--> divine angst: theory

Thursday, September 02, 2004


I have a theory.

I've been reading this article in Salon.com about George Bush and his "missing years of service."

This isn't going to be a post about Bush and whether or not he served. No, the thing that really struck me about this article is the recounting of Bush's relationship at that time in his life with his parents. I think we've all heard or read some of these stories—how he challenged Bush Sr. to go "mano a mano" at one point, how he both idolized and resented his dad, and had a difficult relationship with his mother, who was known to humiliate him.

Personally, I don't care if the Bushes were the Cleavers or the Geins—the family is a political dynasty, so I'm sure some of these accounts are exaggerated, just as I'm sure there's some basis in fact for many of these rumors. And even the Bushes admit that, circa 1968-1970, their household wasn't exactly idyllic.

And this interests me. Because I have this feeling that an attraction to politics, like the attraction to certain other professions, is enhanced by famililial discord. No, not every great politician comes from an unhappy or discordant family. But, more often than not, domestic horror stories lurk in many politicians' backgrounds. Clinton is a great example—growing up poor in Arkansas, with a succession of imperfect father figures, he excelled (and excels) at presenting a "fatherly" warmth as a politician. He uses his background—in his case, what was missing—to enhance his appeal.

It's the same for actors, in a lot of ways. Many of the best actors have some strife in their background. Maybe it didn't come from their family life, but it came from somewhere. It's hard to be a good actor when you don't have those strong emotions to draw on. I'm not saying every good actor has to come from a broken home—certainly there are many talented men and women who just have the natural ability to perform without drawing from their past—but most (at least American) actors are trained to use their past as a basket of goodies from which to draw the necessary emotional memory for a part. [This is why I was always such a poor actor. My messed-up family history was counterbalanced by my mother's valiant efforts to help us overcome all the crap. I didn't have any crap left to draw on in my acting classes.]

So perhaps Bush is the successful politician he is (and believe me, Bush is a very canny man and a far sharper politician than many give him credit for) and perhaps he was drawn to politics for the same reason many other artists are drawn to their professions—the need for an outlet of some kind.

Is politics an art? Absolutely. And like much art, it is only made stronger by the emotional turmoil of the artist's past.