For one of the productions of a play I co-wrote, Bat Boy: The Musical, there was a performer who got an audition as a courtesy–he was connected to a potential investor, and he wanted to be an actor, so he was allowed to come in at the last stage of auditions to “see what it is like” to audition for a play. And he sang. And he was tone deaf. And he didn’t know it. And we all sat there, listening to this man embarrass himself in front of us. For one whole song. And then the second song–a ballad.
The experience was painful. For me, being embarrassed for someone is a very physical sensation. My gut clenches a bit. No doubt my heartbeat increases somewhat. I have to consciously stop my face muscles from wincing. For some reason, I reflexively bring my hand up to my chin and rest my head on it–kind of like the “Thinker” pose. My legs cross, too.
It’s a very unpleasant sensation that fills my entire body.
And this is what happens to me almost every time I see President Bush on video. He starts his awkward stumble through whatever it is he is trying to say, and I feel those same physical sensations, and I just can’t stand it. I can’t even listen to his words, because his utter failure to convincingly play his role–competent leader of the free world–is too distracting.
This happens a lot: I go to watch a video clip of President Bush delivering a speech or conducting a press conference, and within one minute I have to turn it off, because I truly can’t stand the feeling of being embarrassed for him.
In these moments, I don’t feel hate for the man, any more than I feel hate for an unskilled actor at an audition. In fact, the visceral response would seem to require sympathy at a certain level–and that’s definitely what it feels like. You don’t have to like or even know someone to feel sympathy for him. It’s like watching someone get hit by a car–Oh my God, that could be me, and that would be horrible.
I know this feeling I get is not a result of my disagreement with the President on his policies. I didn’t get this feeling when I watched his father on television. Or Reagan, from what I remember. I don’t get this feeling from watching Cheney or Rumsfeld, two men whose political views I find appalling. I don’t get this feeling from any other politician I can think of.
No, I only get the feeling of being embarrassed for someone from George W. Bush. Watching President Bush deliver a speech is like watching a child who has forgotten his lines in the Christmas pageant. It’s so painful that I just can’t do it. I’d rather read a summary or a transcript of what he said.
I am aware that I am out of step with much of the rest of the nation on this. The speech the President gave to Congress after 9-11 apparently gave many Americans greater confidence in him. I saw roughly one minute of that speech and became more scared of him than I have ever been. This was around the time I stopped watching TV for good.
A writer recently described President Bush as “our national deer caught in the national headlights.” It was the most apt description of him I have ever read, and I wish I could remember who wrote it.