About four and a half years ago, while I was still in graduate school myself, I became hugely tickled with the idea that young George W. Bush had attended Harvard Business School in the mid-1970s. I had a hope that Tom Tomorrow or Ruben Bolling or one of those lefty cartoonists capable of wit and subtlety--that rules out Ted Rall--would seize upon this target-rich area and produce a series of strips showing young Bush's misadventures along the banks of the Charles. In my imaginings, it would be a sort of funhouse "Revenge of the Nerds," with Bush the mean-spirited slacker king leading other former frat dudes and various drunks and misfits in a series of prankish attacks on the smarty-pants, uptight, geeky, and otherwise mockable in the nosebleed zone of academe.
I mention this now because one of Bush's grad school professors has come forward with his recollections from Dubya's Harvard years, and they aren't pretty:
"I don't remember all the students in detail unless I'm prompted by something," Tsurumi said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "But I always remember two types of students. One is the very excellent student, the type as a professor you feel honored to be working with. Someone with strong social values, compassion and intellect -- the very rare person you never forget. And then you remember students like George Bush, those who are totally the opposite."
"[Bush] showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases. He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago. He was famous for that. Students jumped on him; I challenged him." When asked to explain a particular comment, said Tsurumi, Bush would respond, "Oh, I never said that."
"He denounced labor unions, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Medicare, Social Security, you name it. He denounced the civil rights movement as socialism. To him, socialism and communism were the same thing. And when challenged to explain his prejudice, he could not defend his argument, either ideologically, polemically or academically."
Students who challenged and embarrassed Bush in class would then become the subject of a whispering campaign by him, Tsurumi said. "In class, he couldn't challenge them. But after class, he sometimes came up to me in the hallway and started bad-mouthing those students who had challenged him. He would complain that someone was drinking too much. It was innuendo and lies. So that's how I knew, behind his smile and his smirk, that he was a very insecure, cunning and vengeful guy."
...Bush sometimes came late to class and often sat in the back row of the theater-like classroom, wearing a bomber jacket from the Texas Air National Guard and spitting chewing tobacco into a cup.
"At first, I wondered, 'Who is this George Bush?' It's a very common name and I didn't know his background. And he was such a bad student that I asked him once how he got in. He said, 'My dad has good friends.'" Bush scored in the lowest 10 percent of the class.
"I used to chat up a number of students when we were walking back to class," Tsurumi said. "Here was Bush, wearing a Texas Guard bomber jacket, and the draft was the No. 1 topic in those days. And I said, 'George, what did you do with the draft?' He said, 'Well, I got into the Texas Air National Guard.' And I said, 'Lucky you. I understand there is a long waiting list for it. How'd you get in?' When he told me, he didn't seem ashamed or embarrassed. He thought he was entitled to all kinds of privileges and special deals. He was not the only one trying to twist all their connections to avoid Vietnam. But then, he was fanatically for the war."
Tsurumi told Bush that someone who avoided a draft while supporting a war in which others were dying was a hypocrite. "He realized he was caught, showed his famous smirk and huffed off."
Tsurumi's conclusion: Bush is not as dumb as his detractors allege. "He was just badly brought up, with no discipline, and no compassion," he said.
Yeah, that's about what I imagined. A little rich prick, mean and shallow, not stupid but profoundly uncurious and unwilling to examine his own preconceived notions.
People change over 30 years, of course. I doubt Bush would be as transparently contemptuous of those he disagrees with now--at least in public--and I'm sure he's gotten better about watching his statements and maintaining some (just some) logical consistency in argument. But mostly he now seems less honest--witness the recent statements about pulling no strings to get into the Guard--and, of course, more sanctimonious, having been "saved" and all.
More and more, I think Kerry needs to think about ways to draw out these unattractive aspects of Bush's personality in the debates.