Bill Clinton may have his Rhodes; Al Gore his book 'n beard. Dick Cheney may have his gravitas; Bob Dole and John McCain their military metals. But George W.'s got a pitch that won't quit.
As wartime symbolism goes, it doesn't get any better than that. His perfect pitch to open the third game of the World Series in Yankee Stadium this week was nothing short of brilliant. It was a public-relations homerun as well as an act of stupendous courage.
Courage, what? With military men and women risking life and limb to defend against terrorism, throwing a lousy ball qualifies as courageous? If you have to ask, you're either in group therapy dealing with high school rejection issues or teaching sociology at Smith College.
I'm not even talking about the courage it took to walk out into a vast open space when you're the leader of the Free World and at least millions of truly insane people want to kill you. No, this is the kind of courage that makes or breaks little boys at an early age, and the failure at which has sent more than one to the bell tower, figuratively if not literally.
As a 20th-century-bred observer (yours truly) has commented often, we never completely transcend our high-school experience. Those who consider themselves successful in high school have a spring in their step throughout their lives, no matter how dismally they may perform later. Conversely, those who consider themselves failures in high school, no matter how much they succeed later, tend to suffer a lack of confidence. Woody Allen may have 10 bazillion bucks and be the best dinner-party guest of the century, but he doesn't invent his neurotic, self-doubting material out of ignorance.
For boys, unfortunately, success - especially a few decades ago - was tied to athletic prowess. Oh, we knew who the geniuses were, but who cared? Given a choice between a Bill Gates and a George Bush in high school, well, we'd regret our lack of imagination later. Speaking of which, couldn't Gates just end this business and buy Afghanistan? But I digress.
So when Bush entered the field to toss a pitch - even though he knew he could, even though he'd warmed up - he put everything at risk. Every man in America watching, whether from the stands in the Bronx or the nubby-plaid couch in Poughkeepsie, knew what he was up against. On a primitive, unspoken level, Bush had put his manhood on the line. Before the nation, before CNN, before Islam and Osama himself.
That, amigos, takes courage.
America held her breath and contracted her own muscles in sympathetic anticipation of certain failure. Could he do it? He did it. He did it perfectly. Bush knows how to wind up, how to aim, how to coordinate hand and eye, how to follow through, how to hit the target, how to accept victory with grace and humility.
George, you da man, and Osama wears a skirt.
We may be the best-fed, most technologically advanced, militarily powerful nation in the history of Earth, but we are still fundamentally animals guided in part by jungle instincts. A man who can throw a perfect pitch can probably throw a pretty good spear. We cheer the fearless leader who can bring home dinner or protect us from the enemy in the night.
Bush's symbolic act taught America a lesson about the man. He's brave, self-confident and humble.
And what does bin Laden's symbolism say about him? We see him either strutting around with big guns or pointing a cadaverous finger toward the heavens. Let's see: A withering digit and big weapon that goes bang. Well.