David B.




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December 18, 2008

The Flying Shoe: Signature Image of a President


For better or worse, American presidents – and for that matter, presidential candidates – seem to have an uncanny ability to become inextricably associated with a single iconic image which, in the years following their tenure or candidacy, will come to serve as their primary visual identity in the public mind. At the positive end of the spectrum, there’s Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington staring dispassionately out at humanity from the face of the dollar bill, or the photograph of Franklin Roosevelt in his trenchcoat, cigarette holder jauntily aloft, gripped in his clenched-teeth grin. Less positively, Michael Dukakis in a tank, Jimmy Carter bludgeoning a rabbit or Nixon flashing a “victory” sign as he slunk aboard Air Force One in ignominy.


For George W. Bush, this signature image had seemed destined to be the one of him in a flightsuit aboard the aircraft carrier, grinning like the jackass he is in front of the “mission accomplished” banner. It seemed the perfect encapsulation of the fourth stooge’s presidency, imbued with the characteristics of the man himself – pretentious, grandiose, illusionary and hapless. That hideous moment of hubris, forever frozen in time, effectively symbolized not only the person and the presidency of Little Bush, but served as an appropriate time capsule snapshot of the delusional popular mindset that would re-elect this monumentally failed shell of a human being as the steward of the world’s most powerful nation. It seemed impossible to surpass, until one particular news conference/photo opportunity in Baghdad.


A video frame grab reproduced on the front pages of hundreds of newspapers worldwide, depicting a single blurred shoe suspended in midair above the head of the cringing, cowering commander of the “free” world, serves not only to supplant “mission accomplished,” but as its worthy sequel. If “mission accomplished” was hubris caught in mid-stride, pride before its fall, the majestic soaring shoe is its tragic, humiliating second act. George W. Bush, the man who ground a million or more Iraqi lives into nonexistence beneath his heel, suddenly finds the shoe – as they say – on the other foot.


A simple piece of footwear suspended in midair above a coward’s head comes to symbolize the rage of a people, a nation and human beings of conscience throughout the world – the ducking, dodging figure beneath it, a profile in gutlessness. In an instant and for an instant, the clueless emperor was stripped of the window dressing of statesmanship and once again rendered the skulking, ducking, sidestepping alcohol-addled frat boy whose principal actual accomplishment in 60-plus years of worthlessness is the effective avoidance of responsibility.


It has often been said that the story of George W. Bush is that of a man who always managed – principally by virtue of familial connections – to fail upward. Whether bankrupting a small Texas oil company or shepherding a professional baseball team to ignominious failure, whether dodging his military obligations or defending the failures of his presidency, Bush has always succeeded in ensuring that others – stockholders, fellow guardsmen, his appointed underlings – have paid the penalties for his malfeasance even as he manipulated connections, facts, opinions and people to secure a reward for himself. But for a moment – one brief, shining moment – Shrubmentum was stopped in its tracks, in the person of a single enraged reporter, in the form of a single flying shoe, humanity’s rage against this narcissistic, bullying dry drunk crystallized into a single indelible image conveying a simple message of revulsion and contempt.


The Day of the Flying Shoe will be forgotten by most within days or weeks. Nonetheless, in a decade’s time, when some schoolchild in Boston or Baghdad examines an archived web site or a mouldering newspaper clipping depicting America’s president diving for cover in the face of the patent-leather threat, this crystalline truth will shine through: This was the leader of America in 2008. This was the loathing felt for him by an entire nation. And this was the measure of how far the land of the free had fallen in the eyes of the world that we’d thought we’d led.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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