Thursday, June 8, 2006

Father vs. Son

Sidney Blumenthal reports that the Poppy Bush tried to get Rumsfeld ousted.

Former President George H.W. Bush waged a secret campaign over several months early this year to remove Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The elder Bush went so far as to recruit Rumsfeld’s potential replacement, personally asking a retired four-star general if he would accept the position, a reliable source close to the general told me. But the former president’s effort failed, apparently rebuffed by the current president. When seven retired generals who had been commanders in Iraq demanded Rumsfeld’s resignation in April, the younger Bush leapt to his defense. “I’m the decider and I decide what’s best. And what’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain,” he said. His endorsement of Rumsfeld was a rebuke not only to the generals but also to his father.

The elder Bush’s intervention was an extraordinary attempt to rescue simultaneously his son, the family legacy and the country. The current president had previously rejected entreaties from party establishment figures to revamp his administration with new appointments. There was no one left to approach him except his father. This effort to pluck George W. from his troubles is the latest episode in a recurrent drama — from the drunken young man challenging his father to go “mano a mano” on the front lawn of the family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, to the father pulling strings to get the son into the Texas Air National Guard and helping salvage his finances from George W.’s mismanagement of Harken Energy. For the father, parental responsibility never ends. But for the son, rebellion continues. When journalist Bob Woodward asked George W. Bush if he had consulted his father before invading Iraq, he replied, “He is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to.”

I don’t believe in psychoanalysis from afar, but I’ll certainly indulge in dramaturgy.

All ten people who have read my plays, short stories, or novel-in-progress know that I concentrate more on the characters than I do on the plot. Therefore I’m much more interested in the relationship between the father and son in this story than I am in the politics.

This has all the makings of a good drama in the manner of Shakespeare’s Henry V or Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and it has all the Freudian overtones of the son trying to prove to his father that he is worthy of his attention and respect. In Miller’s works, the son never feels that he meets the standards his father has set for him, and the father can never feel completely sure that he has done everything he can to help his child. Add to that the impossibly high standards that George Bush Sr. set for his son without even trying: war hero, successful businessman and politician, dutiful vice president, and average president but still president nonetheless. What a burden to put on your first-born son and namesake. Given all of that, it’s not surprising that George W. Bush turned out to be a Biff Loman; constantly at war with his father, constantly trying to beat him, and still trying with adolescent clumsiness to win his approval: “Look, Dad, I won!”

This struggle between Bush father and son would make a fascinating play. Unfortunately, this drama is taking place on the real stage of life and death, and unlike Shakespeare’s Henry V, when the young king sends the warriors off to battle, they don’t go off stage and into the green room. Even Prince Hal grew up.