Bush and Mediocrity
By Herb Denenberg
May 28, 2001
I’ve heard a lot of lousy graduation speeches in this, the season of graduations, but George W. Bush gets the credit for the worst of them. He went to Yale and his speech celebrates mediocrity, C students, and drunken stupors. Yet if anyone can symbolize mediocrity, it is George W. Bush who not only is the essence of mediocrity but also celebrates it.
He not only celebrated mediocrity, but also made a farce of all the recent pontificating about role models, and about returning dignity and morality to the White House. Should graduates take as their role model a man who was so drunk and dazed he can’t remember his undergraduate days and a man who glories in lousy grades? Where is all that dignity, morality, and honor Bush so often tries to associate himself with?
With one of Bush’s speeches you never know whether he is just trying to be funny or actually trying to make a point while mangling the English language. But whether intended in jest or in earnest, his remarks reflect the man and what he stands for and that is mediocrity at its worst and “success” built on family connections, an empty record, and an illegal US Supreme Court decision, which he helped engineer.
He referred to his college days as his “college daze.” He told the students, referring to his partying days, “If you’re like me, you won’t remember everything you did here.” Humor or not, that was true. He has often bragged about his utter lack of attention and accomplishment while at Yale. He was a great party man, and, by his own admission, wild and irresponsible until age 40. He even has a criminal record to prove it, having been convicted while driving while under the influence of alcohol. Incidentally, mediocrity is especially unfortunate when it goes with hypocrisy, and Bush certainly distinguishes himself in that department, too. He speaks incessantly of religion, faith, morality and dignity, but that’s just rhetoric. He is in fact the servant of the tobacco companies, the utilities, the polluters, and the others who support his campaign, and now are placed inside government to implement an obvious special interest strategy. This great moralist is a man who doesn’t bat an eye, while executing those whose trials were carried out by incompetent lawyers and judges.
But now back to Bush’s speech: “To those of you who received honors, awards, and distinctions, I say, ‘Well done.’ And to the C students, I say, ‘You, too, can be president of the United States.’” He forgot to add that he probably didn’t even deserve those lowly Cs, but probably got them through the source of even his mediocre achievements – his family connections. He also forgot to add that he didn’t get the Presidency because of his C grades. As with everything in life, he obtained virtually every position and office through family connections and through being subservient to the interest of his supporters.
There was some truth uttered during the Bush speech. When he said he received his first Yale degree in 1968, one student yelled out, “Barely!” And as Jay Leno pointed out, the honorary degree was much like his original undergraduate degree – he didn’t have to put in any work for either of them.
The president also told about his days in the Yale library with his friend, Richard Brodhead, now dean of Yale College. “We had a mutual understanding – Dick would read aloud, and I wouldn’t snore.” This kind of humor may be in vogue, but sadly it reflects the man. His own staff during the campaign admits he has a short attention span, works a short day, and requires all staff papers and briefing to be short. And apparently his professors knew him well enough: 170 Yale professors boycotted the graduation ceremony because they believe Bush was not worthy of the honorary degree. More than 200 professors signed a petition objecting to awarding the honorary degree because they should be reserved for those who have a “distinguished career” behind them. What’s more, the great role model and moralist should not use the occasion of receiving an honorary degree to proclaim his contact with books and libraries involved only sleep.
Consider Bush’s life record to date. He got into and through Yale on his family connections. He got into the oil and gas business aided by the family connections, and was a failure at that. (Remember, he was an admitted drunk until age 40.) He became a front man for those who wanted the Texas Rangers to get a government-financed stadium. They needed a front man and spokesman with important connections, and that then propelled him into the office Governor of Texas. There his most notable achievement was executing men who did not have an adequate defense or fair trial. (Only now is Texas getting around to setting standards for defense attorneys and making it illegal to execute the retarded, reforms never advocated by the great moralist.) He was nominated for the Presidency, not because of any of his beliefs, but because the party thought he could win and thought he would be an obedient front man. And he was finally made president, after losing the election, by an illegal political decision of the US Supreme Court which he helped engineer.
I remember the late Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska, in trying to defend a Supreme Court nominee of limited attainment, saying that the mediocre were entitled to representation on the US Supreme Court. Maybe he would justify Bush as President on the same grounds. I can abide the mediocre, but not the mediocre who are also incompetent and who are also hopelessly sold out to big money, big business, big tobacco, and everything else big enough to make a big contribution to his campaign.
Herb Denenberg is a former Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Public Utility Commissioner and Professor at the Wharton School. He is now an adjunct professor of insurance and information science and technology at Cabrini College. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him http://thedenenbergreport.org or http://denenbergsdump.org