George W. Bush paid a visit to our fair city last week. This is the picture that ran in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette of him meeting 12 year old Robby Powell of Conway. Robby is my nephew Henry's best friend. They have tried to eat me out of house and home on more than one occasion. Robby's dad is the Athletic Director at the future football powerhouse known as Hendrix College and his mother grew up with the Previous Administration around here. So we go back a long ways.
Robby was chosen to receive an award for public service from the President. As I understand it, he and Henry had a classmate with a rare iron deficiency that affects the brain. Robby came up with the idea to sell Lance Armstrong-like bracelets to raise money for research into this affliction.
Imagine. Here you are 12 years old and you are standing there on the tarmac amongst soldiers, local dignitaries, and the hired killers known as the Presidential Detail of the Secret Service. The door on Air Force One swings open-Air Force One!-and there is the Man In The Blue Suit coming down the stairs. To see you.
By your own admission you had never met anybody more powerful than the Mayor of Conway before that day. And yet here you are, Danny and Sloane's kid and Henry's buddy, shaking hands with the President. Even better, he reaches in his wallet to donate some money for the cause and he puts on one of your bracelets. You are overwhelmed by the experience. The Air Force detail was not standing more rigidly at attention than you were in the picture. But that's OK. Political theatre is an acquired taste. Nothing in your 12 years on this planet could possibly prepare you for this moment.
Now it is well established in these chronicles that I don't have much use for Republicans in general. (I do have Republican friends. We just agree to disagree and refrain from discussing our differences. Even though they are completely wrong.) But what for the life of me I do not understand is how folks cannot put aside their partisan political beliefs for 5 minutes to appreciate a moment such as this. Some of my friends cannot put their intense hatred of George Bush in their back pockets to even acknowledge that it is a wonderful thing when the President comes to town.
It is a wonderful thing to live in a country where we require our leaders to at least feign a common touch. Do you think your average Brit can relate to somebody who gets to sign her name Elizabeth Rex? What do you think your average Zimbabwean thinks of Robert Mugabe? No sense in asking. They wouldn't tell you for fear of getting killed. Can you picture Vladimir Putin pretending to be interested in some kid raising money for a rare disease? Give me a break.
George W. Bush may be more Ulysses S. Grant than Dwight Eisenhower without the military sense of either. But he is the President. Say what you will, but he didn't get put up there by stealing an election. Ok. Well, that's not the only reason he's up there. Millions of people voted for him twice and if the polls are any indicator, some of those same people believe he has been a disaster as President.
But as old professor at Hendrix used to say, " The good Lord looks after drunks, little babies and the United States of America no matter what kind of goddamned fool is in the Oval Office." This administration may put that old bromide of Professor Meriweather's to its sternest test.
But put all that aside for a moment. You can do it.
Imagine you are 12 years old and the President is coming down the stairs and calling your name. Imagine you happen to be a mom hosting a kiddie party. You have a yard full of squealing girls running around in bathing suits through the sprinkler. It is a mere coincidence that you live along the path of the President's motorcade. You hear the sirens. You feel the rumble. The girls shush as the procession comes by. One of the 2 or 3 black cars stops. The Man In The Blue Suit Steps out, surrounded by his grim faced guards who do not smile. Not even at the happy sight of soaking wet little girls.
George W. Bush puts his arms around the wet little bodies as he poses for pictures. You don't know what else to do so you offer him a glass of lemonade which he actually accepts. You are stunned by all of this. Then it dawns on you.
He may be the Most Powerful Man On The Planet. But he is also a father. At one time back in Midland, before Katrina, before Iraq, before 9-11, he had little girls in his house too.
And you understand. After all, even God Himself did not have a daughter.
And you are glad you are an American.