Recently Meghan McCain quoted from Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and it reminded me of another Republican existentialist.
Outside View: Bush, Camus and Sartre
By Ronald Aronson
Outside View Commentator
Published 3/3/2005 2:03 AM
DETROIT, March 3 (UPI) -- A careful reading of "The Fall" reveals that President Bush's quote from Albert Camus in Brussels was an astonishing mistake. Many of our European friends may now be laughing up their sleeves at the United States' head of state. To those who know Camus, a White House speechwriter may have created a spectacle, in which the president unwittingly parodied himself.
The quote, "freedom is a long-distance race," was ripped from its context, one that establishes beyond doubt that Camus' words were not meant straightforwardly. No, a careful reading makes clear they were intended as a spoof of the thought of his former good friend, Jean-Paul Sartre.
President Bush was speaking to a group of ordinary folks in Westfield, NJ today on Social Security and other existential topics.
"Why does man not see things? He is himself standing in the way: he conceals things." Bush asked, quoting from Nietzsche's Daybreak, then saying that he understands that Social Security is a "safety net", but that it is one with a hole in it, "and we need to hang on to this safety net." The crowd of 257, all of whom had been vetted, paid, fingerprinted, stripped and given a full body-cavity search, shown a short "film" under sensory deprivation conditions, and given huge doses of Lithium, were rapturous, and exploded in thunderous applause at Bush's every punctuation mark. Jacketless, with rolled up sleeves, the President, head bobbing and shoulders shrugging, said that he had been talking to a lot of older folks and younger individuals, not to mention Jacques Chirac and Putin, and Brittany, who understood where he was coming from on these issues, and,
"In addition to my other numerous acquaintances, I have one more intimate confidant. . . . My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known- no wonder, then, that I return the love." inexplicably and incongruously quoting Kierkegaard.
Applause began and abated sporadically in various parts of the room as Bush stared at his shoes for a moment, then muttered,
"We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken."
"Ugh, I've been listening to Crime and Punishment on tape, and I, ugh…"
"The subject that is most on my mind right now is getting Syria out of Lebanon, and I don't mean just the troops out of Lebanon, I mean all of them out of Lebanon, particularly the secret service out of Lebanon -- the intelligence services,"
"This is non-negotiable. It is time to get out. ... I don't think you can have fair elections with Syrian troops there," Bush continued.
He asked the crowd how the people of a nation trying to forge a democracy could possibly hold legitimate elections and attempt political unification while foreign troops and agents were occupying their country.
"Who do these Syrians think they are?" Bush inquired, and added,
"My buddy Camus put it this way, 'The twenty-one deaf men, the war criminals of tomorrow, who today negotiate the peace carry on their monotonous conversations placidly seated in an express train which bears them toward the abyss at a thousand miles an hour.'…I love that, 'a thousand miles an hour' the President laughed.
"Freedom is on the march" Bush proclaimed, punctuating "march" with a one-legged goosestep for emphasis.
"Camus," (who Bush pronounces "Caymus", like the Cabernet Sauvignon made by Charlie Wagner) "says 'Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.', and who doesn't want all these Middle Easterners to be better?"
"When we say withdraw we mean complete withdrawal -- no half-hearted measures," Bush suddenly said. "Syrian troops, Syrian intelligence services must get out of Lebanon now."
"And, we are going to hunt down Asama bin Laden, and smoke 'em out, and Social Security has a hole in the net…but," Bush pointed his finger for emphasis,
"Schopenhauer said, 'Every nation ridicules other nations, and all are right.', so I must be right."
"Freedom's not just another word for nothin' else to lose…it's, well let me quote Sart here:"
"For I declare that freedom, in respect of concrete circumstances, can have no other end and aim but itself; and when once a man has seen that values depend on himself, in that state of forsakenness he can will only one thing, and that is freedom as the foundation of all values."
The President then launched into an anecdote about the time his mother took him to the circus, and there were these brothers on the trapeze who would fly through the air and spin and summersault and catch each other, and they didn't have no net, not even one with a hole in it, and they didn't need no net, cause they didn't fall. He said they may have been short and muscular but they didn't smell as bad as the clowns, who scared him, anyway, and were always sneaking up on you…
After twenty minutes or so of a story that ended with ice cream and fried pork rinds and a kiss goodnight from mother, the President ended with a quote from André Malraux that he said summed up the war in Iraq:
"The great mystery is not that we should have been thrown down here at random between the profusion of matter and that of the stars; it is that, from our very prison, we should draw from our own selves images powerful enough to deny our nothingness."