George W. Bush is famous for his attachment to a painting which he acquired after becoming a â€œborn again Christian.â€ Itâ€™s by W.H.D. Koerner and is entitled â€œA Charge to Keep.â€ Bush was so taken by it, that he took the paintingâ€™s name for his own official autobiography. And hereâ€™s what he says about it:
I thought I would share with you a recent bit of Texas history which epitomizes our mission. When you come into my office, please take a look at the beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us. What adds complete life to the painting for me is the message of Charles Wesley that we serve One greater than ourselves.
So in Bushâ€™s view (or perhaps I should say, faith) the key figure, with whom he personally identifies, is a missionary spreading the word of the Methodist Christianity in the American West in the late nineteenth century.
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 â€œThe Slipper Tongue,â€ 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: â€œHad His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught.â€
So Bushâ€™s inspiring, prosyletizing Methodist is in fact a silver-tongued horse thief fleeing from a lynch mob. It seems a fitting marker for the Bush presidency. Bush has consistently exhibited what psychologists call the â€œTolstoy syndrome.â€ That is, he is completely convinced he knows what things are, so he shuts down all avenues of inquiry about them and disregards the information that is offered to him. This is the hallmark of a tragically bad executive. But in this case, it couldnâ€™t be more precious. The president of the United States has identified closely with a man he sees as a mythic, heroic figure. But in fact heâ€™s a wily criminal one step out in front of justice. It perfectly reflects Bush the man. . . and Bush the president.
Like everything else about the Current Federal Administration, the explanation is an illusion founded in a delusion.
For a definition of the Tolstoy Syndrone, go here.
Via Dan Froomkin.