You can do it the old way, or you can do it like Bush -- with smirks, mountain bikes and oil
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, April 28, 2006
Look, see those tire marks? That ungainly footprint? Feel that breath of humid doom upon your skin? Yes, the president was just here. Up in Napa Valley, riding his official Trek Mountain Bike One over the rocks and down the trails and through the cool California mud, a small army of handlers and Secret Service agents and emergency medical personnel by his side and/or rumbling along behind him in big black SUVs. It was very cute, in a fingernail-yanked-with-pliers sort of way.
It was Earth Day weekend. The president talked about how mountain biking helped him "settle his soul" and "burn off excess energy when you're living life to its fullest," which apparently means blindly running your nation into a bloody flaming wall at full speed like a drunk NASCAR driver on Ambien. He talked about how he enjoyed mountain biking because it had such minimal impact on the pristine, wild surroundings. Shockingly, lightning did not strike him dead on the spot.
Later on, the prez talked up the need for wildly implausible hydrogen-powered cars to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a group who, if they had a drop of integrity and brains among them, didn't believe a single word he said.
Bush on Earth Day. It's like Satan talking up the joys of Easter. It's like Paris Hilton chatting about treading the planet with humility and grace. It's like Jerry Falwell gushing about his love of Brokeback Mountain, Eli Lilly extolling the virtues of meditation and green tea. It is, in a word, embarrassing. Humiliating. Intellectually bludgeoning. And hypocritical in a way, and at a depth, that is as nauseating to stomach as the testosterone levels at a Duke lacrosse frat party.
This much we know: Bush is, it has been widely noted, the worst environmental president in modern America history. He has done more to eliminate protections and pollute the air, sell off national forests, whore the waterways, drill for oil and eviscerate pollution regulation than any president on the books. His environmental record is abysmal, shameful, and includes installing two of the worst secretaries of the interior in history, the abominable Gale Norton and now her male counterpart Dirk Kempthorne, who have turned around and reduced protections and sold off more forestland to private concerns -- oil, timber, coal, you name it -- since the Harding administration.
And of course, we are the only "enlightened" nation in the world to publicly spit upon the Kyoto Treaty, a landmark global pact to reduce CO2 emissions that is still only considered the first baby step in tackling the very, very dire problem of global warming.
Bush is, after all, a failed oilman. He has done all he can to ensure we will be dependent on the black death for the next two decades, minimum, which is, not surprisingly, the average remaining life span of his favoritest CEO cronies in the oil business. Serve the masters first, the Saudi sheiks second, the American people about, oh, 157th. It is the BushCo way.
No matter. Up in Napa, the president talked about connecting with nature, about getting his heart rate up by getting out there and challenging himself against the rugged terrain. Nature, of course, was unimpressed, sort of neutral on the whole thing, Bush just another animal scratching tracks on her incredibly resilient skin. Nature has a Zen-like quality about such things -- or perhaps more like Vishnu-Brahma-Shiva, creator and preserver and destroyer, watching it all, shrugging, sighing, taking the long view. If nature could talk, she would tell Bush he will be worm food very soon, and by the way, the worms are furious. She would then go back to watching the baby giraffes play in Africa.
There is no beauty in American political policy toward the Earth. There is no poetry or grace or true heart in how politicians -- especially Republican politicians -- view our natural commodities, no respect unless it is based on fear, unless it is begrudging and resentful, like when a hurricane makes a mockery of the president's feeble and unconvincing attempts to prove he cares. Has it always been this way? Maybe. But some leaders are far, far worse than others.
This is perhaps the most frightening thing about the Bush visit, about him having the nerve, the sheer vulgar gall to discuss the quality of his soul while biking through a natural habitat his administration so violently works to defile. It is this: He actually meant it. Bush was probably genuinely heartfelt about enjoying his ride through our troubled trees. He thinks he is attuned and connected. He thinks nature is nifty and calming. And, simply put, there is no more dangerous a leader on the face of the earth who, in every policy and every law and every action, abuses and distorts and molests the world around him, and yet who can turn on an ideological dime and calmly glorify that very thing which he helps destroy.
Recall former Spokane Mayor Jim West, big scandal just recently, an outspoken and homophobic über-Republican on the outside, a guy who helped pass anti-gay legislation in Washington state and railed against gay rights in public, but who happily turned around and for over 20 years solicited 18-year-old boys in gay chat rooms at night and offered them free candy, T-shirts, sex, jobs. Bush is just like that. Abuse your issue openly during the day, screw it at night. And worst of all, give not a single thought to the brutal dichotomy.
Are there levels to hypocrisy? Degrees? Rings of hypocritical hell? It would appear so. After all, there are the common varieties of minor hypocrisies most of us live with every day, like claiming a deep concern for the planet but still using plastic bags and shopping at Target and enjoying a long summer drive. Like swooning over super-cute animals but never considering giving up our cool leather jackets and smokin' snakeskin boots. Like loathing obnoxious cell phone users but never thinking we might actually, you know, be one.
Hypocrisy is, verily, the American national pastime. It is part of our national character. But there is a point where hypocrisy takes a turn toward the abusive, toward the spiritually debilitating. It becomes less like livable hypocrisy and more like a mental condition, a barely functional psychosis.
And right now, we are, it seems, living smack in the middle of a decade of just such madness, led by a bumbling and confused, tepid little devil himself, happily biking through the trees as the forest groans.