Dreams of my father's shirt

>> Wednesday, August 05, 2015

On the one hand, I don't really want to get into it: one of the problems we've created for ourselves is that our politicians aren't allowed to have personal lives, aren't allowed to make mistakes (however trivial), aren't allowed histories (hagiographies and the occasional redemption narrative aside, I mean).

And yet, I can't read this:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is not shying away from his family legacy in his campaign.

The Republican presidential candidate unveiled a new online store on his campaign website that is offering a $25 T-shirt with the quote: "My dad is the greatest man I’ve ever known, and if you don’t think so, we can step outside."
Time, August 5th, 2015.

Without thinking about this:

One night, George W. brought his fifteen year-old brother Marvin with him to a party, where both of them were drinking.  On the way back, George W.'s car hit a neighbor's trash can and carried it down the block.  Once they were home, his father sent word that he wanted George W. to come see him in the den.  George W. was in no mood for a polite lecture.  "I hear you're looking for me," he told his father.  "You wanna go mano a mano right here?"  The confrontation ended without a fight when George W.'s brother Jeb interceded to calm him down.
- James Mann, George W. Bush: The American Presidents Series: The 43rd President, 2001-2009, pp. 14-15.

I mean, this seems pretty funny and tone-deaf to me: the story about a young, inebriated George W. Bush challenging his distinguished, war-vet dad to fisticuffs is a story that's sufficiently well-worn and well-retold that you have to wonder why his campaign would put out a t-shirt that practically invites retorts like, "You mean 'mano-a-mano'?" and "With him or with you?  Do I hafta stand in line behind your brother?"

I suspect that every young man on Earth has foolishly wanted to punch his dad at some point in his life, even if he had the best dad in the world.  I don't think the story about Young George challenging Old George to a brawl says much of anything about G.W. as a man except that he was once a foolish and belligerent child like any other man was a foolish or belligerent child (though G.W. may have been a bit more inebriated than most), and even less about his Presidency, the foibles and missteps of which continue to speak for themselves.

But I do find myself wondering about this shirt and Jeb, you know.  Did nobody on Jeb's campaign team think to ask if they wanted to risk reminding everybody about G.W.'s boorish, potted adolescence?  What is it about the Bush men challenging people to fights?

And, for that matter, what does the statement on the shirt even mean?  I have no idea who Jeb Bush knows or has known, and if his dad is the greatest man he's ever known, I'm not sure how I could dispute that even if I wanted to.  I think I'd probably need him to make some kind of list, maybe, so I could see what other men he claims to have ever known, and then perhaps compare George H.W. Bush to the other men on the list; even then, it's pretty subjective.

Also, while I realize that Jeb Bush is a Catholic and they don't have the whole "personal relationship" dealie that evangelicals go on about, I was sort of under the impression that if you're a Republican politician, the correct answer to, "Who is the greatest man you've ever known?" is "Jesus."  I'm pretty sure that that's the answer Rick Santorum will give if the question comes up during the Seven Dwarfs portion of first Republican presidential debate on Fox News on August 6th.

Also also, I would have assumed that Jeb Bush would have met Ronald Reagan while his dad was Vice-President during Reagan's administration, and I was also sort of under the impression that if you're a Republican politician, the other correct answer to "Who is the greatest man you've ever known?" is, "You mean other than Jesus?  Ronald Reagan."  Assuming you've met Reagan, of course.  Which, like I just wrote, I would have assumed Jeb did, though maybe I'm wrong or maybe Jeb just sort of grappled with the magnificence of Reagan through an intermediary and can't claim a personal connection to Reagan, which is sort of apt for a Catholic if you think about it, right?

Or am I misunderstanding the shirt altogether, and it's like a son's equivalent of a "World's Greatest Dad" coffee mug?  Maybe I buy the shirt wanting to advertise that my dad's the greatest man I've ever known, and to hell with Jeb Bush's dad who I've never met, and if you don't believe that my dad is the greatest man I've ever known we can go outside... and I'm not really a fighter, so I guess we could talk about it?  Or take a walk?  If there are ducks around, we could sit on a bench and watch ducks.  Ducks are cool.  They might even turn out to be the greatest ducks we've ever known.  Probably not, but how many ducks do we know?

My dad is a pretty good guy, but I have to admit I'm reluctant to say he's the greatest man I've ever known.  Nothing against my dad, mind you.  I think it's more that I'm afraid of what that statement would say about me, which is that most of the men I've known have turned out, upon closer acquaintance, to be unimpressive.  I think what I'm trying to say is that my dad has a pretty low bar to clear even after my forty-three years on Earth, and Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi and Albert Einstein are all dead and turn out to have been flawed weirdos anyway if you go by any relatively-recent biographies.  My dad's a good enough guy that if I told him he was the greatest man I've ever known, he'd probably be disappointed and wonder why I didn't get out more.  (Maybe that's a sign of greatness.  How the hell would I know?)

But so: here's a t-shirt that could not only draw snarkery from bleeding hearts like me, but also seems like it could invite a certain amount of ridicule from the right-wingers who probably don't like or trust Jeb already.  Which leads one to wonder who this shirt is for: since it would only be purchased by people who are going to give to your campaign anyway, why not just save the cost of making the shirts?  Though I guess that's not how politics works, for reasons I can't pretend to understand.  Sort of like the way PBS gives away tote bags to people who would donate to PBS anyway, and sure, donors like to advertise they donated and a tote bag lets them do that, but doesn't the cost of printing tote bags partly negate the contribution?  There's probably some arcana here I'm too thick or lazy to grok.

I should wrap this up, and so will say in conclusion that I don't really get Jeb's shirt and think it's kind of stupid, and hey, remember that time George W. Bush wanted to beat up his dad?  And also that the best t-shirt I've seen recently is CrazyDog T-shirts "Ask Me About My Facehugger," tee, which I think is pretty funny.  I realize that Jeb Bush doesn't want opinions from crazy liberal socialist atheist humanist weirdies like me, but I think Jeb should totally sell "Ask Me About My Facehugger" tees, and if he did, while I still wouldn't vote for him, I'd find him slightly less objectionable.  Also, I probably wouldn't buy one from him because I'm a fat guy and nobody wants to see my belly button, and the whole point of the gag is you have few enough body-image issues that when somebody says, "Okay, what about your facehugger?" you can flip your shirt over your head.  Hopefully not while smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer, but, you know, flip! and now they know about your facehugger, har-har-har.  But yes, Jeb should sell these.  Because they're awesome.


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