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Deja Vu

October 17, 2012

Keeping Busy


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2012: Former United States President George W. Bush has largely kept out of the spotlight since leaving office in 2008, choosing to spend most of his time on his Crawford, Texas area ranch. The controversial 43rd commander-in-chief is primarily interested in creating artwork starring his two Scottish terriers, Barney and Miss Beazely, and the arid Southwest landscape scenes around his home, which he is increasingly loathe to leave. Politico has the scoop:

“I find it stunning that he has the patience to sit and take instruction and paint,” a former aide told the magazine.

“He’s become increasingly agoraphobic. He looked startled by the whole thing. But he doesn’t like people, he never did, he doesn’t now.”

The 66-year-old, whose second term concluded almost four years ago, does have an institute bearing his name at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and he travels frequently to Africa. But compared to globe-hopping Bill Clinton, who regularly tops the news cycle more than a decade after he left office, Bush has been little seen by the American public.

1817: Dispatched by his British captors to the South Atlantic island of St. Helena, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte languished with only a small cadre of servants and companions. After losing his taste for cards—a British general supervising Bonaparte objected to his use of a deck embossed with crowns, as he was no longer sitting on the throne—the exiled ruler turned to chess, putting together a game every night and giving his friends a chance to observe the new, gentler Napoleon:

The Emperor engaged in a game of chess with Las Casas. His king having accidentally fallen from the board, he exclaimed, “Ah! My poor king, you are down!”

“Horrid, said the Emperor; I certainly do not accept the omen, and I am far from wishing any such thing. My enmity does not extend so far.”

In reference to this characteristic incident, Las Casas writes, “I would not on any account have omitted this circumstance, trifling as it may appear, because it is, in many respects, characteristic. What cheerfulness! What freedom of mind in such dreadful circumstances! What serenity in the heart! What absence of malice, irritation, or hatred! Who could discover in him the man whom enmity and falsehood have depicted as a monster?"

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The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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