So has Bush jumped the shark? Or is shark jump sometime in his future? Or is the guy such Mount Rushmore material like that he’ll never jump the shark?
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “jumping the shark” goes back to the TV show “Happy Days”. It captured the moment when the Fonz (played by Henry Winkler) went from cool to ridiculous. This happened to the Fonz in some episode I never saw when he was apparently in a surfboarding contest and he … you got it.
In retrospect that was the moment he became ludicrous and he was no longer cool. The show didn’t survive too many years after that.
Now it is almost irresistible to pinpoint those “jump the shark” moments in the life of any celebrity. With Richard Nixon it was at Disney World when he proclaimed, “I am not a crook”. (He couldn’t have picked a more perfect place to make this announcement either.) We saw it with Bill Clinton when in a deposition he said, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” (Or perhaps it was “I never had sex with that woman!”)
Admittedly with Bush the call can be a hard one. For example, on July 14th Bush inexplicably said: “The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region.” In case you were snoozing earlier this year, inspectors left Iraq not because Saddam kicked them out but because we warned the U.N. that invasion was imminent.
In retrospect I believe it will be shown that Bush jumped the shark on May 1, 2003. On this day he landed on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, somewhere off San Diego, emerging from a fighter aircraft in a flight suit. Pompously parading down the flight deck with a huge banner in the background that said “Mission Accomplished” Bush basically said we had won the war and there was just a little cleaning up to do. You know small things like bring civil order, turn on the lights, prevent looting and instill democratic values. Small stuff apparently. Just a few addendum to the nation’s checklist, hardly worth mentioning really!
Since that time more soldiers have died or were wounded in Iraq that occurred during the war itself. Last week, unfortunately, saw more American soldiers dying in Iraq that any week since Bush proclaimed “Mission Accomplished”.
The carrier episode, particularly in hindsight, was the defining moment. You can rest assured as this war of attrition drags on and on that you will see this video clip used endlessly against Bush in the general election next year. Michael Dukakis’s moment emerging from the turret of a Massachusetts’s National Guard tank has nothing on this wholly preventable photo op.
Forget about jumping the shark for a moment, talk about jumping the gun! He, or rather his staff should have known better. (Bush clearly isn’t the brightest light bulb in the house.) But I guess they couldn’t help themselves. Why did they do it? Was it to push the president’s momentary popularity up a couple more points? They should have had some inkling it couldn’t be sustained. The whole thing with the flight suit was also way over the top; it invited the criticism it received, particularly when we learned the carrier was within 50 miles of San Diego and was essentially doing a holding pattern just so the Commander in Chief could be seen landing on the carrier in a very hirsute fashion aboard a military fighter jet.
The message was: Bush is no wimp and will get the job done.
Except, of course, the job had just begun. What many of us believed going into the war was that the winning the peace was the hard part, not securing a military victory. With Saddam’s army a third of its size from the Gulf War, and with no allies for Saddam to turn to, and with us being the only superpower, the only question was how quickly we would win.
But it appears that Bush is a lot more wimpish that he let on. One need only look at the dodging he is doing on the bogus claim trumped up in his State of the Union speech wherein he said Iraq had acquired uranium recently from Niger. If nothing else the man has a talent for dodge ball. Let Tenet take the heat, no Condi’s assistant National Security Advisor (although inexplicably don’t make anyone resign), but certainly don’t expect Bush to personally take any responsibility. Clearly the buck passes at his desk. But this charade won’t last much longer because, well, he has jumped the shark. His sagging approval ratings certainly suggest it.
Harry Truman wasn’t afraid to dodge responsibility. Neither, for that matter, did Reagan on Iran-Contra or the mass murder of our marines in Lebanon. Maybe Reagan wasn’t held accountable but he knew to cut his losses and acknowledge responsibility.
Bush hasn’t learned that lesson and he is too pompous and full of himself to admit anything resembling humility. His balloon has burst but he is totally clueless that the air is rushing out.