Monday, June 25, 2007
Born to fumble
Sports-related foreshadowing in the youth of our Commander in Cheat is revealed in this excerpt from Graydon Carter's Editor's Letter from the February 2007 issue of Vanity Fair:
"I have always thought you could take the measure of a man by his sports manners—that is to say, the way in which he conducts himself on the playing field, or even over a game of chess or cards. Former president Bill Clinton was famous for taking a mulligan, or an extra try, on almost every shot, then playing the ball that had landed in the better spot. He essentially plays a two-man, two-ball "scramble"—but solo. A former employer of mine ensured that he won in tennis against family and underlings by always calling line shots in his own favor. And so it is with our current president, who will scratch, claw, kick, scream, move the goalposts—pretty much do anything to effect a win. He is a sore winner. And a horrible loser.
I was reminded of these traits when I reread 'The Accidental Candidate,' Gail Sheehy's prescient portrait of the future president, published in these pages in October 2000. A sampling:
When Barbara Bush took her 13-year-old son and his best friend, Doug Hannah, to play golf at her Houston club, George would start cursing if he didn't tee off well. His mother would tell him to quit it. By the third or fourth hole he would be yelling "Fuck this" until he had ensured that his mother would send him to the car.
"It fit his needs," says Hannah. "He couldn't lose."
Once, after his mother banished him from the golf course, she turned to Hannah and declared, "That boy is going to have optical rectosis." What did that mean? "She said, 'A shitty outlook on life.'"
Even if he loses, his friends say, he doesn't lose. He'll just change the score, or change the rules, or make his opponent play until he can beat him. "If you were playing basketball and you were playing to 11 and he was down, you went to 15," says Hannah, now a Dallas insurance executive. "If he wasn't winning, he would quit. He would just walk off…. It's what we called Bush Effort: If I don't like the game, I take my ball and go home. Very few people can get away with that."
Another fast friend, Roland Betts, acknowledges that it is the same in tennis. In November 1992, Bush and Betts were in Santa Fe to host a dinner party, but they had just enough time for one set of doubles. The former Yale classmates were on opposite sides of the net. "There was only one problem—my side won the first set," recalls Betts. "O.K., then we're going two out of three," Bush decreed. Bush's side takes the next set. But Betts's side is winning the third set when it starts to snow. Hard, fat flakes. The catering truck pulls up. But Bush won't let anybody quit. "He's pissed. George runs his mouth constantly," says Betts indulgently. "He's making fun of your last shot, mocking you, needling you, goading you—he never shuts up!" They continued to play tennis through a driving snowstorm.
It is something of an in-joke with Bush's friends and family. "In reality we all know who won, but George wants to go further to see what happens," says an old family friend, venture capitalist and former MGM chairman Louis "Bo" Polk Jr. "George would say, 'Play that one over,' or 'I wasn't quite ready.' The overtimes are what's fun, so you make your own. When you go that extra mile or that extra point … you go to a whole new level."
Inasmuch as I am writing this the week before Christmas, any sort of prediction is a dicey proposition, but my guess is that Bush will double-down on Iraq. He has lost, but his past would indicate that he will figure that he can have another chance if he can just keep the game going a little longer."