31 January 2007: Bush as Ahab

Bush is sailing this ship toward failure

Recently, a couple of national columnists made an analogy in their columns between George Bush and Ahab, the mad captain of the Pequod in obsessive pursuit of the Great White Whale, Moby Dick. It’s a provocative comparison. For if one scrutinizes Bush’s profile from his upbringing, through his young adult years, and at his later conversions as a totality, one aspect of his character that sticks out is a stubborn, dogged pursuit of an objective.

When he sets his jaw, nothing deters George Bush: facts, objecting generals, and the expressed will of the American voters be damned, for “I am the decider!” His is a megalomaniac personality: “a mania for great or grandiose performance, or a delusional mental disorder that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur,” according to Merriam-Webster.

The novel Moby Dick is an incredible foray into the machinations of the mind of a man gone mad, driven to psychological fury by an unfortunate but not surprising event most would agree was a realistic consequence for a risk taken. If you attack a whale, it is likely he will do something in return, such as bite off your leg.

Captain Ahab has been deeply and permanently scarred, more psychologically than physically. While everyone else simply sees a man hobbling along on a peg leg, an intrepid survivor of a close encounter, only Ahab is cognizant of his fury, equating his dismemberment with a holy cause—to kill the killer whale.

After another near-death encounter with Moby Dick in the final pursuit in which his ivory leg has been snapped to a splinter, Stubb conveys to Ahab that his old compatriot, the Parsee who casts no shadow, is dead, ironically caught up in Ahab’s own line. Ahab exclaims, “My line! my line? Gone?—gone? What means that little word?—What death-knell rings in it, that old Ahab shakes as if he were the belfry?”

That, though, hardly daunts Ahab. He continues, “I’ll ten times girdle the unmeasured globe; yea and dive straight through it, but I’ll slay him yet.”

First Mate Starbuck pleads with him: “Great God, but for one single instant show thyself, never, never, wilt thou capture him, old man—In Jesus’ name, no more of this, that’s worse than devil’s madness. Two days chased; twice stove to splinters; thy very leg once more snatched from under thee; thy evil shadow [the Parsee] gone—all good angels mobbing thee with warnings:—what more wouldst thou have?—Shall we keep chasing this murderous fish until he swamps the last man? Shall we be dragged by him to the bottom of the sea? Shall we be towed by him to the infernal world? Oh, oh,—Impiety and blasphemy to hunt him more!”

Ahab responds: “[I]n this matter of the whale, be the front of thy face to me as the palm of this hand—a lipless, unfeatured blank. Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act is immutably decreed. Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders.”

While he may not be among the intellectually curious, George W. Bush is, nonetheless, a complex individual. The guy’s guy persona he conveys is a “pasteboard mask” of the kind Ahab says are “all visible objects.” His obsession to obliterate Saddam Hussein for the alleged assassination attempt on his father, the former president, is only part of the equation.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC once questioned whether Bush’s relationship with his father is filial or oedipal. I posit it’s both, a love-hate paternal relationship. Regardless, what is crucial is how the mind of the man impacts the freedom and security of the American nation. Bush’s obsession with Iraq is more about his battle with personal demons under a cover of doing his job to protect America. He is the Man Who Would Be King who ought never to have been President of the United States. His continued occupation of the presidency poses a far greater threat to our freedom and security than the terrorists he continues to birth with his inane and insane policies.

At the end, Moby Dick destroys the Pequod or, more accurately, Ahab’s obsession does: “Retribution, swift vengeance, eternal malice were in his whole aspect, and spite of all that mortal man could do, the solid white buttress of his forehead smote the ship’s starboard bow, till men and timbers reeled.”

“The ship! The hearse!—the second hearse,” cried Ahab from the boat (he is in a rowboat watching); “its wood could only be American.”

In his last vain attempt to kill the White Whale, Ahab roars his hatred and anger: “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; with hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

While some may disagree with bestowing the stature of Ahab, “a grand, godly, un-godlike man,” upon Bush, he is, nevertheless, the President of the United States and, thus, the one most able to affect world events. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson states that whenever “any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (securing the rights of the people), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” Article I, Section 3 and Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution provide the means.

George W. Bush is forever George W. Bush and it’s past time to remove him from the presidency, preceded by his “Parsee,” Dick Cheney. Impeachment hearings should be convened not only for accountability for “high crimes and misdemeanors” on the parts of both men, but also to insure the future of the American Republic. Failure to do so may result in the American ship of state meeting the same fate as the Pequod. While I greatly admire Herman Melville as a literary giant, I cringe at the prospect of him being also known as a prophet.

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