GW Bush regards Churchill as his favourite historical figure.
September 19, 2000 10:26 AM   Subscribe

GW Bush regards Churchill as his favourite historical figure. Or so he'll say on "Oprah", apparently. Now, given that Churchill was a depressive, bellicose alcoholic, who ultimately lost by a landslide to a party promising widespread social reform, is this wise? ;)
posted by holgate (29 comments total)
It's wise. The average american's recollection of public high school delivered WWII history is as follows:

Hitler = bad
Nazis = bad
Pearl Harbor = bad
FDR = good
Churchill = good
WWII = good

Ask them any deeper questions and you'll get blanks. This seems like another attempt to please the elusive "Average Joe" that Bush seems so enamored of (the same average joe that rarely votes).
posted by mathowie at 10:50 AM on September 19, 2000

ATTENTION: my favorite historical figure is Ms. Edna Graustein of Kansas City, MO. This is of critical importance, possibly more important than the invention of the Salk vaccine, and I demand that you recognize it as such.
posted by aramaic at 10:53 AM on September 19, 2000

Apparently, he was informed following one of the Republican debates that when you're asked which political philosopher you admire, answering "Jesus" gets you ridicule.

Shrub promptly convened a meeting with Condoleeza Rice. "Which political figure do I admire? I want you to get on this right away!"
posted by dhartung at 1:29 PM on September 19, 2000

As mathowie pointed out, it isn't what Churchill WAS that is important - it is how he is remembered. Truth is nothing, perception is everything. 4+5=6, the Brooklyn Bridge is a bargain, and if you beleive that, I've got an e-commerce new economy revolution you might be interested in... er, as long as you don't mind that your credit card number WILL be stolen by a child-raping internet pedophile...
posted by quonsar at 1:37 PM on September 19, 2000

"Favorite" historical figure isn't necessarily the one you'd emulate. For sheer entertainment value, I love to read about Rasputin ; he's my favorite debauched malodorous Romanov-beguiler, but that doesn't mean I'd govern like a Russian mystic.
posted by lileks at 1:57 PM on September 19, 2000

So Churchill was a depressed drunk, is that all he was? Wasn't he a great man, in the right place at the right time. Would Neville Chamberlin have been a better man to take England through WWII? I really don't see the problem. If you can discount Churchill for those reasons, you can say Martin Luther King wasn't so great cause he was a whoremonger, or Hemmingway's books aren't all that great cause he was a drunk who wimped out. I kinda like Churchill.
posted by thirteen at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2000

This is all so contrived - I can see Bush pouring over his 9th grade history book, busily scrawling notes on the back of his hand.

Gore may not be much better, but he really is an intelligent and well read person. Bush probably meets with a special team of advisers a few times a week as he struggles to fake it.

Lord, don't let this man be president . . .

posted by aladfar at 2:47 PM on September 19, 2000

>but he really is an intelligent and well read person

...depends on how you're judging intelligence
posted by alethe at 3:24 PM on September 19, 2000

I don't think Gore is measurably more intelligent than Bush. Both have pretty much demonstrated little intellectual curiosity, neither were good students, and neither have really proven to be all that smart. In this election, you really have to look at all the issues that matter to you, and who's on your side. In that case, I vote Gore. But then I realize that the 'issues' being discussed aren't even the real issues, and I vote Nader.
posted by chaz at 4:08 PM on September 19, 2000

I don't think I'm going to vote at all. A system in which I am not only asked to seriously consider Bush and Gore for the presidency, but in fact prevented from considering anyone else, is obviously not a system in which real change is going to occur no matter who ends up in the oval office. I could spend that half hour voting, or I could spend it doing something that actually changed society for the better... hell, I think I'd do more good by taking a nap than I would by voting.

posted by Mars Saxman at 5:12 PM on September 19, 2000

The 2 party systems new campaign slogan:
Apathy: the American way!
posted by Mick at 5:27 PM on September 19, 2000

I find this amusing. An (apparently) anti Bush person speaks ill of Churchill because of his personality rather than how he performed in office.

For some reason I always thought republicans where the ones who dished out more of the "his personality sucks" arguments at political opponents.

The personal life of a politican is not an issue in our media (Iceland). Most of the politicans (and the inhabitants) are drunks compared to other nations' inhabitans. We still seem to do a good job at living standards compared to the same others.

Not that I have any in depth knowlege of Churchill's quality as an official but "depressive, bellicose alcoholic" doesn't pull much weight from my point of view.

Of course, we have our rotten politicans as everyone else. They're mostly sober though ;)
posted by geir at 5:54 PM on September 19, 2000

Considering all Gore's heros eventualy died (and incidetndally, became stiffs) it's a pretty safe pick.
posted by mikewas at 5:55 PM on September 19, 2000

Oh, but I forogot - he's modeling his campaign after the VP who won in 1988... that guy is still alive... what's his name?
posted by mikewas at 5:57 PM on September 19, 2000

Don't blame me - I voted for Kodos!
posted by Nic at 6:19 PM on September 19, 2000

I don't think Gore is measurably more intelligent than Bush. Both have pretty much demonstrated little intellectual curiosity ...

I don't see how you can say that. Gore is a policy wonk who is an expert at running a town meeting and knowing at least a rudimentary amount of information on each of the subjects that people bring up when they ask him questions. In the profiles I have read, Gore's answer to any personal failing is to do a lot of homework on the subject.

While all of this doesn't necessarily translate into the best choice for president, Gore definitely strikes me as a more intellectually curious person than Bush.
posted by rcade at 6:19 PM on September 19, 2000

chaz: "I don't think Gore is measurably more intelligent than Bush. Both have pretty much demonstrated little intellectual curiosity, neither were good students, and neither have really proven to be all that smart. "

Just to be factually correct, Al Gore WON a NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP in his senior year in high school.
(Source: The Vice Presidents: A Biographical Dictionary)
posted by tamim at 8:04 PM on September 19, 2000

I plan on voting for Gore (although, as usual, it's because it makes me less ill to do so than to vote for Bush) but I still get a queasy feeling doing so.

Not because of Al, but because of Tipper. Remember, she's the one who held those hearings about censorship. Fortunately, Al's political handlers finally got to her and told her to shut the fuck up.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:33 PM on September 19, 2000

geir: I'm British.

What I find interesting about Bush's choice of Churchill was that he's a man who has famously put aside the "excesses" of his past, referring to someone who made those excesses an intrinsic part of his leadership. (Did you even check the link? It talks about how Churchill was often at his most effective when drunk and in one of his "black dogs".)

And as mathowie and others note, it points out the way in which that complexity of character is lost in high-school history lessons. Churchill changed political parties twice; he marshalled propaganda to crush the General Strike in 1926; he was utterly rejected by the electorate in 1945, and only ever won the one general election: in 1951, long after his "finest hour".

It's an intriguing choice. Like Thatcher, Churchill seems to appeal to the presidential ideals of Americans. Which is perhaps why both receive better judgements in the US.
posted by holgate at 8:51 PM on September 19, 2000

i suspect holgate of being a churchill fan. i am one myself. churchill fans are usually more fully informed about his many, vast, often amusing, sometimes genuinely frightening flaws, mistakes, failures, prejudices, and even atrocities than his detractors. this is because we're fascinated by the relationship between these and his undeniable achievments and successes. also, because he's funny.

george and al, whatever their other merits (or lack of) just look . . . small and boring in comparison. i think that in retrospect, only a few american politicians will command as much fascination. clinton is one.
posted by feckless at 9:40 PM on September 19, 2000

feckless you're right. the masses love their flawed politicians. perhaps it's because they embody the flaws in all of us.

now, who's flaws do i admire the most?

bush, who calls adam clymer a major league asshole and then unflinchingly shrugs the shoulders, or gore, who claims he took the initiative in creating the internet...?

i think i'll take the plain spoken texan. i can relate to referring to others as assholes. taking credit for something i have never done is not in my bag of tricks.
posted by daddyray at 9:49 PM on September 19, 2000

I count myself a Churchill fan, but I've read both "The history of the English Speaking Peoples" (four volumes) and his 6 volume history of WWII all the way through, so I think I've come to know the man a bit -- or at least I've come to know what he wants me to see.

One of the interesting things about his history of WWII is that except for Germans and other enemies, he's extremely gracious about how he treats nearly everyone and tries to portray them all in as good a light as possible, with two exceptions:

DeGaulle and Stalin do not come off well. DeGaulle, in particular, gets raked over the coals.

The reports on Stalin are much more mixed, but that's because Churchill recognized that while Stalin was a vile man, he was also facing a really difficult situation and handling it moderately well, and that the survival of Britain required that Stalin continue to be a ruthless bastard.

But DeGaulle is presented as an opportunist without whom everything would have run much more smoothly.

In the history of WWII, the single most interesting section to me is where he describes his emotional reaction to hearing about the Pearl Harbor attack. For his fundamental reaction is that this meant that, after two desperate years of war, the US would finally enter the war and commit completely to it; but more important, for the first time it meant that Churchill was actually certain that Britain would survive. Until that point it was definitely problematical; but he says in so many words that as soon as he knew that the US would join the war, that the survival of Britain was certain and that he was positive that the Axis would lose. It's a very moving passage to read. (His prediction of the fate of Japan was that it would be "ground into powder", and considering the results of the incendiary bombing of the cities and the effects of the nukes, that's not far off.)

I have the hard-bound edition. It's in volume 3, beginning page 606.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:45 PM on September 19, 2000

As far as intellectual curiosity... hmm. You (rcade) bring up a good point about Gore, he truly does study the issues he plans to address-- but does he do so out of personal intellectual curiosity, or because he knows his strength is to be more informed than the other candidate? I've always had the impression that he is interested in things that will advance his career, and that's about it. People often describe him as a wonk, but most wonks derive great joy from knowing the ins and outs of policy, whereas Gore seems to more enjoy the potential advantage that brings him. My definition of intellectual curiosity would be someone who is interested in things outside their sphere... which maybe Gore is, who knows-- but I haven't really seen it.

Now that I read the other comments and thought about it a little more, I'm pretty sure you're right, that Gore is smarter than Bush in most measurable ways (I guess this is pretty obvious). What I was really trying to express is that neither has impressed me with their intelligence. If you sat them down to take the SAT I'm sure Gore would score higher, but still I don't think either has distinguished themselves in the brain department. But I was wrong to say there's no difference... lord I wish it was bigger and more apparent though!
posted by chaz at 10:45 PM on September 19, 2000

Which reminds me of Churchill's memoir on his Latin entrance exam for Harrow:

I wrote my name at the top of the page. I wrote down the number of the question '1'. After much reflection I put a bracket round it thus '(1)'. But thereafter I could not think of anything connected with it that was either relevant or true. Incidentally there arrived from nowhere in particular a blot and several smudges. I gazed for two whole hours at this sad spectacle: and then merciful ushers collected my piece of foolscap with all the others and carried it up to the Headmaster's table. It was from these slender indications of scholarship that Mr Welldon drew the conclusion that I was worthy to pass into Harrow."

(feckless: I'm ferociously ambivalent towards Churchill, which is a mark of the immensity and complexity of the man.)
posted by holgate at 11:02 PM on September 19, 2000

When I was in 8th grade, I came accross The War Time Speeches, a Penguin compilation of speeches by Churchill. I have been a Churchill fan ever since. I have always been a sucker for patriotic rhetoric.

More recently I read Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills edited by his daughter Mary Soames. Mary Soames made herself a career out of editing Churchills works and writing about her mother. Churchill never thought very highly of his son. I forget where I read it. Maybe in Kenneth Galbraith's book or Bob Dole's book.

I agree with Matt that it is just politically correct to chose Churchill as favourite historical figure. He is too distant and foreign for most Americans to know his dirty little secrets. Anyhow, I dubt Bush even read anything by Churchill.

Which brings me to plot something evil. Why not someone from MeFi attend one of Bush's ralleys and ask him something specific about Churchill? This will be fun. (Just to be bipartisan, we can also plot something against Gore.) I would do it, but Bush is very unlikely to show up in New York.

posted by tamim at 12:19 AM on September 20, 2000

Lady Astor- "Why Sir Churchill you are drunk!"

Churchill- "And you are ugly, but I shall be sober in the morning!"

Now that is a put-down.
posted by Markb at 1:27 AM on September 20, 2000

I do admire the man -- one of the greats of the 20th century, doubtless. As for his Histories, I was sorely disappointed to realize during research for a college paper that I had two identical paragraph-length quotes on my 3x5 cards. One was a 19th century history ... and the other was Churchill's. In general I found the books entertaining reading, but poorly researched, and nothing at all was sourced.
posted by dhartung at 1:02 PM on September 20, 2000

>>Just to be factually correct, Al Gore WON a NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP in his senior year in high school.<<

I also WON a NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP in my senior year (I hope I capitalized that to your satisfaction). So what? A lot can happen between high school and your mid-50s. And I would argue what happened after high school is more important than what happened during high school.

Anyway, just to be factually correct: Al Gore graduated form Harvard. He then went to Vanderbilt Divinity School, got Fs in five of the eight classes he took, and dropped out. He then entered, and dropped out of, Vanderbilt Law School. Bush graduated from Yale, then went to Harvard and got an MBA.

Not that I think their educational careers are anywhere near the most important thing to look at when choosing a candidate; some of the dumbest people I know are Ivy League grads, and some of the smartest people I know never went to college at all. But if you're going to lay it on the line, lay it ALL on the line.
posted by aaron at 3:37 PM on September 20, 2000

aaron: "I also WON a NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP in my senior year (I hope I capitalized that to your satisfaction). So what?"

Congratulations for winning a National Merit Scholarship. I hope your college career is as rewarding as your high school days were.

I do not want to start a flame war with you, but I was just stating the facts. I do not care who you vote for. I do not care what your political affiliation is. This is a free country and everyone is free to do whatever they want to do (within legal boundaries).
posted by tamim at 12:01 AM on September 21, 2000

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