George Bush has finally broken through. He's made meand I suppose
lots of others with defective social skillsidentify with him.
Up until his trip to the Far East this month, the President and I
never seemed to occupy common social ground. He went to Greenwich
Country Day School, to Phillips Academy at Andover, and to Yale where he
was Phi Beta Kappa. I went to Plains (Kansas) Elementary School, to
Plains (Kansas) High School, and to Kansas State Teachers College where
I was Tappa Kegga Day. He's made lots of money and got himself elected
President. I haven't. I could go on and on, but you get the idea: In
my social set, George Bush has always been The Other.
But all that changed when he developed that spectacular reverse
Midas touch on his trade mission. Now his approval rating is below 50
percent and he admits "I've got big problems."
One of them emerged, you remember, in Australia when he held up two
fingers to a crowd he was being presidential in front of. To him, it
was a victory sign; to them, it was an obscene gesture, the Australian
equivalent of giving them the finger.
Then in Japan, to show what a regular guy he is, he joined in a
demonstrationuninvitedof an Extremely Serious eighth century court
game. He kicked the ball around like a Hacky Sack and bounced it
buffoonishly off the top of his head. The Japanese were not amused.
They looked like the College of Cardinals watching a pagan oaf trying to
balance a crucifix on his nose.
Good taste keeps me from mentioning the culmination of the trip:
The state dinner during which George Bush barfed on the Japanese Prime
Minister he was trying to get trade concessions from.
It was that climactic third catastrophe, during which we all
averted our eyes, that really won me over. I saw then that deep down
underneath all that preppie sophistication, George Bush is really my
kind of guy.
I've never barfed on a Prime Minister I was trying to get trade
concessions from, but I have barfed during ceremonial occasions when not
barfing would have been better.
"Good grief," my wife says. "You're not going to tell
about that again, are you?"
I'm not really proud of it and my good taste usually keeps me from
mentioning it in public, but this time I'm trying to help the President
work through his embarrassment. He needs to know that lots of people
barf inappropriately during ceremonial occasions. When you stop to
think about it, there are hardly any ceremonial occasions when barfing
is not inappropriate.
It wasn't my faultthere'd been a party the night beforebut what
I did was barf during an academic procession when I was wearing the full
cap-and-gown-and-hood regalia. Parents of graduating seniors were
watching. They wanted to see just what kind of intellectual role models
they'd paid all that tuition money to have their offspring in the
The Truth, Mainly
OK, so it wasn't as monumentally inappropriate as barfing on a
Prime Minister you're trying to get trade concessions from. But it was
close enough that even as I averted my eyes from the President, I
resonated. I felt a new kinship, a new warmth.
After I quit resonating, my wife said it was just the Ackley Effect
working again. That's the psycho-socio-literary term that derives from
a character in "The Catcher in the Rye." Robert Ackley lives in a dorm
with the narrator, Holden Caulfield, and he's pretty disgusting even to
someone from southwest Kansas. His teeth are "mossy and awful" and
people get sick watching him eat. He leaves his fingernail clippings on
the floor for Holden to walk on barefoot, and he snores. "That guy,"
Holden tells us, "had just about everything. Sinus trouble, pimples,
lousy teeth, halitosis, crumby fingernails." He concludes that you had
to feel sorry for him.
And that's where the Ackley Effect kicks in. It happens when we
empathize with people precisely in proportion to how socially inept they
are. My wife says it's what first attracted her to me.
She also reminds me that before the President went on his trade
mission, he told David Frost he was "ready to do what I have to do to be
re-elected." She says George Bush may have hit on a new campaign
strategy here and that if the Ackley Effect works as well with the other
vulgarians as it works with me, we'd all better get used to averting our
eyes. She's a real cynic sometimes.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.