It was only two weeks ago that I wrote, "President George W. Bush apparently has no intention of letting his lame duck status interfere with his capacity for building up a collection of Chutzpah of the Week award;" and now, with only a one-week interval to allow for an award to go to Henry Kissinger (an opportunity so irresistible that I grabbed it at the beginning of last week), Bush is back to push his count up from an even dozen to a baker's dozen. This time the occasion was a conversation with his sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, recorded for the oral-history organization StoryCorps for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and reported for ABC News by Jennifer Parker. Like his tenth award, number thirteen is based on his growing attention to his own legacy; but, while number ten was awarded for trying to make a bad joke about that legacy, this one is grounded in the sheer magnitude of self-deception.
The best way to appreciate this magnitude is through his own words, and Parker has given us an excellent batch to sample. First and foremost is his own view of conditions in Iraq:
I'd like to be a president [known] as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace.
The absurdity of this particular instance of self-deception not only justifies the award but may be sufficient for the Arab world to consider at least temporarily adopting the noun chutzpah in their working vocabulary! However, the self-deception is hardly limited to foreign affairs:
I think the No Child Left Behind Act is one of the significant achievements of my administration because we said loud and clear to educators, parents and children that we expect the best for every child, that we believe every child can learn, and that in return for Federal money we expect there to be an accountability system in place to determine whether every child is learning to read, write, and add and subtract. … The promise of No Child Left Behind has been fulfilled.
From here his sense of self-accomplishment gets even broader, saying he wanted to be known as a President
… that focused on individuals rather than process; that rallied people to serve their neighbor; that led an effort to help relieve HIV/AIDS and malaria on places like the continent of Africa; that helped elderly people get prescription drugs and Medicare as a part of the basic package; that came to Washington, D.C., with a set of political statements and worked as hard as I possibly could to do what I told the American people I would do.
Finally, we have a concluding "meditation" on his view of faith:
I've been in the Bible every day since I've been the president, and I have been affected by peoples' prayers a lot. I have found that faith is comforting, faith is strengthening, faith has been important.
I would advise politicians, however, to be careful about faith in the public arena.
In other words, politicians should not be judgmental people based upon their faith. They should recognize -- as least I have recognized I am a lowly sinner seeking redemption, and therefore have been very careful about saying [accept] my faith or you're bad. In other words, if you don't accept what I believe, you're a bad person. And the greatness of America -- it really is -- is that you can worship or not worship and be equally American. And it doesn't matter how you choose to worship; you're equally American. And it's very important for any President to jealously protect, guard, and strengthen that freedom.
What runs through all of these texts is the invocation of simplistic formulas that substitute for serious reflection and thus lead to the distorted view of reality that has been the real legacy of the last eight years. Whether or not that sense of reality will be recovered during the coming Administration remains to be seen, but the pride that Bush seems to take in his capacity for distortion could not provide a better reason for his thirteenth Chutzpah of the Week award.