How George W. Bush adds up

The Jimmy Swaggart, Howdy Doody, Andy Griffith connection.

By Heather Havrilesky
Published April 8, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

(Larry Hagman + Jimmy Swaggart + Howdy Doody) x Andy Griffith = A

We want to start with some smooth down-home Texan charm, but not without a touch of snake oil. Larry Hagman delivers with a charismatic blend of scheming and befuddlement, and some sympathy, too -- poor J.R. got shot by his own brother! Or did Sue Ellen do it?

At any rate, by throwing in Swaggart and Doody we get even more flash and bravado, and even more falseness. Any good Republican has a healthy store of fire and brimstone on hand, not to mention a hair-trigger on those waterworks. Republicans are sentimental folk, let's face it, and you can't appeal to their deeply held values and beliefs without a little hanky-fondling.

But we can definitely see the man behind the curtain, pushing levers and cueing up special effects, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Swaggart's falseness and behind-the-scenes naughtiness are almost mesmerizing -- blinding headlights to our opossum. And it was always clear Mr. Doody was more than a little insincere; he seemed to downright loathe the audience, didn't he? That fake smile of his? But voters, like small children, are always willing to suspend their disbelief for the sake of fun.

Yet, the sum of Larry, Jimmy and Howdy is just a little hollow and puppet-like, even for a voting electorate as turnip-headed as our own. By multiplying the sum by Andy Griffith, we get that genuine, down-to-earth concern for the everyday people so lacking in our composite thus far. In doing so, we not only fill out the moral gaps created by the other three, but we add a much needed suspicion -- nay, even a disillusionment! -- with big-city folk and their corrupting, hoity-toity, big-city ways. The Andy Griffith element in George Dubya says to us, "I been up there to them high-falutin' Ivy League schools, and let me tellya, them rich kids is up to no damn good."

So, that bit of mathematical wizardry brings us A. But this A lacks some of the raw ambition of a George W. Bush.

A + (Ross Perot + Dave Thomas + Steve Forbes) / Donald Trump - Ronald McDonald = B

So we add a little Ross Perot for some down-home country ambition, we throw in some Dave Thomas for some annoying, cloying ambition mixed with a compulsion to be in front of a camera as much as humanly possible, then we throw in a little Steve Forbes for some dorky, nonsensical ambition unencumbered by the burden of pragmatism or logic.

By dividing by Donald Trump, we weed out some of the distasteful elements of the aging billionaire. Trump, once almost glamorous and now vaguely pathetic and more than a little neurotic, represents the worst that excessive wealth and living in the spotlight has to offer. Germphobia! If there's a more appropriate disease for butt-white tender paws to suffer from, I can't think of it. So dividing by Trump diminishes these rich-boy weaknesses, while perhaps emphasizing their staying power through his stubborn refusal to get out of our faces well past his expiration date in late 1988.

But then, with Perot, Thomas, Forbes and Trump involved, we're still left with a willingness to humiliate oneself publicly rivaled only by a circus chimp. So we subtract Ronald McDonald, who takes with him a certain excess of unsavory honky attempts at frivolous fun that makes rich crackers look so hapless to the multiethnic general public.

B is very close to George W. indeed. And yet, by dividing by the upbeat denial of Trump and subtracting the irrational cheer of Ronald McDonald, B is left looking quite precarious in its obsessive-compulsive darkness and showy rage-aholic tendencies, a sad creature that may only survive a week before hurling an insult at some behemoth in a bar who spilled a Bud on his alligator-skin boots. Yes, very like our B, to get its little skull crushed in over some ostentatious footwear.

B - Jesse Ventura + goofy baseball cap = C

To be honest, most wouldn't dare blend such dangerously high levels of ambition and temper as we've done here, but we handle this nicely by subtracting Jesse Ventura from B.

Add a goofy baseball cap, and Voil`! George W. Bush!

C = George W. Bush

Next: Doing the math on Al Gore.

Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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George W. Bush