The President and Mr. Miller
Bode Miller was the perfect candidate for the packaged American Hero, a good-lucking lad who played the rebel to perfection for the image-makers, and ran with the hype and the credit card ads to the 2006 Olympics. Miller was a portable symbol of American lone rangers, the guy who did it his way and reached for the gold. Except he didn't reach. He turned up hollow and empty and unwilling to sacrifice. He skiied off the course, and he skiied off the story-line.
Just as the Bridge to Nowhere is the perfect metaphor for rudderless national leader of the Republican Party, so the ski bum Bode Miller and his devil-may-care attitude toward spectacular failure on the world stage makes a fine stand-in for the President of the United States.
Compare the scorecards. Downhill, Combined, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom ... 5th, Disqualified, Did Not Finish, 6th, Did Not Finish. Spygate, Iraq, Katrina, Torture, Port Security. Or pick your own issues, any issues. No medals, folks - just ignominy and embarassment before the world. What Bode Miller is to Olympic triumph, George Bush is to Presidential history, flopping off the slick course of national politics like James Buchanan in Team USA spandex.
Of course, it's one thing to be an over-hyped, overweight slalom slacker hanging out till all hours in the bars of Turin, letting down your sponsors, your teammates, and your fans. To me, athletes never really let their countries down - that nationalistic stuff is just for T-shirt sales. The Olympic movement is about as idealistic as the Nike advertising budget. In the end, Bode Miller really disgraced no one but himself. His stupid little episode will fade, and his moment on the public stage is nearly at an end. George Bush's incredible failure will be with us for many, many years. Increasingly isolated (if that's possible) and with his dream team riddled by buckshot and scandal, our national ski bum has the country on the icy, dangerous downhill towards disaster.
George Bush in the flight suit on that carrier was Bode Miller in the Nike ads before the Olympics, all image and promise. No substance and sacrifice, no guts and inner fire. Here's what Mr. Miller told the (obviously angry) team at NBC Sports:
"The expectations were other people's. I'm comfortable with what I've accomplished, including at the Olympics ... I wanted to have fun here, to enjoy the Olympic experience, not be holed up in a closet and not ever leave your room. I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level ... I just did it my way. I'm not a martyr, and I'm not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here."
Replace Olympics and Olympic with Presidency and Presidential, and how far are you really from the life and times of George W. Bush - who, after all, can always say he got to party and socialize on the Presidential level after a life partying and socializing on the silver spoon circuit.
Bode Miller is right. He is not a martyr. And he has absolutely nothing in common with the American men and women who are dying in our name in the streets of Iraqi cities as the Bush-triggered civil war rages. He has nothing in common with the 2,500 killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is nothing like the young Americans in military hospitals in Germany and Maryland and Texas and elsewhere, kids missing limbs and suffering paralysis and blindness, young people who time and time again tell the politicians and reporters who come around their beds: "I just want to get back to my unit."
Bode Miller is just another selfish American, another potent symbol of our self-satisfied society, but at least he doesn't ask more from others than he is willing to contribute himself. His failure is his own.
George Bush's failure is ours.
UPDATE: I have apparently offended Mr. Miller's "Bodelicious" fans by comparing him (favorably) to the President of the U.S. Here's a sample of the mail I'm getting: "I wanted to remind you - George W. Bush did not achieve anything, while Bode Miller has achieved a lot." I love this medium! (Oh, and for all you Bode defenders - nice how he treated his hometown newspaper columnist).