Suburban Soliloquy #61


I was born in the Bronx on the seventh of March 1951, a time when American troops were fighting the Korean War, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were on trial for treason in New York City, and Truman was President.

Being a mere toddler at the time, I do not remember Truman during his presidency. My first memories of a President are of Eisenhower putting golf balls on the White House lawn. It was with Eisenhower's presidency that I first marked time, the way ancient Romans marked time by the name of the Consuls then in office. Eisenhower was just another father off someplace doing work so that I could enjoy the illusion of security during my childhood.

I can name every President since Eisenhower, each representing an era in my nation's cultural history and serving as a convenient demarcation for my own personal history. In all, there have been eleven Presidents thus far in my life. You don't need me to play the part of Suetonius. In this age we start separate libraries to hold the papers of each individual President.

Although I was just a child, the charismatic JFK earned my childish love. He brought a feeling of glory and excitement to the age, launching the space age, trying to end racism. I don't think I have ever felt more proud of my country's accomplishments than during his presidency. Since that time I have listened to tapes of his press conferences. That man was brilliant and insightful.

I was eating lunch in my junior high school cafeteria when a kid from the adjoining elementary school shouted into the vast room that Kennedy had been shot. The air stilled as if everyone was holding their breath, and then we all burst out laughing in disbelief. But as I entered my next class, the teacher was absent. Someone had seen him heading to the office in tears. Then the announcement was formalized over the tinny public-address system and soon we were all sent home.

I reached maturity during LBJ's administration, which is to say I lost my na´vetÚ about politicians. I grew up believing they were something more than ordinary folk, more inclined to be moral and self-sacrificing and honest. Years of indoctrination at public schools had taught me that my country would fight only righteous wars. I began the LBJ years supporting our actions in Vietnam, sharing my parents' beliefs. By the end of the era, when LBJ declined to run for reelection, tired, defeated, I had adopted my older sister's views, and was against the war.

The Nixon years were perverse. As I remember the era, President Nixon was under constant siege. I was glad to be a witness to history, and I was glad to see Nixon brought down. It was during his term of office that I reached voting age.

President Ford? I actually liked the man. I felt him to be honest and sincere, the opposite of Nixon, but he was powerless.

I voted for President Carter. He was a very good man, but in time I came to think he deserved a better staff, one that had more respect for the opposition.

I voted against Ronald Reagan. He will always remain an enigma for me. To this day there are people who recall him fondly and with great admiration. I regarded him as merely a puppet for an oligarchy of the rich.

I voted against George Bush, yet I never quite disliked him. At least he was intelligent. I felt Bush was a decent man, yet I suspect this was the influence of his First Lady. I would have sooner had her for President. I've heard it said that Eleanor Roosevelt rendered similar service to this Country by modifying her husband's point of view.

I voted for Clinton. I did not like him, but regarded him as the lesser of two evils. In time I came to sincerely admire Clinton as a great President. When he spoke, he was able to explain the situation clearly and the intent of his proposal to remedy a given problem. He was articulate, if regrettably long-winded. I was unable to grasp the vitriolic disdain of the opposition to him and his wife. I knew fellow liberals who disliked him because he didn't do enough, when in fact I thought he demonstrated a sensible ability to compromise while pushing policy ever further to liberal causes. I thought it right of him to adopt Republican ideas when he thought they were good. As to his sexual peccadilloes, I remain baffled as to why it was anyone's business. I never felt my President lied except when it came to the question that should have never in all decency been asked, and to which a gentleman is taught to lie rather than expose a woman to insult.

I am writing this essay in the era of President George W. Bush. I dread the man.

When he comes on the television to make a speech, Ms Keogh and I find his inarticulateness so utterly embarrassing, we are obliged to turn the program off. He cloaks himself in jingoisms and meaningless catchphrases. Perhaps language ability is not a measure of a person's intelligence, but it is near impossible to overcome my prejudice. While other Presidents are best remembered by oratorical highlights, what will be remembered of this President? A vast collection of malapropisms and clumsy utterances. It is possible to buy tee-shirts with your choice of Bushism printed across the chest.

So popular is the President's apparent ignorance that it might be that some Bushisms are being invented for him. He is alleged to have said, "The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur." The source for this remark was Shirley Vivien Teresa Brittain Williams, also known as the Baroness Williams of Crosby, who claimed her source was Tony Blair. The Prime Minister denies having heard the President make such a remark or of passing it on to Shirley Williams. We need to establish a clearinghouse that can review Bushisms and determine if they are genuine, but is it possible to discern counterfeit? They are easy to believe.

I am afraid of my President. I no longer feel safe. He attempts to bully the world and assert American influence where it is unwelcomed. He doesn't attempt this by guile or subtle maneuvering, but with the brute force of the sole remaining superpower.

I suspect my President and his administration of certain beliefs incompatible with the keystone of this society's government, the separation of church and state.

It worries me to think that for my President, "good" is not something that can be derived at by reason, but emanates exclusively from the postulates of a fringe and fanatical Christian sect. If President Bush meets with no obstacles, I think we would have laws restricting sex, family relationships, marriage, and schooling according to the prescripts of one interpretation of a single book. It worries me to believe the President, who has little grasp of science and a poor respect for education, might not believe in Evolution, yet is prepared to believe in magic, that at conception the zygote is divinely enhanced, this being a matter of faith and not measurement. I do not want President Bush to impose his morality on me. I do not believe in his God.

It is my genuine fear that President Bush is prepared to accept the mythology of the Apocalypse as taught by certain Christian sects, that the devastation done to the world and humanity is unavoidable prophecy. It might be for this reason he doesn't concern himself with the devastation of the natural environment and is quite prepared to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He makes policy as if nature is there solely for us to exploit, and maybe he expects it to conveniently run out just before the end of the world. It alarms me most that there is less and less time, that we cannot sit out this President and hope the next one will be better. It might be too late for the world.

I am living under a President whose intelligence I cannot respect, a President who is placing obstacles to the advance of science, most importantly medical science. His ethics are based on unsupportable superstitions. He pollutes with impunity. He provokes other countries with his self-righteousness. I believe that he believes that God will intervene for him when the time comes. That such a man could affect my fate causes me intolerable stress. However, it would seem that he has popular support. I am made to feel alienated in my homeland, which is how I suppose many Republicans felt when Clinton was President. I am scared that the most technologically advanced nation in the world, which was once a forward thinking nation, has come to be ruled by medieval minds.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the sixty-first in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is now available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"