Poetic irony

>> Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Slate features a Timothy Noah piece today commenting on the President's recent statement that the national intelligence agencies sometimes come to conclusions that he doesn't want them to reach. But the highlight of the piece is really this quote from Slate columnist Jacob Weisberg, who recounts the following in his book The Bush Tragedy:
In an April 1995 memo, Bush invited his staff to come to his office to look at a painting.... The picture is a Western scene of a cowboy riding up a craggy hill, with two other riders following behind him. Bush told visitors—who often noted his resemblance to the rider in front—that it was called A Charge To Keep and that it was based on his favorite Methodist hymn of that title, written in the eighteenth century by Charles Wesley....

He came to believe that the picture depicted the circuit-riders who spread Methodism across the Alleghenies in the nineteenth century. In other words, the cowboy who looked like Bush was a missionary of his own denomination.

Only that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled "The Slipper Tongue," published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors. In the magazine, the illustration bears the caption: "Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught."
I laughed my ass off when I read this: is that not too fucking perfect? The "zealous missionary" cowboy leading the way isn't actually a moral crusader sharing some light with the rest of the world, but a horse-thief who is one step ahead of an angry and vengeful mob. One might even go so far as to say that if Bush's presidency had been five years shorter, he would not have been caught.

I can't think of a better encapsulation of this president and his administration right now.


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