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A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Republicans broadcast a series of television commercials depicting Governor Dukakis as a dreaming liberal sympathetic to rapists and as a dangerous fool who didn’t know the difference between a Russian and a Smurf. The latter strategy entailed tying Bush to the saddle of his horse, padding his helmet with enough styrofoam to hold it in place costumes of the common man. Bush dutifully denied any connection to his point of social origin or to the monied interests that paid for the fabrication of his image, and for three months, following the script, he presented himself as a regular, straight-shooting kind of a guy who “cries easily” at sentimental movies, admires Loretta Lynn and the Oak Ridge Boys, pitches horseshoes, cares a lot for “mainstream values,” subscribes to Bassmaster magazine, delights in his motorboat, and never misses “Monday Night Football.” Never once during the campaign did Bush say or do anything that suggested gentleness or kindness. When he wasn’t fatuous, he was dishonest. He slandered his opponent, mocked the generously idealistic. tradition in women who received abortions weren’t being sent to prison. As often as possible he appeared before small-town rallies in the company of Hollywood strongmen, among them assured a crowd in Hackensack, New Jersey, that Bush was “no wimp.” The endorsement implied that Bush could be relied upon to maim or kill anybody that his country ordered him to maim or kill. Even so, despite the thousands of flags and the incessant spectacle of Bush waving a brave hello to the nation’s bright and invincible future, I never could dispel the feeling that his smile was fraudulent and that Bush was frightened both by his political associates and his horse. Behind the visor of his plumed helmet, which looked to be made of tin instead of iron, I could too easily imagine him being afraid of what else he would be asked to do. How many other lies would he be forced to tell? Of the little that was left to him of his conscience, how much more would he be required to place in escrow? In the same acceptance speech in which he promised to make America “a kinder and gentler nation,” Bush also said, speaking of the American people as a whole, that “we must be good to one another.” The phrase had a plaintive sound, as if Bush were speaking about himself and hoping that the American people would be good not to one another but to him. It is, I suspect, a forlorn hope. Too many people have learned too well the brutish lessons of the twentieth century, and they have taken as their beau ideal not the strength of character once admired in a virtuous individual but the technological perfections of a nation-state. Encouraged by the squalid example of the Reagan administration, the captains of finance most closely identified with the spirit of the age aspire to the moral vacuum of the rigged stock deal and the slick ad campaign. A few days before Bush’s election I was introduced to a representative member of the species a young and callow investment manager, adept in the maneuvers of the leveraged buyout, the merger, the takeover, and the corporate raid. Having raised $100 million for a university library and research laboratory, he had summoned a delegation of alumni to show them drawings of the buildings that he had endowed with the ornament of his name. The view looking west was of the Hudson River, and after the stewards had served the coffee and passed around the Cuban cigars, the host explained the advantages of setting oneself up as a government. Having adopted a program of deficit spending, and being comfortably burdened with a portfolio of heavy bank loans that he had no intention of paying off, he compared our federal fiscal policy with his dealings with restaurants and department stores. Because he had run up his debts to genuinely alarming levels, he had achieved, at least among the cognoscenti at Citibank and Le Cirque, a status comparable to that of Brazil. What was especially fine about constituting oneself as a government, he said, was the way in which it relieved a fellow of a sense of guilt. He submitted the rapacity of of his magnanimity. It was expected of nation-states, he said, that they should live beyond their means, that they should be spendthrifts as well as liars and cheats. The dean of the university had provided him with a reading list, and he had collected an anthology of quotations from diplomatists as mordant as Francis Bacon and Georges Clemenceau. “A state neither loves nor hates,” he said. “It pursues its interests. You would be surprised how simple this makes the negotiations with women and children.” He was a man much pleased with himself, and at the time, I remember being reminded of Donald Trump. In retrospect I’m reminded of Vice President-elect Dan Quayle. It is to people such as these that Bush can expect to make his little speeches about “a kinder and gentler nation.” No wonder he seems a trifle anxious when he frets about the state of the nation’s imaginary soul. I think it probable that he cannot distinguish his enemies from his friends. He was elected as a constitutional deity a wax figure made for television, meant to be briefly worshiped, and then, like the annual kings of the ancient corn harvest, sacrificed to the expedience of the moment and the changing of the political seasons. Copyright 1989 by Harper’s Magazine. All rights reserved. Reprinted from the January 1989 issue by special permission. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21