Aught Lang Syne: The Shoe Toss

After John S wrote what, in blog terms, amounts to a thesis on the presidency of George W. Bush earlier today, I figured I’d be a bit more visceral.

In my older less vulnerable years, when I consider our 43rd president, my first thought will be of his physical reflexes, of the moment when George W. Bush proved that he could dodge the shoes of journalists as well as his administration did their questions.

It is hard for me to imagine any other sitting president of the United States inspiring enough ire to compel a foreign journalist to take off his shoes and fling them one at a time at him. It is harder still to imagine America itself being as amused by the whole situation if it had happened to any other president in our history. I doubt there would have been editorials extolling the journalist as a hero, top 10 lists for why the whole event was “completely awesome,” or dozens of Internet games that allowed you to play the role of the first-person shoe thrower if some Soviet scribe had thrown his footwear at FDR in Yalta.*

*A perhaps unfair analogy for several reasons, the least of which is the lack of the Internet in 1940s USSR.

The event—thankfully for Bush, near the end of his presidency, which likely prevented similar attacks at other foreign stops—encapsulated so much of Bush’s two terms in the Oval Office. The man known for carefully choreographing press events couldn’t handle one that didn’t go according to plan. His stumbling logic afterward, which dismissed the entire event (“So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?…I don’t know what his cause is.”) and implied that it was the journalist’s attempt to draw attention to himself (“That’s what happens in free societies.”), represented the president’s consistent inability to articulate ideas or understand cause-and-effect relationships. You don’t know what his cause is? You want to think about that for a minute? What could his cause possibly be?

To me, this is the legacy of President George W. Bush. While he might be the only American president quick enough to avoid both shoes, he is almost certainly the only president slow enough to provoke such an attack in the first place.

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