Slow Driving with George Dubya...
Now that the Bush campaign has finally had to admit it, we all think we know
what happened on that night in Kennebunkport so long ago. In the very early
hours of September 4, 1976, George W. Bush was heading erratically for home
on Ocean Drive when his car was stopped by Officer Calvin Bridges. Also in
the car were his sister, Dorothy, Australian tennis star John Newcombe, and
I was pulled over and admitted to the policeman that I was
drinking, Governor Bush told reporters with a frankness born of the fact
that a Portland TV station had just dug up the arrest report.
Bridges, now retired, seemed to remember the occasion well, and added that
the 30-year-old youth* had been a perfect gentleman during the pinch. Mr.
Bush eventually pleaded guilty to operating under the influence of
intoxicating liquor, for which he was fined $150 and had his Maine drivers
license briefly suspended.
So thats it. End of story, and no biggie.
then the November 20 issue of Time carried an interview by Hugh Sidey with
the governors father, George Herbert Walker Bush. Here is his memory of that
About three or four days before the election, the reports were
beginning to get very positive, upbeat; then along comes the Kennebunkport
incident with John Newcombe. I stayed awake all night and the next day.
Barbara and I had totally forgotten about it.** Calvin, the police officer,
came to our house and said, George, I got to take you in. I dont know what
really happened that night. George was with John Newcombe, a black-belt beer
drinker. He was arrested for driving too slow. He accepted the
I have turned this passage over to a retired deconstructionist from Harvard,
and here is his textual analysis:
The first item of interest is the automatic pairing of incident with John
Newcombe in the authors mind. This pairing can scarcely be considered
accidental, as it will recur later in the work. The more conventional pairing
of incident would be with the vehicles driver, and that was in fact the
linkage made by Officer Calvin, in his own contemporary recounting of the
episode on the police blotter.
The narrators use of the words Totally
forgotten seems at first glance to be somewhat hyperbolic. If I may
interject a personal note, at about the time of the Newcombe incident one of
my sons called from a police station in Winsted, Connecticut, to inform me
that he had run a red light and hit a snow plow. I have not totally
forgotten. To be fair to Mr. Bush, though, my memory seems to be superior to
his, as I have not forgotten Iran-Contra either.
For similar reasons I am
inclined to give the narrator the benefit of the doubt when he says, I dont
know what really happened that night. Lack of curiosity, as well as memory,
was a constant theme of his years in public service.
His next three
sentences provide an uncommonly artful specimen of innuendo--a deeper and fuller,
although still oblique, development of the thesis advanced in the second half
of the opening sentence. While never quite saying so, Bush senior manages to
place the blame for the incident even more firmly on Mr. Newcombe. The
role of Bush junior becomes, in this recounting, little more than to step up manfully
and accept the responsibility for driving too slow.
I save for last this
intriguing literary construction:
Calvin, the police officer, came to our
house and said, George, I got to take you in.
Although George, in this
case, amounts to a somewhat ambiguous referent, we may still make certain
normative suppositions as to which George is meant. George Herbert Walker
Bush was at the time director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Calvin
Bridges was a police officer in Kennebunkport. A cat may look at a king, but
a cop is unlikely to call him George.
On the other hand George Walker Bush
was a mere youth, and a legally drunk one. As such, you might expect a
policeman to refer familiarly to him. You might also expect a George to be
taken in, whereas you would suppose that a CIA director might be given a
lift, or even a police escort.
But why would either George require
transportation at all? The father presumably had access to many cars. The son
was already at the police station, according to the account to be dragged out
of him 24 years later. Yet we find him, in his fathers account, safely at home.
Did Officer Calvin find someone in the car sober
enough to drive it, and then follow along to the Bush compound? Did George
perhaps never pull over at all, but rather continue to waver onward with a
police tail? Or was the aging scamp driven home after flunking his sobriety
test at the police station and then rearrested later? And if so, why?
Application of the tools of literary analysis to the present text cannot
provide with any reliability the answers to these or any other questions. The
text is, alas, fragmentary.