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By Rupert 0aCornwell
Thursday 13 November 2003
You couldn't make him up, and you don't have to. Like him or loathe 0ahim, George Bush's for real - and heading soon for a capital city near you. 0aRupert Cornwell introduces our celebration of the remarkable career of Britain's 0afavourite US President.
Monarchs and their Prime Ministers enjoy many privileges not 0agranted to their subjects. Clairvoyance, however, is not among them. For how 0awere the Queen and Tony Blair to know in 2001, when they extended the invitation 0afor President Bush to make his state visit next week, that two years later it 0awould be shaping up as the most fraught and ill-timed exercise of its kind in 0aliving memory?
Simply put, the leader of the country that Blair insists is our 0aclosest ally is about to receive the most torrid reception ever to greet a 0aforeign dignitary on British shores. It's predicted that up to 100,000 people 0awill be out on London's streets to protest at Bush's presence. All police leave 0ahas been cancelled, and Scotland Yard and the US secret services charged with 0aprotecting the President are trying to agree how much of London should be sealed 0aoff to prevent demonstrators - and possible terrorists - from getting a sight of 0ahim.
But even if Bush, whose contact with the news is so assiduously 0afiltered by his courtiers, gains little idea of the turmoil around him, his 0acountrymen back home assuredly will. The treacherous French and spineless 0aGermans are one thing. But in Iraq - as in most other things, the average 0aAmerican assumes - the British are our friends. Imagine the shock, then, when 0athey see surging crowds, burning flags and (unless police step into ban it) a 0agiant effigy of the Great Leader being toppled, la Saddam, in Trafalgar 0aSquare.
It is not only Bush the Chicken-hawk warmonger and 0apromoter-in-chief of the great illusion about Saddam's weapons of mass 0adestruction who they will be denouncing. It is also Bush the ignorant, 0aself-righteous Christian warrior, Bush the smirking executioner and Bush the 0abeliever in one law for America and another for everyone else. And, of course, 0aBush the "Toxic Texan", an image made flesh by the "ghost ships" bearing down on 0aHartlepool, whose US-produced contaminants will find a last resting place on 0aBritain's unpolluted isle.
No man is ever quite as extreme as his caricature. But Bush comes 0acloser than most, and not only Britons cannot abide him. In his own country, 0atoo, he is perhaps an even more polarising Presi- dent than Bill Clinton. 0aConservatives abhorred Clinton; but for the liberal half of an equally divided 0acountry Bush embodies everything to hate about the right. And the President's 0agreat betrayal only makes them angrier.
This, after all, was a President elected after the closest 0aelection in history - a President, indeed, who, but for the archaism of the 0aelectoral college, would have lost to Al Gore, who clearly defeated him in the 0apopular vote. At first Bush made conciliatory noises, but his "compassionate 0aconservatism" soon became a hollow joke. His administration is the most radical 0aof modern times. It has rammed through huge tax cuts, and run up the biggest 0adeficits in US history in the name of supply-side ideology. By tilting those 0acuts towards the very rich, he has widened the disparities of US society.
Rarely is there any serious attempt to engage with critics, just 0athe fait accompli, and the implication that, in time of war, opposition is akin 0ato giving succour to the enemy. Bush wants to pack the courts with doctrinal 0aright-wing judges; if he could, he would roll back a woman's right to choose 0aeven further than the ban on partial birth abortion he signed into law last 0aweek.
And all this done with a certainty ill-befitting a man with scant 0aknowledge of the world's complexities, and a quite scary lack of curiosity about 0awhat makes other people and other cultures tick. As the political writer Joe 0aKlein put it in a Time magazine column just before the second Iraq war: "George 0aW Bush lives at the intersection of faith and inexperience. This is not a 0areassuring address, especially in a time of trouble." No more reassuring is the 0asecrecy with which he and his high command operate. Add that to Bush's aversion 0ato press conferences and Republican control of both houses of Congress, and the 0aBush White House often appears beyond accountability.
Indeed, today's Washington has a whiff of Soviet ways; 0asuffocating internal discipline, resentment of even reasoned, moderate 0aopposition, and a refusal to admit even the tiniest error. For imperialists, 0aread "evildoers". With their condescending "we know best" attitude, Messrs Bush, 0aCheney, Rumsfeld and the rest offer as close an impersonation of the Politburo 0aas you will find. As was said of the pre-glasnost Kremlin then, so with the 0aWhite House now: you know nothing, but understand everything.
Finally, there is Bush the buffoon. There is another reason for 0ahis aversion to press conferences: in anything but the most tightly scripted 0acircumstances he is capable of saying anything. Sometimes it works fine, as at 0ahis father's state banquet for the Queen in 1991, when he boasted to her that he 0ahad embroidered his new cowboy boots with the phrase "God Save the Queen", 0abefore confessing he had been his family's black sheep. "Who's yours?" he then 0aasked the sovereign, to the horror of his mother.
But he's President now. And if there's anything that jars with 0aliberals more than his gilded, semi-accidental glide to the White House, it's 0ahis capacity to mangle the English language. In the US and Britain alike, the 0achattering classes don't know whether to laugh at Bush or loathe him. The 0aantipathy is assuredly mutual. Is he dumb, Barbara Bush was once asked of her 0ason. Yes, came the acid reply, "dumb as a fox".
With its kernel of truth, her remark only makes Bush's critics 0amore furious. Far more than real but less familiar tyrants from foreign lands 0asuch as Nicolae Ceausescu and Jiang Zemin, who also have supped at Her Majesty's 0atable, we think we know George Bush. We know he doesn't deserve to be where he 0ais. And what could be more maddening than that?
Bush telegraph: selected presidential facts
In May 2001, Bush's government gave $43m to the Taliban.
Bush has never attended a funeral or memorial service for a 0asoldier killed in Iraq.
In August this year, Bush took the second-longest holiday ever by 0aa US president: 28 days.
Bush's 16-member cabinet is the wealthiest in US history, with an 0aaverage fortune of $10.9m each.
As governor of Texas, Bush executed 152 prisoners.
Sixty-one people who raised $100,000 for Bush's 2000 election 0acampaign have since been given government posts.
Nine members of Bush's Defense Policy Board sit on the board of 0adefence contractors or are advisers.
Bush owns more than 250 autographed baseballs.
Bush has been arrested three times: for stealing a Christmas 0awreath from a hotel; for ripping down the Princeton goal posts after a 0aPrinceton-Yale game; and for drunk driving.
Bush infuriated the Russian media by spitting a wad of chewing 0agum into his hand before signing 2002's historic Treaty of Moscow with Vladimir 0aPutin.
While appearing on the David Letterman show in 2000, Bush was 0acaught surreptitiously cleaning his glasses on the jacket of the programme's 0aexecutive producer, Maria Pope.
Jump to TO Features for Saturday 15 November 0a2003