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The Truth, Mainly - 09/02/2002

A legacy as President: Is he overreaching?

The Constitution seems pretty straightforward on the subject.

Section 8 of Article I says "The Congress shall have Power. . .to declare War."

But last week President Bush and his entourage maintained that he can go to war with Iraq whenever he wants to—with or without Congressional approval. Their argument was that the second President Bush doesn't have to get Congress to approve of war in Iraq in 2002 because the first President Bush got Congress to approve of war in Iraq in 1991.

The ancient Greeks had a word for the condition that produces that kind of thinking: hubris. It means a kind of madness that grows out of overweening pride and ambition.

George W. Bush is particularly susceptible to hubris because he's been treated as a legacy for too long.

I use the word "legacy" in the odd sense it's used by fraternities and sororities to designate a pledge who got in not by merit but by connections with an influential alum.

In Young Georgeís case, we all know who the influential alum is.

Back in 1961, Young George followed his father into the snitziest prep school in the country, Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. He was 15 and he was the school's head cheerleader. He had fun.

In 1964, he followed his father into Yale, into his father's fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and into the exclusive secret society, Skull and Bones. Here's how exclusive it was: William F. Buckley, Jr. was a member.

And four years later, at the height of the Vietnam War, Young George, son of a genuine WWII hero, got into the 147th Fighter Group of the Texas Air National Guard, the outfit some called the "Champagne Unit." Its mission, Bill Minutaglio quotes a member as saying, was "to shoot down Russian bombers if they came across our borders."

"It was an unofficial rule," Minutaglio writes in his biography of the current President, "that most people joining the 147th in the mid-1960s would not be going to Vietnam." The roster included the sons of Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen and Texas Governor John Connally, as well as several players for the Dallas Cowboys.

So George W. got to fly F-102 jets all around Texas, looking for Russian bombers to shoot down. It was more fun even than being a cheerleader.

And a couple of decades later, when his father was President, Young George, hitherto a business flop, was given a sweetheart deal by Harken Energy that led to a chain of good fortune: ownership of the Texas Rangers, the Governorship of Texas, and the Presidency of the United States.

Cynics say none of that would have happened had Young George not had the first President Bush as his father.

The Truth, Mainly


Here's my point: Young George believes it's his birthright to follow in his father's footsteps. His father got congressional approval to wage war in 1991; ergo, Young George, by virtue of his family legacy, already has congressional approval to wage war in 2002.

Hubris comes about from overplaying your hand, overreaching your destiny.

I can identify with Young George because I too, by virtue of family legacy, once overplayed my hand, overreached my destiny.

My father wasn't President of the U. S., but get this: He was a two-term mayor of Plains, Kansas (pop. 674). Plains is the site, you all know, of the widest Main Street in the world. It was in Ripley's Believe It or Not. We had picture postcards of it. You can look it up.

Anyway, you can imagine, can't you, what it was like being the son of the mayor of Plains, Kansas. I was pretty sure that I had a glorious political future ahead of me, that the ripe fruit of my father's success would plop unearned into my own gaping mouth.

And that that's why, about 30 years ago, I overplayed my hand, overreached my destiny. I ran for the board of the Lower South Platte Natural Resources District. I figured that, with my bloodline, there was no reason to start small. I'd go from there to being Governor, and then who knows?

As I remember, the top five vote-getters would be elected, so factoring in my legacy as the son of the mayor of Plains, Kansas, I saw myself as a shoo-in. I didnít need no stinking platform. I didn't need no stinking campaign. I would become a member of the Lower South Platte NRD board through my God-given droit du seigneur—my God-given rights of nobility.

I finished 12th out of 13 candidates.

In Greek tragedy, hubris is always followed by catastrophe.

So a warning from your humbled servant: Don't overplay your hand, Mr. President. Don't overreach your destiny.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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