Tombs for the living

It has been a “ha!” week in the news. Today alone, after a quick sweep of the Beeb, Mop & Pail, Drudge, & so forth, I count about a dozen easy marks for Idlerine mockery. Lord grant me the power to resist, as most of these “stories” have “tragic” undertones, if not overtones, & my mommy taught me never to mock someone in pain, unless he is family.

Nobody was killed, or even seriously harmed at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, however, so let me have a go at that. The man himself, & all current & former “Potusas” (“President Of The USA” in plural) were present for the ceremony yesterday, each on his best behaviour. We are told that the new facility in the Southern Methodist University at Dallas is the biggest yet, certainly the most expensive; so that we anticipate the Obama Presidential Library may usefully take out a substantial chunk of Chicago.

Now, a leftoid might observe that “Bush” & “literature” do not naturally pair, but let us avoid that swipe. At second hand, but also briefly at first, I noticed that Mr Bush is an intelligent man, married to a small-town librarian & himself an avid reader — if almost exclusively of beuks I wouldn’t have bothered to read myself. He graduated from a prestigious university, & was clocked, even in his youthful drinking days, with an IQ far above the national average. His “Bushisms” were frequently hilarious, & usually intentional. They were a tool in his political bag of tricks, performing two functions. The first was to make his enemies misunderestimate him. The second was to help his own constituency identify with him.

(Alas, meanwhile behind the scenes, he was doing things too clever by half, perhaps by three-quarters.)

In the days when I had a slight “in” to that White House, I once received a private “hedz-up” that Mr Bush would be delivering a crass remark at a press conference in France. The remark itself would be left to his spontaneous genius, but surely it would come. At the press conference, a New York Times reporter asked President Chirac a reasonable question, in elegant French. Bush seized the moment, interrupting his host to sneer at this reporter, then boasting that he could speak Spanish. It was a brilliant way to antagonize all the sophisticated people who’d never vote for him anyway, while cheering up Middle America — where the phrase “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” had become implanted.

I was delighted, in a low way, as I get a kick out of political craftsmanship, & have to suppress a giggle before condemning it. Bush played dumb to trick his opponents into playing dumber. This invariably worked, for their vanity made them unteachable. Of course, all this contributed to the further decay of political standards. One recalls the observation of Mark Antony: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

Tombs for the still living are an American innovation, an extension perhaps of the California funerary customs satirized by Evelyn Waugh in The Loved One. The idea of filling them with video exhibits, state papers as well as state furnishings, & housing yet another Think Tank within, adds surreal touches that might have titillated the ancient Egyptians. For when contemplating the U.S. Presidential Libraries, I think of the Tombs of the Pharaohs. And of the desert sands blowing over them.