GWB Two Ways

Alexandra Pelosi's Journeys with George is a smart, funny, interesting look at the 2000 Bush campaign as seen from within GWB's traveling press pool, of which Pelosi was a part (as a correspondent for NBC). I know this has been said before, but one of the most brilliant and unnerving things about Pelosi's film, which she bills as a home movie of sorts, is that it makes Bush look charming, reasonable, and entirely human.

So it's jarring to consider Journeys with George side by side with Eyes Wide Open, the American Friends Service Committee's traveling exhibit of 1500 pairs of combat boots, a field of civilian shoes, and a wall of rememberance, all devoted to memorializing and raising awareness of the deaths resulting from the Iraq war.

The exhibit was in San Francisco last weekend, on the grounds between City Hall and the library (with the boots representing servicepeople from California who have been killed in Iraq lining the steps of City Hall itself), and it was both breathtaking and heartbreaking to behold. Granted, staging the exhibit in SF is pretty much preaching to the choir, but even here in Liberalville, USA, it managed to (sorry to poach the expression, but...) open some eyes.

It's one thing to read the death toll every day in the paper, or to hear NPR's endless dispatches from Iraq, but it's something else entirely to see 1500 pairs of empty boots (each with a name attached, and many stuffed with flowers, flags, photos, and letters from the deceased) and row after row of civilian shoes. The numbers become real, and the utter waste of this quagmire becomes even starker.

Asking how it is that the charming, joking, sometimes (though by no means always) even sympathetic man in front of Pelosi's lens could morph into the man who bears responsibility for the depressing parade of shoes making their way across the country isn't a rhetorical question. It's a question with a blatant and sad answer: whatever spark of humanism might have existed in the 2000 GWB was long extinguished by the time that man became 2001 GWB. Any hope the movie might've given us that the man who would become our next president was capable of compassion was long ago blown to bits.

Pelosi's film, then, becomes more than just a portrait of a man, a year, the experiences of a gaggle of reporters and photographers confined to small spaces together for months on end; it becomes a piece of history, a look at what Bush was like before power, greed, hard-heartedness, and a horrific group of advisors made him the war-mongering disaster he is today.

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