Thursday, December 04, 2008

Don't shoot the piano player

Could everyone please stop picking on Charlie Gibson? He's doing the best he can.

First, he's not a reporter, he's an anchor, the TV equivalent of Mr. Interlocutor in a minstrel show. He is employed by the Disney Corporation at a handsome salary, and he wants to go on being employed. As Otis B. Driftwood rhetorically asked during an earlier Depression, "How many people do you think are drawing a handsome salary these days?" He happened to be up first in the George W. Bush Farewell Interview Tour, because of all the anchors he was least likely to throw anything besides nerfballs. You don't see the Deciderissimo sitting down with Amy Goodman or Alex Cockburn, do you? This is as searching as it gets.

Second, given his subject, I think Gibson has done extremely well. When confronted with a man who proves that the unexamined life is not only worth living, it's a goddam bottomless kegger, all you have to do is ask the standard questions and then sit back and watch the fun. Ol' Charlie should get a Polk Award just for keeping a straight face. Like Carl Reiner interviewing the 2,000-year-old man, he leaves the laughter to the audience.

What will Bush miss most? The high-speed travel and the White House cookin', of course. What did you expect? Some boilerplate about serving his country or meeting interesting people? This is George W. Bush, who once said his greatest achievement as President was catching a five-pound perch in his personal lake (a triumph Roy Blount, Jr., dubbed "Fishin' Accomplished"). And eight years of war, terrorist attack, economic collapse and breathtaking incompetence, including the drowning of our principal port city? "A joyous experience," of course. Some bad stuff may have happened, but he didn't give in to gloom and depression, and besides, most of it was Clinton's fault. "I'm in the Bible every day," he assured Charlie, making it sound like he was the junior apostle recruited to replace Judas. As long as your faith is strong, apparently failure is immaterial, unless your name is Carter. Of course, Jimmy Carter has devoted his post-Presidential life to service in the old-fashioned Christian sense (Francis of Assisi rather than Joel of Osteen), and Bush thinks that's interesting, though he wouldn't be caught dead. So far, Gibson hasn't brought up issues like illegal wiretapping, torture or the disappearance of habeas corpus, and I don't expect him to. What's the point? The self-satisfied smirk would give way to the blank stare of incomprehension, and the interview would come to an abrupt end, followed by Charlie's career with the Magic Kingdom. So, Mr. President, what kind of a dancer is Madame Sarkozy? How is your Mom feeling? Who do you like in the Superbowl?

Hasn't the Bush Administration been a complete success? He got two terms, which means he's twice as important as his father. He rewarded his father's friends, who bailed him out of all his business disasters, with lavish tax cuts. He made up for that murky National Guard business by becoming a wartime president, even if it was the wrong war. He didn't vomit on anybody. Best of all, he made sure the next President would inherit a bankrupt Treasury. Who knows what Barack Obama might do about national health insurance or non-petroleum energy if he had the Clinton surplus to work with? Socialism avoided, mission accomplished.

There's no point in getting enraged and throwing stuff at the screen. "Gibson/Bush" is never going to be a Broadway play like "Frost/Nixon," but that's because David Frost and Richard Nixon sat down as serious men and worked their way toward an objective truth about a flawed but not wholly worthless Presidency. Anyway, Nixon needed money to pay his lawyers. Bush can go home and build himself a facsimile of the White House, staff the kitchen with any first-class chefs willing to live in Texas, buy a jet (if he doesn't already have one) and fish his life away. The eight years he spent in Washington, give or take a couple years' worth of vacations, will seem like a bad dream. Believe me, I know.

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