The Truth, Mainly - 02/17/2003

Looking backward from 2009
by Leon Satterfield

Recently, Bush has been telling us something in his walk. It is virtually a strut, the parade-walk of a man who has puffed himself up to show determination, leadership—something like that. Whatever it is, it is not welcoming.

—Richard Cohen, Washington Post, 2/11/03

Historians of the early 21st century are now pretty much in agreement: the critical point of post-modern American history came in the early spring of 2003 when President George W. Bush changed the style of his underwear.

As the president told the nation in his farewell address in 2009, "Modesty forbids me to talk about this in detail, but the turning point of my administration was that day in March, 2003, when I threw out my tighty-whities and changed over to boxer shorts."

He'd decided on boxers, he said, after he'd read Satchel Paige's advice to "keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move."

"My juices weren't flowing until I got rid of those tighty-whities," the president said. "For one thing, they were at least a size too small. I was uptight all the time. You know? And they made me walk funny."

Sure enough, pre-boxer TV clips show the president walking funny.

"And," he said, "walking funny made me talk funny and act funny. Even made me think funny. Arrogant thoughts. Arrogant words. Changing to boxers changed who I was. Who I still am."

Prior to that revelation, scholars of the Bush II presidency had long wondered what had altered the president's course in the spring of '03. In particular, they wondered about the sudden cancellation of plans to attack Iraq.

Instead, as we all know now, Bush had astonished the world by turning the whole Iraqi question over to the International Criminal Court—which promptly sent an undercover posse to arrest Saddam Hussein and bring him to trial in the ICC where he was found guilty of terminal nastiness. He was sentenced to a life of cleaning out the public latrines of Baghdad—much to the amusement of the Iraqis (who were already tickled about not getting bombed).

"It's true," the president had explained to the press, "that less than a year ago, I unsigned the International Criminal Court treaty that President Clinton had signed. Today, I simply unsigned the unsigning."

By mid-summer of '03, the president had unsigned U.S. withdrawals from the Kyoto Protocol and from the ABM treaty. And he'd told John Ashcroft to get lawyers for all the Homeland Security inmates or to unsign their charges.

And that was only the beginning of the blooming of the new Bush.

By the end of '03, he had signed an executive order banning passenger vehicles getting less than 45 mpg.

"We no longer need Saddam's oil," the president told the nation. "Nor do we need to tear up Alaska wildlife preserves looking for new oil. Whatever were we thinking?"

And in early 2004, he promised he'd never again question university affirmative action policies until universities stopped admitting students on the basis of who their parents are.

He was re-elected in a landslide.

"When I stopped walking funny," he said in his farewell address at the end of his second term, "I began seeing things more clearly. I think those tighty-whities had been cutting off the circulation of blood to my brain. With boxers came clarity. I suddenly understood the difference between 'prosecution' and 'persecution.' All at once I knew the word is 'nuclear,' not 'nucular.' And now grammar fascinates me. I'll never again ask 'Is our children learning?' I'm thinking of becoming an English teacher after I leave the White House."

And when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in the fall of 2009, he ended his speech with this insight: "Remember, it's not what we show the public about ourselves that's important; it's what we show ourselves about ourselves. It's not the suit and tie that make me the man I am; it's my undergarments. What finally counts is the boxer shorts of the soul."

He got a 10-minute standing (if slightly puzzled) ovation.

And Saddam Hussein, taking a break from privy-cleaning to listen to the speech, was so startled by its conclusion that he inhaled his big black Cuban cigar. The whole thing. Then he promptly choked to death, thereby receiving a 20-minute standing ovation from the Iraqi population.

"Things work out," Citizen Bush told Laura that night. "This is indeed the best of all possible worlds."

"Oh, honey," she said, "first you stop walking funny, then you stop talking funny, and now you've made a literary allusion! You're so…so grown up!"

"The underwear," he said. "It's the underwear."


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

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