GEORGE BUSH may have thought he'd buried his wimp image under the Panama palms and Saudi sands, but it's staring out of the mirror at him again -- thanks to his quadruple-and-counting flip on taxes last week.
But the president shouldn't worry. History abounds with wimps. A wimp isn't necessarily cowardly or a poor leader. In rare circumstances, when decisions had already been made, he may even be heroic. There are wimp generals just as there are strong priests and poets.
You don't need a definition of "wimp" to recognize one: True wimps exhude wimpery. They are benevolent, indecisive, apologetic and suffer from an anemia of character (so wimp leaders don't inspire devotion or initiative). Wimps are usually nicer than decisive people; a Chamberlain for a leader certainly beats a Hitler. But wimpery has little to do with sexual-orientation; Rock Hudson belied wimpery, Michael Jackson embraces it.
Wimp is an attitude, a state of mind that can be traced back all the way to the first man. Adam followed Eve's lead with the apple and when God thundered, Adam ran for cover and blamed the woman for his transgression. Cain, the first Real Man, smashed his brother's head with one blow and when God thundered asking for Abel, Cain gave the most sarcastic reply in history, "Am I my brother's keeper? "
Achilles, the mighty Homeric warrior, ran to his mother every time a Greek hurt his feelings. Hamlet agonized for months whether to kill or not to kill. Most of Tchaikovsky's music is gloriously wimpy.
There have been a whole wimp cultures and eras. The murals of the late Egyptian dynasties betray their decline into wimpery: War horses have ballerina legs and soldiers seem repelled by their weapons. The 18th- century was a wimp era, particularly in France. Men exhibited beauty spots, and giggling was all the rage.
From such dubious traditions, wimps have become fruitful and multiplied. These are my favorites;
Amenhotep IV (also known as Iknation), Egyptian pharaoh. Suddenly convinced that the sun was the only god, he abandoned all duties as ruler to commission temples and write sweet hymns to the new deity. The empire fell into dis array, criminals roamed the streets and enemies massed along the borders. With Egypt on the brink of collapse, his generals and priests eliminated him and restored order. Amenhotep is best remembered today as Queen Nerfertiti's husband.
Nero, Roman emperor. Accused of burning Rome to inspire his muse, he blamed the Christians and fled to Greece to perform in theater. His extravagant orgies with both sexes bankrupted Rome. When his legions rebelled, he contemplated dressing as a nymph to placate them with his songs. In the end he didn't have the nerve to kill himself. Whining about what a great artist the world would lose, he was killed by a slave who couldn't stand his singing.
Boabdil (Abu 'Abd Allah Mohammed XI), last ruler of Granada (Spain). Captured by the army of the Catholic Kings, he promised to surrender the city on demand. Freed from prison, he reneged on his promise but refused to prepare the city for the impending attack. Always seeking to compromise with the enemy, he lost Granada after a short siege and cried on his way to exile. His mother made him famous with the phrase, "You do well to weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man".
Atahualpa (the name means "virile" and "sweet"), Inca emperor. Against his officers' advice, he went to meet the small, recently-arrived Spanish army. Captured by Pizarro, he offered an enormous ransom in gold, renounced his gods, proclaimed himself a Christian and ordered his troops not to resist. The Spaniards took all the key fortresses without a fight. He was executed by Pizarro as a traitor.
Louis XVI, king of France. Facing a mounting revolutionary storm, he wavered between desire to help the people and submission to his wife and her friends. He consulted able ministers, wept on their shoulders and dismissed them. After bungling an attempt to flee France, he was tried and executed. He died bravely.
George Brinton McClellan, Union general. After creating the formidable Army of the Potomac, he didn't know what to do with it. Always hesitating between offense and defense, he attributed to Southern armies a superiority they never had and avoided victory even when it appeared inevitable. He spent most of his tenure bickering with other generals and politicians, whining about President Lincoln and writing lacrimose letters to his wife. He never found the will to win, not even later as a politican.
Nicholas II, czar of Russia. Incapable of major decisions, dominated by wife Alexandra and a monk called Rasputin, he stumbled into war and revolution. The army routed, the empire in collapse, he astonished his generals by babbling about the garden he hoped the revolutionaries would give him. They gave him a burial plot instead.
Edwards VIII, king of Great Britain. Disgusted by military maneuvers (artillery fire made him sick), he became an expert on roses. He fell in love with a dominant woman and happily renounced his weighty throne. He was ostracized by his family and even flirted with Hitler. Frequently humiliated in public by his wife, he became, and died, an international bore.
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, British prime minister. A failed planter with a passion for peace, he was the wrong man at the wrong time. His indecisiveness had tragic consequences. He supported sanctions against Italy when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia and abandoned them when II Duce ranted. He sacrificed Czechoslvakia to Hitler hoping he would eventually listen to reason. Sick and broken in spirit, he resigned the day the Wehrmacht invaded France.
Ghandi, Mohandas Karamchad, Indian eader. Ghandi could never decide if he was a religious leader or a national politician. He walked across India preaching passive resistance and fasting to overcome British opposition. His fasting did not stop the riots and killings that followed independence, nor India's turbulent partition. He proclaimed himself a failure shortly before being shot by a Hindu in 1948.
Jimmy Carter, American president. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, he retaliated by withdrawing the U.S from the Olympics. When Iran seized 52 American hostages, he hid out in the White House. He blamed the American people's "malaise" for a declining economy. He survived the attack of a killer rabbit but not the next elections.
Ronald Reagan, of course, was not a wimp. But he showed no courage in persuading the American people they could have both a huge tax cut and a large military buildup without facing dire consequences down the road. His hapless successor may never shake his wimp image, but he still has the opportunity to rectify the mistakes of his macho predecessor.
Luis Aguilar is a history professor at Georgetown University.