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April 14, 2004

An Ordinary Evening in W's Brain

The press conference last evening was simply horrifying. The spectacle of Bush being forced to think on this feet was so painful as to inspire an ashamed sympathy in me, so much so that I was relieved when he finally turned and walked away from the podium down that majestic red-carpeted hallway. He took no responsibility for anything that has happened on his watch, held ridiculously to the fiction that WMD's might still be found, and painted a gruesome picture of a mind grinding away at the hard work of ignoring what have become rather glaring facts. So busy keeping reality at bay, he could think of no mistake he has made.

Just this morning, several people have mentioned to me this article in Slate, and I do think it is an incredibly important read. I will try to withhold judgment on whether Bush is stupid (a very Bushian exercise in fact-avoidance, really); if you believe this article, his intellectual prowess is rendered largely moot by his refusal to engage in external reality. His insistence that internal consistency alone is proof-positive of correctness (and rectitude) is one of the most solipsistic and inane features of his presidency. Does he fancy himself infallible? (Isn't Kerry the Catholic in this race?)

My Papaw (who, bless his heart, loves W with a fervor previously reserved for Reagan) has always said "Smart people change their minds," but that is exactly what W refuses to do, regardless of the mounting evidence around him. To hear him talk (in oratory that would be mediocre for a small-town mayor), you would think he believes changing his mind to account for reality would amount to going back on his word. To quote Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." (And, for good measure, Auden: "The enlightenment driven away,/ The habit-forming pain,/ Mismanagement and grief:/ We must suffer them all again.")

W famously spent time in New Haven (thinking, one must assume, the same thoughts for four years), but I am willing to bet he never read the poetry of Wallace Stevens (America's foremost insurance executive-cum-poet). Pity that. Wallace's "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven" is one of my very favorite poems, a meditation on learning, religion, poetry, and reality set in a place I love.

The poem's main subject, Professor Eucalyptus, is at once wise and befuddled, prone to beautifully difficult statements and endlessly able to change his mind as he grapples with the challenges of seeing rightly as "an ordinary evening" descends. It is one of the best meditations on thought, reality, and perception that exists, and it provides an excellent gloss on the Problem of W's brain: "The search/ For reality is as momentous as/ The search for god."

W certainly spends a lot of time talking to us about the search for God. As an extraordinarily dark night descends on the globe, we should all pray that God might mention to W in one of their frequent chats how much better and safer the world would be if W would look around for reality at least once in a while.

I've quoted a few poets in this post; these are days we need poetry, to understand how old these supposedly new problems are (wrong wars, mad kings, and the dangers of siting evil always elsewhere than our own hearts). To end with a quote, timely as ever, from William Carlos Willams: "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there."

Posted by jay at April 14, 2004 09:46 AM | TrackBack
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This is the second time in three days that (at my house) we've squirmed in terrible discomfort as the President, seemingly unscripted, has addressed the press. If you caught any of the Fort Hood Easter footage, you'd have heard the same excruciating stumbling as the press corps - and the viewing audiences - were guided through a demoralizing round of buzzword bingo. Thugs. Toughness. WMD. Saddam Hussein. 9/11. People who hate freedom. Bingo, you lose. And as the hearings run through our headphones and in our cars and on our clock radios, the "foolish consistency" you mention is showcased by the entire administration.

What's my point? I don't know, really. I've been spending (obviously) a lot of time thinking about semantics, but perhaps, Jay, your ideas are more useful. Maybe it's time for me to broaden the source of the words that fill my head. Williams is right. Lack of poetry may not be killing me, but my spirit is indeed suffering.

Posted by: pam on April 14, 2004 11:40 AM
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