Lear’s Shadow: George H.W. Bush

Nosocomephobia:  The fear of hospitals. It’s one of hundreds on phobialist.com, but I imagine it’s probably one of the more common ones, at least above fear of German things (Teutophobia) or fear of chins (Geniophobia). And it’s no wonder: Hospitals are, very often, where people go to die. It’s also no wonder that the media goes into overdrive when a celebrity or politician is hospitalized, even if it’s for something as common as a bad cough.

Former President George H.W. Bush was admitted for that very reason about two weeks ago, and as per any 88-year-old, a bad cough can be a serious problem.Former President Bush smiles as he listens to Republican presidential candidate Romney speak in Houston

Bush isn’t a frail, feeble old man. He’s actually somewhat Lear like (minus the whole banishing of his favorite daughter and barbaric train of knights): He’s in control of his faculties, self-aware and strong. He cheered for his favorite football team from his hospital bed and is known for being an exercise junkie.

But like Lear, he’s human. He’s as susceptible to illness, and death, as anyone else. Watching a former leader, someone who used to fill newspapers and TV stations with speeches and interviews, inch toward death is surreal. But it’s as transfixing as a collision on the side of the road: We just can’t look away. We saw it when Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with and suffered from alzheimer’s: America was used to seeing him on a pedestal, and suddenly, he was facing death like the rest of us.

While reading about Bush in the news, I wasn’t so much fascinated by the details of his health than I was the comments beneath the article. Some of my favorites:


“He is the likable one but should have raised potatoes instead of children.”

” I’m glad he’s getting healthier.””Because he and his son’s policies made the world sick for 12 years.”

“get well soon,mr.president,although i know its your sons fault.”

“To sit and be able to have a conversation with this man would be a dream come true for me.”

“I hope the best for him and I know he’s getting the best treatment, if that was me in that situation the hospital would’ve sent me home the first day.”

I found the ones that blamed Bush Jr. for his father’s illness particularly relevant. Keeping Lear in mind, how much are children reflections of their parents? How much do we blame one for the other’s problems, and vice versa?

As we delve into Lear in the spring, as well as thoughts on power and authority, it will be helpful to look into how the public (or subjects, in Lear’s case) respond to a leader’s decline. How do our opinions and attitudes toward a public figure change when he or she is sick or dying? How does it impact our thoughts on our own mortality?

Lear’s decisions lost him a lot of popularity toward the end of his life, but in the end, he wasn’t a king; he was a dying man and father. Whether you liked him as a president or not, Bush’s poor health is an eerie reminder of how even a title like his can’t protect us from being human.


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