Bush 41 in the Age of Anxiety
George H. W. Bush turns 88 this week with a family clambake in Kennebunkport, an HBO special and, despite Parkinson ravages, plans to skydive again at 90.
His biographer calls him “a lion…he embodies the story of postwar American power.” A contemporary can only wish him well while marveling at what has happened to America and its people during our lifetimes since World War II.
Back then, the poet W. H. Auden won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for a long, largely unread poem titled “The Age of Anxiety,” whose title became shorthand for the universal angst of living with dread of atomic annihilation. Children ducking under school desks were a 1950s metaphor for the condition. The sale of tranquilizers became a market marker.
Whether personal or social, the fear of instant mass obliteration—-by Cold War bombing or terrorist attack—-has been a new condition of human life on the planet, its acceptance or denial shaping generations from Baby Boomers on.
Bush 41 is now seen as someone who “suppressed his ego for that long march through all those jobs to get the chance to be president. From the oil business to the White House…(t)here was always a tension in him between the impetus for public service and the impulse to do what it took to win.”
In the light of today’s politics, the man who always had trouble with “the vision thing,” can nonetheless be seen, particularly in the light of what his son gave Americans a decade later, as a traditional American pragmatist in a nostalgic glow.
Yet, in the light of today’s petty bickering about an uncertain future, it seems fair to ask how much 41 has contributed to American anxiety now…