The Tiniest President

by Jonathan Wallace

George W. Bush has turned out, not unexpectedly, to be the tiniest president since Warren Harding and Gerald Ford. Selected as a tool by his handlers, he is a tool of complete transparency, communicating their will without adding any of his own--exactly what they selected him to do.

Because his backers are the extreme right wing of the Republican party--as exemplified by Richard Mellon Scaife and the Heritage Foundation--the president briefly presented as "bipartisan" is actually far to the right of his father, and even somewhat more actively conservative than Ronald Reagan, who was perhaps not in a position to destroy as many useful treaties as George W. is.

Of course, even a president of strong personality can be manipulated, but only up to a point. George Bush has not yet shown the slightest shred of independence, either as the extremely passive governor of Texas, nor as the most passive president of modern times. He is the perfect nonentity president, leaving the people behind him a completely clear field of action.

The president has young daughters, who are likely to have children, yet the president gives no sign of concern about the quality of life in the world he will leave them; witness his attempted torpedoing of the Kyoto treaty on global warming. Is he too stupid to make the connection between his actions and the consequences, or does he just not care?

He has never let his own personal values, if he has them, interfere with anything his backers wanted; even the morally confused stem cell announcement seemed more of a staged political compromise (Heritage doesn't care very much about noneconomic "social" issues) than a flash of personal belief. The president's constant mangling of sentences and syntax, constantly signal his low intelligence ("Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease," press conference, June 14, 2001). When his personality does show through, it is infantile; witness his remarkable mimicking, to a Texas Monthly reporter, of death row prisoner Karla Fay Tucker pleading for her life, or his riposte last week to a freelance reporter who criticized him: "Who cares what you think?"

In a store the other morning, I saw a jar of Mexican jumping beans, distant memories from a 1960's childhood. But these , as 21st century beans should, came with a user's manual, which explained that a caterpillar inside makes them jump. If they aren't jumping, the caterpillar is dormant; it isn't dead unless the bean rattles when you shake it. We only know the president is actually in there because he doesn't rattle when shaken.