The practitioners of my profession, dependent as we are upon the visual, are in serious trouble. As political phrenologists (some may say anthroposcopists—those who practice the science of reading character into the face—but ours is a vocation that defies labels), we are charged with the delicate task of limning the character of our political leaders. Facing us quite literally is a task of lead-shattering, nib-curling proportions. We are eyeball to eyeball with George Bush, trying to read his lips.
We are going through a transition period that our colleagues in print have little understanding of and precious little sympathy for. Overlooked by them in this time of summing up is that Ronald Reagan, above all, was a man who knew how to pose. A model, indeed, of mythic proportions. Always ready to stand there rock solid and unmoving in one heroic costume after another. Patient and affable, that face with its astonishing longevity remained the same regardless of what was put on it, under it, and around it. All that one could do was to carve the lines deeper, add a wrinkle or two, and pull the pompadour. Never mind that the line between the fantasy and real life got blurry after a while, posing is hard work.
Consider for a moment that for me alone Ronald Reagan cheerfully posed as the Laocoön, as Darth Vader, as a magic carpet salesman, as Little Bo Peep, as countless cowboys, as the pope, as FDR, as Dorothy in Oz, as Solomon, as Johnny Carson, as a Star Wars Snow Walker, as a Chinese mandarin, as Bruce Springsteen, as King Henry III, as a Reverse Robin Hood, as Rhett Butler, as Norman Rockwell, as Don Quixote, as the Music Man, as a Japanese samurai, as Fritz’s Temple of Doom, as Rambo, and as the Great Gipper going out with his merry band of players. We’ll not see a troupe the likes of them for a long time.
So much for nostalgia. We must look ahead. Now we have George Herbert Walker Poppy Have-Half Bertie-Wooster Bush in the chair. Let’s start with the face and get the worst over with. We’ll do it in stages.
As you can see we’re in trouble already. So WASPishly self-effacing, it is a face that does not parse. There are extra joints in there that no stylish hat nor sweeping costume can support. It’s no wonder that at least one of our most creative cartoonists (Mr. Trudeau) has given up trying to capture that visage altogether. But that is shirking our responsibility of coming to grips with Mr. Bush.
Perhaps there is something in the figure of the man. After all, he was a great athlete (batted .280 at Yale and is always jogging). But no, it does not get better. There does not seem to be much there. Visually the president-elect, I regret to say, sags—sort of the male version of the debutante slouch. Clearly I will need some time to find a way to support him, and it won’t be easy. So for the moment let us leave him where he seems to want to be—draped comfortably over those elitist Maine rocks outside his Kennebunkport home with some puritanical reading matter to ease his mind—like an L.L. Bean catalog from which to pick his Cabinet.