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Peter Craw­ley says Bush-whack­ery has run its course

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

What does Ge­orge W Bush, a man not given to self­doubt, have to fear? Next week’s re­port on whether the US troop surge – his last roll of the dice for Iraq and his legacy – has paid off? The steady dis­in­te­gra­tion of the Repub­li­can base rocked by so much ter­ror, po­lit­i­cal scan­dal and ad­min­is­tra­tive in­com­pe­tence that even Rudy Guil­iani or Arnold Scwarzeneg­ger might strug­gle to re­build it? Or does the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent lie awake at night won­der­ing what his most staunch critic will throw at him next?

In other words, does Bush care about the theatre? I sus­pect not. But the theatre clearly cares about him. There have now been so many dra­matic re­sponses to Bush, his deal­ing with 9/11 and ev­ery­thing af­ter, that it’s hard to re­mem­ber po­lit­i­cal theatre with­out him. He has been put un­der the spot­light and through the ringer in David Hare’s Stuff Hap­pens and the docu­d­rama Guan­tanamo; he’s be­come the back­ground bo­gey man of hys­ter­i­cal dra­mas such as Myth, Pro­pa­ganda and Dis­as­ter in Nazi Ger­many and Con­tem­po­rary Amer­ica; he’s ini­ti­ated a surge of wish­ful-think­ing plays about Nixon’s im­peach­ment and cast a shadow over ev­ery­thing here from Sam Shep­ard’s Kick­ing a Dead Horse to Martin Crimp’s Fewer Emer­gen­cies. The only Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to fare worse in the theatre was Abra­ham Lin­coln.

Not that it has made any dif­fer­ence. In the be­gin­ning of the Bush era, it seemed pos­si­ble that theatre could reg­is­ter a pal­pa­ble hit on real-world pol­i­tics. In the buildup to 2003’s “pre-emp­tive strike”, there were more than 1,000 read­ings of Ly­sis­trata, Aristo­phanes’s anti-war satire, held si­mul­ta­ne­ously across the globe. The war, you will re­call, was not averted. Then, in the con­tin­u­ing fall­out from the con­flict and the com­fort­able re-elec­tion of so widely de­spised a fig­ure, the pub­lic turned cyn­i­cal and the theatre grew caus­tic.

That is why, as his last day in of­fice steadily ap­proaches, Bush is less likely to find him­self be­tween the crosshairs of over­heated ag­it­prop and far more fre­quently made a fig­ure of fun. There he is de­liv­er­ing an evan­gel­i­cal aria in the off-Broad­way opera The Pas­sion of Ge­orge Bush. He’s the dumb-ass punch­line in Rude Me­chan­i­cal’s satir­i­cal sketch­book Get Your War On, while The TEAM’s Par­tic­u­larly in the Heart­land, soon to be per­formed at the Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val, in­hab­its the red state cul­ture which Bush has made his play­ground.

I am dis­tress­ingly pre­dictable in my pol­i­tics (at one point this col­umn was go­ing to be called Stage Left), but with ev­ery cosy con­sen­sus about just how evil, how ma­nip­u­lated, how stupid Bush is, and with ev­ery hollow snig­ger that em­anates from a right-on satire, the theatre of Bush-whack­ing seems more de­feated.

We de­serve an al­ter­na­tive. How about a ra­bidly right-wing and un­apolo­getic trib­ute to the man and his legacy, an op­er­atic ap­pre­ci­a­tion of stay­ing the course in Iraq, or a docu­d­rama in praise of En­dur­ing Free­dom? It may not make any po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ence, but, at the very least, it would be nice to feel ou­traged again. pcraw­ley@ir­ish-times.ie

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