Bush redeems himself

· Oct 8, 2001 Tweet

The country is now at war, and all I can think about is the movie “Hoosiers.”

No, it’s not because the Wisconsin football team got waxed by Indiana last Saturday, and it’s not because our president likes to pretend he represents small-town Middle America. But it was, in fact, the actions of George W. Bush over the past week that brought the movie to mind.

Actually, I am reminded of only one scene in particular from the film about a small-town Indiana basketball team that won a state title in the ’50s. They were in the regional final, and with two players fouled out, the five-foot-nothing Ollie is forced to enter the game. After making a turnover and letting his team fall behind, Ollie gets fouled and under-hands two free-throws as the crowd gasps. They both go in, to the surprise of all, and the crowd erupts as his championship-bound team carries him off the court.

The thrill, of course, did not come from the fact that a player made two relatively easy shots to win the game; it was that those baskets came from the player least qualified to take them. His success, even if just for a short period of time, surprised the hell out of everyone.

And last week, I could not help thinking that George W. Bush was a political Ollie.

For the son of a basketball coach and religious fan of the movie growing up, the parallel was too tight to ignore. Four weeks ago, Bush stepped into the most high-pressure game of his life and made some turnovers, often focusing his rhetoric more on revenge than the victims themselves and overusing trite phrases like “smoke them out of their holes” when discussing what will amount to extremely complicated military actions. But now this can be seen as merely setting the crowd up for the thrill, lowering expectations before the final shots at the free-throw line.

In fact, most of Bush’s life can be seen as part of this expectation-lowering set-up. Political beliefs aside, the man verifies the mythical status of an American political meritocracy. Bush puts on a self-made, Middle-America act, but he probably could not be further from that ideal. Sure, he grew up in Texas, but he grew up the youngest son in an extremely rich and well-connected family. Dad’s money sent him to high school in Massachusetts, at the Philips Andover Academy of Upper-Class Snobbery. Dad’s legacy got him into Yale. Dad’s name got him the funds to run for Texas governor in 1994, and the timing of Newt’s Republican Revolution gave him the chance to be elected. Dad’s name once again got him the funds to capture the 2000 nomination, and the combination of Kenneth Starr and Bill Clinton, among other factors, made it possible for him to win the election.

After being elected, Bush became known for handing out country-style nicknames and using Southern slang. He went into office after governing a state where signs at cinemas ask moviegoers to “check firearms at the door,” and his status is almost godlike among many NRA members. Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, I felt more than a little nervous with his finger on the national trigger.

But this last week, I have to admit, the ill-suited Ollie hit his free throws.

Bush overcame his earlier turnovers and did not launch a hasty retaliatory strike while other nations tried to figure out exactly where they stood on how to respond. He pushed to make the international coalition stronger and sent Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the Middle East to soften potential opposition there. He waited almost a month — a wait which seemed unthinkable immediately following the terrorist attacks — to launch strikes against the Taliban. And, most surprising of all, he has even undertaken efforts to send food to Afghan refugees and has tried to spread the word among them that any military action will be against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, not the country as a whole.

Now, I don’t want to give Bush too much credit; after all, he merely hit a couple free throws, something any decent player (Shaq excluded) would have little problem with. But I must give Bush and his administration due credit: They stepped up to line last week at a clutch time, the crowd gasping in fear, and lobbed their free throws into the hoop.

But just as Ollie’s shots only served to get his team to the title game, Bush still has a lot of challenges ahead. Unfortunately, this is neither a game nor a movie, and Bush will need to keep overcoming expectations in the weeks ahead.

For the sake of the entire world, let’s hope that he does.


This article was published Oct 8, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Oct 8, 2001 at 12:00 am


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