the generals, the Congress, the Baker-Hamilton group, and the people. Only a person whose insistence upon his superiority is a matter of life and death, only a person for whom backing down would amount emotionally to his own annihilation.

(As Michael Green has written on his THE REGRESSIVE ANTIDOTE: "This desperately frightened 60 year-old child – the son of a super-successful over-achiever who caught the world's brassiest of brass rings – this continual screw-up of a scion perpetually stuck in his father's shadow has spent a lifetime chasing self-esteem and hiding from his own failures in school, business and the bottle. Imagine how badly his circuits would blow if he had to admit to the blood on his hands and his true place in history. Ain't gonna happen, man. Little Bush knows that if he allows the tiniest crack in that dike, Katrina's flood would look like a runny nose by comparison.")
All he knows is to keep picking fights until he lies sprawled in the dust.

And that is how this cowboy movie ends. Out of the dynamics of his character, comes the showdown which makes manifest the truth that's been buried under all the insistence: the underlying sense of inferiority and of the annihilation of the self.

Now let Congress, like the reluctant hero of the Western, move toward that showdown. This president has chosen his destiny. And now the nation needs for Congress to strap on its gun and walk out into the dusty street to fulfill George W. Bush's destiny, just as in the mythic Western dramas of American culture.

Such a Western drama has all along been that part of our culture that George W. Bush has conspicuously called forth with his presidency, with his "Wanted Dead or Alive" challenge to Osama bin Laden and with his peculiar way of holding his arms out from his sides as if about to draw a six-gun. And in the drama he has conjured up, with his insistent combativeness, it's only a matter of time until we see that outlaw Bush lying in the street, his gun still in his hand. In the mythic world of the Western, this is how the cosmos restores good order.


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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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