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October 07, 2005

Unleash Chiang Kai-Shek

I'm sorry, but this is just too weird:

Gainesville.com | The Gainesville Sun | Gainesville, Fla.: After more than an hour of solemn ceremony naming Rep. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, as the 2007-08 House speaker, Gov. Jeb Bush stepped to the podium in the House chamber last week and told a short story about "unleashing Chang," his "mystical warrior" friend. Here are Bush's words, spoken before hundreds of lawmakers and politicians:

"Chang is a mystical warrior. Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society.

"I rely on Chang with great regularity in my public life. He has been by my side and sometimes I let him down. But Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down."

Bush then unsheathed a golden sword and gave it to Rubio as a gift. "I'm going to bestow to you the sword of a great conservative warrior," he said, as the crowd roared.

The crowd, however, could be excused for not understanding Bush's enigmatic foray into the realm of Eastern mysticism. We're here to help. In a 1989 Washington Post article on the politics of tennis, former President George Bush was quoted as threatening to "unleash Chang" as a means of intimidating other players. The saying was apparently quite popular with Gov. Bush's father, and referred to a legendary warrior named Chang who was called upon to settle political disputes in Chinese dynasties of yore. The phrase has evolved, under Gov. Jeb Bush's use, to mean the need to fix conflicts or disagreements over an issue. Faced with a stalemate, the governor apparently "unleashes Chang" as a rhetorical device, signaling it's time to stop arguing and start agreeing.

No word on if Rubio will unleash Chang, or the sword, as he faces squabbles in the future.

When George H. W. Bush in the 1970s and 1980s threatened to "unleash Chang" on his tennis opponents, he was referring to China's onetime strongman and thereafter Taiwan's dictator Chiang Kaishek, leader of the Nationalist Party, the man who had largely reunified China in the 1920s with his army's "Northern Expedition," lost the Chinese Civil War to Mao Zedong's Chinese Communist Party, and then taken refuge with his Guomindang party cadres on Taiwan. After the start of the Korean War, the American 7th Fleet protected Chiang (and Taiwan) from Mao's People's Liberation Army.

Republican wingnuts, however, pretended that the 7th Fleet actually protected Mao's Communists (who had, after all, won the Chinese Civil War) from Chiang's Nationalists (who had, after all, lost it) by keeping Chiang Kaishek leashed. They periodically called for the U.S. to "unleash Chiang Kaishek"--so that Chiang, you see, could invade and conquer the Chinese mainland.

When George H. W. Bush, playing tennis (and losing) in the 1970s and 1980s, would threaten to "unleash Chiang," he was mocking the right-wing nuts of his generation.

But George H. W. Bush's sons--even the smart one, Jeb--never got the joke. They, you see, didn't know enough about world history or even the history of the Republican Party to know who Chiang Kaishek was, or what "Unleash Chiang!" meant. Hence Jeb Bush's explanation that twentieth-century Chinese nationalist, socialist, general, and dictator Chiang Kaishek was a "mystical warrior... who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society."

To me, that level of uncuriosity is scary. Why is this family ruling us, again?

Posted by DeLong at October 7, 2005 01:14 PM