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Crash and burn presidency

Paul Andersen

A photograph this summer of George W. Bush the mountain biker showed the president with a nasty scrape on his chin. It reminded me of an ugly bike crash I once had. For a moment, I felt a rare affinity with the president.The fact that Bush and I are mountain bikers who share a particular kind of injury provides me a knowing perspective on the man. We both made mistakes on bicycles and paid the price with scabby chins. The difference lies in our approach to mountain biking.My injury occurred near Marble one summer morning as I rode toward Crested Butte over Schofield Pass. On the first long, hot climb, I stopped and pulled off my T-shirt and knotted it around my handlebars.While bouncing down the rocky descent, my shirt came loose and jammed in my front wheel, catapulting me over the bars. It happened so fast that I landed on my chin before my hands let go of the grips. Ouch! My jaw went numb and blood welled from a gash in my cheek. I sat there for a minute, stunned, then painfully bathed my injuries in the Crystal River. Shaken up, I turned back for home, knowing never again to tie my T-shirt to the handlebars.George W. Bush suffered his injury while mountain biking with journalists at his Texas ranch. According to one of the journalists, Bush boldly pointed his mountain bike down the steepest hill and dared them to follow.The journalists got off and walked, but Bush sailed down, bounding over obstacles with obstinate optimism. When the inevitable crash occurred, he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and went on as if nothing had happened.The crash caused Bush’s doctor to order a medical evaluation, and the worst of it appeared to be a scraped chin. Like me, Bush lost face when it made contact with the trail. It wasn’t prudent of the president to take such a risk, but … well, that’s George.After 25 years of mountain biking, I have learned that crashing is not something to take lightly. In mountain biking, one must weigh the laws of physics against health and safety. Crashing is the result of bad judgment, and I simply don’t do it.George Bush, our mountain biking president, is crash happy. He rides impetuously, biking with bravado to impress onlookers. The Bush presidency can be characterized by such feats of derring-do, and mountain biking becomes an interesting metaphor for his foreign policies.Our president is at the top of a steep, challenging hill that may exceed his abilities. He grips the handlebars, dismisses the risks, and revels in the hope of glory. Boldly, he pushes off.His commitment is complete as he surrenders to gravity, but as his speed increases, so does his instability. There comes an alarming moment when the president’s control is in jeopardy. Bush and his bike careen from one rock to another, giving the president a mad rush of testosterone.Rather than control his speed with his brakes, Bush grips the handlebars tighter. He braces for the unknown and tries to ride it out. When his capabilities are exceeded by the terrain, the president piles it up, losing face in an ugly crash.Most of us would use caution from then on, but not President Bush. He dusts himself off, climbs back on that steel horse, and does it all over again. In his presidency, Bush is riding our country down many steep and dangerous hills where we all feel the crashes at the bottom. Unfortunately, the injuries are not his alone. Paul Andersen wonders what’s inside the presidential helmet. His column appears on Mondays.


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