Paul Thomas

The Shoes The World Couldn’t Dodge

Dec 20, 2008 | Americana

In Independence Day, the president leads an air raid against alien invaders. In Air Force One, the president saves his family from terrorists who’ve hijacked the presidential jumbo jet.

And this week life imitated art when President George W. Bush dodged shoes hurled at him by an Iraqi journalist.

Unlike those filmic presidents, it can’t be said of Bush that he acted without a thought for his own safety since dodging, by definition, is about self-protection. But who wouldn’t take evasive action to avoid being struck by a shoe, even a Hush Puppy, travelling at 60 or 70 kph? Apart from anything else, you don’t know where it’s been.

It’s a measure of how low the bar is now set for Bush that some media observers felt compelled to praise his composure under fire. A columnist wrote that Americans will “marvel” at his quick reflexes, which suggests their obesity problem is even worse than we suspected.

Bush rounded off what the Daily Telegraph described as a “supremely self-controlled and dignified” reaction by quipping that the shoes were size tens.

Ah yes, the mandatory quip. No better way of displaying grace under pressure than the snappy one-liner delivered with a self-deprecating half-smile and without a hint of a tremor in the voice. One’s reminded of Ronald Reagan lying in the emergency ward with a bullet in his lung telling his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

But Bush didn’t forget to duck. History will record that when confronted with incoming hostile footwear, he got out of the way.

By the time some of you return from holiday, Bush will have been consigned to the dust-bin of history. Although Leon Trotsky’s savage dismissal of the Mensheviks has become both a propaganda catchphrase and a journalistic cliché, in this instance it seems appropriate.

It took an assassination and the myth of Camelot to obscure the fact that voter fraud might have played a part in John F. Kennedy’s 1960 election victory. (Most of the suspicion centred on Chicago where Democratic Mayor Richard Daley’s notorious political machine worked apparent miracles. Fast forward to the Blagojevich scandal. In Illinois, it seems, the more things change, the more they stay the same.)

The whiff of illegitimacy that clung to Bush after he was effectively awarded the presidency by a 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court dissipated after 9/11. His immediate reaction wasn’t promising – he continued reading a story about a voracious goat to a class of ninth graders for seven minutes after being informed that a second plane had hit the World Trade Centre – but for a while there he did rise to the occasion. He had the country – and much of the world – behind him; he had a mandate to lead.

Then God got in his ear (presumably not the same God who’d previously been in Osama bin Laden’s ear) telling him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. The rest, tragically, is history.

In May 2003 Bush landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, posed for photographs wearing a flight suit and, standing beneath a giant banner proclaiming ‘Mission Accomplished,’ announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

It was, of course, only the end of the beginning. Scores of thousands of deaths and $976 billion later, it seems no clearer than it ever did that the way to defeat a shadowy, well-dispersed Islamist terrorist organisation is to invade an essentially secular sovereign nation which had nothing to do with the provocation.

But there he was this week insisting the war was necessary “for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace.” Note the order. It’s now clear that Bush and his apologists will stake his reputation on the fact that there hasn’t been a repeat of 9/11 on American soil. In part at least this has been achieved by shifting America’s fight with Al Qaeda to a neutral venue – Iraq – with terrible consequences for the people who happened to live there.

This explains the Iraqis’ less than censorious response to the grave insult to their guest and the architect of their liberation: the shoe thrower is now a national hero, 200 lawyers have volunteered to defend him free of charge and thousands took to the streets demanding his release.

Hanging chads; non-existent WMDs; dim, rich, white boy indifference to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, an economic approach – tax cuts for the rich – that fostered greed and irresponsibility; and now scuttling out of Baghdad in a hail of shoes. A presidency born in murkiness and founded on deceit ends in humiliation and low farce.

A fitting end for the shoe the world couldn’t dodge.

This article originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.