Bush: The Comic Gift That Keeps on Giving

There is a picture that’s been making the rounds of the Internet in the last few weeks that’s hilarious. It’s also tasteless, preposterous, insulting and all the other things that make for good, roll-on-the-floor laughs.

It shows the two President Bushes during what appears to be a fishing trip at the family vacation retreat in Maine. The current president is holding up a fish while standing next to his father in their boat.

And behind them? The rocky coast of Maine? The waters of the Atlantic? Nope. The flooded streets of New Orleans.

Yes, it’s yet another wacky broadside at the commander-in-chief. Through the artful use of Adobe Photoshop or some other computer program which allows the easy alteration of reality, the images of the past and present presidents are superimposed on the high water in the Crescent City. Our president is made to look as if he’s thrown a line into the flood.

It’s terribly unfair. Obviously, the president wouldn’t pack his fishing gear before heading for the flood-ravaged Gulf Coast. One of his handlers would surely point out how inappropriate it would be to claim a moment of sport amid the misery of Hurricane Katrina.

But the picture is a measure of what a comic treasure the president has become. He is the gift that keeps on giving for cartoonists, comedians, observers of the swiftly passing scene. Garry Trudeau, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart _ all must look skyward now and then to say, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

And it isn’t funny. There are more than three years left in this presidency and there is no indication that George W. Bush has what it takes to turn the comic tide.

He is not going to sit down in the chair next to Leno or Letterman in a counteroffensive and crack wise. He isn’t quite up to it. He is the least revealed president we have ever had. He seems so protected from the daily push and shove that he would probably risk an emotional meltdown if left to an unscripted face off with a person who hasn’t been chugging the White House Kool-Aid.

So it will go on, this tidal wave of comic body shots at the presidency.

There is just no way for George Bush to stop it. He has none of that self-effacing ease that allowed Bill Clinton to so artfully deflect the hard shots and low blows.

The news is almost all bad, and the president just keeps on making it worse with performances that become instant classics, ready for late night or prime time.

That walk in shirtsleeves into a garishly illuminated Jackson Square in the middle of a Katrina-darkened New Orleans seemed like a Saturday Night Live skit in the making.

Then there’s the showstopper, that landing on the aircraft carrier with the “Mission Accomplished” banner in the background.

It would be a whole lot funnier, of course, if we all weren’t in this together. He’s our president, so it is best to remember that when we laugh at him we also, in a strange and uncomfortable way, laugh at ourselves.

And the rest of the world laughs at all of us.

It’s going to be a very long three years, enduring something that is very funny in a sad, dispiriting way. Once someone becomes as frozen in the comic crosshairs as President Bush, it really is impossible to move completely out of the line of fire.

Maybe soon we’ll see someone do a routine about the president finding a nominee for the Supreme Court. Maybe it will show him opening the door of the Oval Office, leaning out into the hallway and yelling

“Anybody here want to be on the Supreme Court?”

It’d be a hoot.

(Bob Kerr is a columnist with The Providence Journal. He can be reached by e-mail at bkerr(at) projo.com.)