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George W. Bush, pagan

The mind of George W. Bush, for all its alleged simplicity, has proven an exceedingly difficult nut to crack. Indeed, we can look at recent political discourse as an extended, inconclusive argument about the Presidential character: Does Bush act from obliviousness or certitude? corruption or conviction? misunderestimation or strategery? And so on, with little consensus in sight.

May I suggest that instead of using a politicized narrative to make sense of the prime mover’s behavior, we take the opposite tack? Let us, contrariwise, use the president’s observable behavior to interpret his character from scratch.

When we do so, we come to a most surprising conclusion: it appears that President Bush draws the better part of his inspiration not from conservative philosophy or the Christian religion, but rather from the heathen kings of old. Using as our source-texts the great epics of the ancient world, let’s explore several key concordances as evidence of the presidential pagan propensity.


  1. Blood-vengeance

“’I’ve lost the will to live

To take my stand in the world of men—unless,

Before all else, Hektor’s battered down by my spear

And gasps away his life, the blood-price for Patroklos,

Menoetius’s gallant son he’s killed and stripped!…

Let me seize great glory!—

And drive some woman of Troy or deep-breasted Dardan

To claw with both hands at her tender cheeks and wipe away

Her burning tears as the sobs come choking from her throat!’”

—Homer, Iliad, Book XVIII, ll. 105-109, 144-147


“He tried to kill my dad.”

—President Bush on Saddam Hussein, press conference, Sept. 26, 2002


  1. Display of captured war-trophies

“Scarce had the rosy Morning rais’d her head

Above the waters, and left her wat’ry bed;

Pious Aeneas, whom double cares attend

For his unburied soldiers and his friend,

Yet first to Heav’n perform’d a victor’s vows:

He bar’d an ancient oak of all her boughs;

Then on a rising ground the trunk he placed,

Which with the spoils of his dead foe he grac’d.

The coat of arms by proud Mezentius worn,

Now on a naked snag in triumph borne,

Was hung on high, and gliter’d from afar,

A trophy sacred to the God of War.”

-Vergil, Aeneid, Book XI, ll. 1-12


“So, needless to say, our people were thrilled to have captured [Saddam]. And in his lap were several weapons. One of them was a pistol, and they brought it to me. It’s now the property of the U.S. government.”

—Bush, press conference, June 10, 2004


  1. Ritualized boasting

“’Grendel knows he need never be in dread

Of your blade making a mizzle of his blood

Or of vengeance arriving ever from this quarter—

From the Victory-Shieldings, the shoulderers of the spear.

He knows he can trample down you Danes

To his heart’s content, humiliate and murder

Without fear of reprisal. But he will find me different.

I will show him how Geats shape to kill

In the heat of battle. Then whoever wants to

May go b ravely to his mead, when morning light,

Scarfed in sun-dazzle, shines forth from the south

And brings another daybreak to the world.’”

—Beowulf, ll. 595-606


“There are some who feel like that if they attack us that we may decide to leave [Iraq] prematurely. They don’t understand what they’re talking about, if that’s the case. Let me finish. There are some who feel like that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, ‘bring ‘em on.’ We got the force necessary…. We got plenty tough force there right now.”

—Bush, press conference, July 1, 2003


  1. Thanes recognized with lavish gifts

“The battle-famed king, bulwark of his earls,

Ordered a gold-chased heirloom of Hrethel’s

To be brought in; it was the best example

Of a gem-studded sword in the Geat treasury.

This he laid on Beowulf’s lap

And then rewarded him with land as well,

Seven thousand hides, and a hall and a throne.”

—Beowulf, ll. 2190-2196


“As it turns out, many of the [top fundraisers] who have served enthusiastically in the Bush administration have done so in particularly choice locations, including Austria, Belgium, Belize, France, Ireland, Norway and Portugal…. For example, Bush appointed longtime family friend (and $100,000 inaugural contributor) William S. Farish to be ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, a post whose perks include a stately residence that sits on 12.5 acres of prime London parkland.”

—The Center for Public Integrity, The Buying of the President 2004, pp. 236-237


I was lucky enough to represent The Chronicle at the August 3 White House press briefing, where I had the opportunity to discuss my research with Press Secretary Scott McClellan.


ROB: Scott, with the President’s national-security and war-on-terror polling numbers in decline, is there any chance we might see the Bush campaign trying to incorporate some sort of “warrior-chieftain” angle in coming weeks? A national chariot tour, presidential decapitations of enemy combatants, joint appearances with Governor Schwarzenegger, things of that nature?

MCCLELLAN: Fie on your impiety—lo, the blood-guilt is upon you! Surely you must sacrifice a fat heifer to Olympian Zeus in expiation! Other than that, I have no comment at this time.


Rob Goodman is a Trinity senior. His column appears every other Wednesday.


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