The world of theatre that I've swum in for decades as a drama
critic provides a useful prism through which to view today's
political events and players.
This is especially true when thinking about drama from ancient
Greece and Europe's Renaissance. Those periods remind us how
often human tragedy repeats itself over the centuries. (Which is
why many modern directors return so often to the wisdom of these
ancient plays, often staging them with contemporary conceits so
as to make the connections overt for their audiences.)
Much of ancient Greek drama focuses on the disastrous results of
"hubris," an overweening pride and arrogance that can lead
rulers to go outside the ethical/legal boundaries. (See "Oedipus
Rex," "Antigone," "The Orestia.") Almost invariably, because
their reckless attitude upsets the delicate balance required for
proper rule, punishment or even tragedy results -- and not just
personal, but for society as a whole.
NIXON, REAGAN & CLINTON
Nixon, coming off a landslide GOP victory in 1972, committed
"hubris" by thinking himself immune from normal laws ("When the
President does it, that means that it is not illegal," he
claimed) by authorizing secret wiretapping, breaking & entering,
bribing of witnesses, etc. -- the felonies that came to be subsumed
under the rubric "Watergate." To avoid his imminent impeachment,
Nixon resigned, the only President to do so in American history.
Reagan, a popular Republican president in the 1980s, had his dip
into hubris by engaging in the Iran/Contra scandal (illegally
selling arms to enemy Iran in order to secretly finance
anti-government guerrillas in Nicaragua), and then claiming the
violations of law never happened. Reagan probably avoided later
criminal prosecution when GOP President George H.W. Bush
sandbagged the scandal by pardoning key participants "pre-emptively,"
before questioning under oath could begin.
The Democrat Clinton entered the halls of hubris when he,
believing a President could get away with anything, lied about
having engaged in dubious conduct with a government intern. He
was impeached but the Senate did not convict, believing, along
with the overwhelming majority of the American people, that
lying about sex did not constitute a "high crime" against the
country or Constitution.
BUSH'S UNPRECEDENTED HUBRIS
Now we have Bush Junior, who has attempted to codify his
power-grabbing hubris by claiming that the President can do
whatever he chooses to do as long as he does so as "commander in
chief" during "wartime." Using this dictatorial theory, Bush has
authorized torture, illegal spying on U.S. citizens, breaking &
entering into citizens' homes and computers without their ever
knowing such violations of privacy occurred, leaking classified
information to friendly reporters, and on and on.
The scale of Bush's hubris is unprecedented in American history,
which may be why, five years into his rule, even friends and
conservative supporters are opposed to his unconstitutional grab
for power. Many of them recall Bush's predilection for operating
outside the laws and traditions of our democratic republic;
three times he has expressed an affinity for dictatorship. What
may have been Freudian-slip jokes when uttered several years ago
-- such as: "it would be much easier if this was a dictatorship,
as long as I get to be the dictator" -- now don't seem so funny.
THE "TRAGIC FLAW"
Which brings us to the next theatrical concept from the Greeks,
and honed in the works of Shakespeare in the Elizabethan period
in England more than 400 years ago: the "tragic flaw."
The essence of this theory is that, by and large, rulers are not
brought down only, or even mainly, by external events -- rather,
they bring ruin upon themselves because of some significant
deficiency in their own character, a "tragic flaw" in their
psychic and ethical makeup. They are consumed by overweening
lust for power, or don't mind using immoral means in the service
of good ends, or can't control their obsessions, etc. Think:
"Macbeth," and ambition; "Othello," and jealousy; "Hamlet," and
Nixon's "tragic flaw" was his paranoia, needing always to know
what his political opponents were up to, hence the break-in and
wiretapping of the Democratic Party headquarters, the building
of his "enemies' list," digging up personal information for his
"dirty-trick" operations against political opponents, etc.
Reagan's "tragic flaw" was his simplistic view of the world,
divided into "the evil empire" (the Soviet Union) and us good
American guys; this stark black-and-white view of reality led
him illegally to sell armaments to another enemy (Iran) in order
to find ways around Congressional laws that prohibited U.S.
funds going to the anti-Communist Contra guerrillas in
Clinton's tragic flaw, again derived out of a weak aspect at his
core, was his need for constant affirmation, which he could
assuage by finding a woman who would sexually service him out of
ROVE'S M.O.: DENY AND ATTACK
Bush is the apotheosis of all those weaknesses into one
humonguous Tragic Flaw unlike any that has been seen in American
politics, with worldwide consequences that result in hundreds of
thousands of deaths and maimings. What is different is that the
other leaders, at some level, knew they were misbehaving and
tried like the dickens to hide the evidence. These politicians
were undone when they came to learn, once again, that the
coverup is always worse than the crime.
Bush, of course, has tried to conceal his many mistakes, but
when that doesn't work, the Rovian approach for Bush is to
loudly assert, in a threatening in-your-face manner, that his
worst weaknesses are really his strengths. (For example, he's
violating laws and the Constitution in order "to protect
As the many violations and scandals begin breaking through the
denial dam, the policy is altered to proudly assert a
"constitutional right" right to do whatever Bush and his cohorts
are doing or planning on doing. In short, a variation of Nixon's
claim (a theory knocked down instantly by the Supreme Court in
the early 1970s) that whatever the President does is ipso facto
legal. Most legal scholars today support the Supreme Court's
outright dismissal of that claimed right to abrogate the
Constitution and upset the separation of powers structure -- but
let us not forget that Bush may well have a working majority on
today's Supreme Court.
From where does Bush's tragic flaw derive?
ORIGIN OF THE DISEASE
In almost any area of governance you can think of, George Bush
is ridden with the fault-lines of his tragic flaws -- and may
have borrowed some from earlier leaders.
Bush is so bereft of self-esteem (much of it derived from his
upbringing, by constant humiliation by his parents, by a string
of personal and business failures, by his inability to admit
error and tell the truth), that he can't help himself from
over-compensating by displaying a persona of cockiness and
belligerent authority. In short, the bully syndrome: deficient
on the inside, aggressive on the outside. Bush, let us remember,
delighted in blowing up frogs with explosives as a child.
Incompetent by nature and practice, Bush surrounds himself with
yes-men and those who likewise are boastful bumblers. Basically
ignorant, dogmatic and intellectually incurious, Bush easily is
manipulated and swayed by those few insiders he trusts; namely,
Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the architects of
his political ideology and modus operandi.
One can sense that the American people during the past year or
so figured out that Bush and his crew are way over their heads
when it comes to intelligent leadership -- witness the debacle
that is Iraq, the post-Katrina-disaster federal "assistance"
they thoroughly botched in New Orleans, the economy which has
put future generations trillions of dollars in hock, the
Medicare and Social Security messes, Plamegate, domestic spying,
torture, etc. etc.
When Bush uncorks another of his deficient media performances
these days, a majority of the American people simply don't pay
much attention anymore to what he says, since they know it bears
only the slightest connection either to what he is doing or to
the activities of Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld behind the curtain.
IMPEACHMENT AS A NECESSITY
Many citizens, numb and apprehensive, seem fixated on somehow
riding out the next two-and-a-half years of disastrous policies
and destructive consequences under Bush. Or perhaps they suspect
that something will come along, maybe the Republicans losing the
House or Senate in the November midterm election, to finally
offer some hope for the future -- including Bush and Cheney
resigning rather than to face impeachment. Don't count on it.
These guys will have to have the stake of impeachment and
conviction driven through their hearts to get them to vacate the
White House -- which is why we have to keep driving this issue
this early in the process. We have to make it a viable,
mainstream option and reasonable topic for discussion.
Certainly, our immediate future -- the pending attack on Iran,
perhaps using "tactical' nuclear weapons -- does not offer the
slightest bit of encouragement. On the contrary, I'd say the
odds are 50/50 that America will survive that reckless
adventurism, which potentially could lead to a World War
WHY GENERALS ARE SPEAKING UP
As we prepare to march and demonstrate Saturday in New York and
elsewhere against the war in Iraq, it is essential that we remember
there's another war re-flaring in Afghanistan and that Bush&Co.
are quite eager to take us into the maelstrom of still more
military madness in Iran. A trifecta of dangerous, reckless
That's why the generals are speaking up (finally!) in opposition
to the Cheney/Rumsfeld war policy, and why we need to crank up
our opposition on the civilian side. We did it decades before
with regard to the Vietnam debacle, and helped bring that
conflict to a close, and we can do it again here with regard to
Iraq/Iran. But only if we're ready to do the heavy lifting to
build a truly effective oppositional Movement. Let's get to
Copyright 2006 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, who reviewed films and plays for the San
Francisco Chronicle and national publications, has a Ph.D. in
government & international relations, has taught at various
universities, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers
(www.crisispapers.org). To comment: >>