The Last Hurrah

In the last days before the election George Bush passed a near terminal stage of his via dolorosa still bravely trying but barely managing to preserve his self-esteem against the assaults of his despairs. Every sighting of him in those final days enlarged the impression that no divine intervention could so profoundly surprise him as to be awakened on November 3 a president-elect once again.

The conventional wisdoms of politics were already commencing to dismiss the likelihood of his survival by the time the President joined their consensus. But now he appeared to accept it with a whole, if downcast, heart.

Venturesome denials of what informed opinion asserts as fact are not for George Bush; whatever wisdoms he carried to this last ditch were uniformly of the conventional sort. There is no way to guess the exact moment when the mixture of the waters of his hopes with the cement of his doubts about his destiny hardened into the concrete of his near certainty of its disaster. But the day of this dreadful revelation had to be the Halloween Saturday he spent in Wisconsin just before the election, campaigning from the observation platform of the first passenger train to ennoble the rails between Burlington and Chippewa Falls in a generation.

Of course, the gods of irony had once again proved their mastery of stagecraft by setting the scene where the President would recognize that history’s attic was his destination while he sat in one of those railroad passenger cars that were, for small Midwestern towns, the most evocative of historical relics and the more precious for being so rarely seen.

The last passenger train to stop for George Bush was perhaps the last to stop at Chippewa Falls for all time to come. Occasional patches of children stood watching with their mothers along the right of way; and Bush-Quayle signs appeared infrequently enough in their lines to suggest how secondary a point the President of the United States had become for the focus of their curiosity.

Television has transformed our presidents into our almost domestic familiars. No evening went by without the current one’s intrusion into our living rooms, like some brother-in-law beseeching a loan. Only the blue locomotive and its clattering yellow chain of club cars on the Bush campaign train had the magic that belonged to the strange and never-before-seen by these children’s eyes.

But George Bush had mislaid his magic somewhere, and had worn out his eyes scouring too many dark corners and failing to find it anywhere, until, with every mile he covered, he seemed less capable of seeing what he was looking at. He saluted Wisconsin for its “lovely day” and the abundance of its corn crop, while the skies stayed gray and the landscape grew more sodden and, since Halloween is the appointed day for the burial of the Corn God until spring, his kingdom was invisible except for wind-grieved stalk and stubble. It was one of those panoramas that most …

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