Sunday, April 22, 2007

Idiot wind

The “President” was asked about the comparison between Iraq and Vietnam the other day. Here’s an excerpt from his answer:

“And there are some similarities, of course. Death is terrible. There's no similarity, of course, is that Vietnam is the first time that a war was brought onto our TV screens to America on a regular basis. Looking around, looking for baby-boomers, I see a few of us here. A different, for the first time, the violence and horror of war was brought home. That's the way it is today.”

The entire quote is just as appallingly stupid as this excerpt. Really, I could have chosen any statement from the last six years. This is just one of the most recent.

The extent, or even the existence, of Bush’s idiocy has been a matter of some debate. Some have contended that it’s an act, but if so, it’s the most masterful piece of acting I’ve ever seen. Even if we were to suppose that his style is heavily influenced by an innate contempt for the intelligence of ordinary people (thus “dumbing” the presentation down into someone’s idea of folksy generalization), the presentation is too inept to provide a rhetorical advantage.

A more valid concern, in my view, is that the general perception of Bush as an idiot lets him and his administration effectively off the hook in the public mind. Making fun of the President's syntax on the Tonight Show has a far different effect that getting angry about his policies. Idiots are not held as accountable as the rest of us, and thus Bush can get away with being a mere fool (remember Gerald Ford falling down the steps?) instead of a danger.

The truth of the matter seems fairly evident, however. Bush is a puppet, a figurehead. The fact that the deeply unattractive Richard Cheney, Bush’s campaign manager, picked himself to be Vice President, was a tip-off from the start. Bush will do what he’s told. The right-wing Republican and neo-con interests chose Bush because they thought he had the kind of image that would be good for a President. Like Ronald Reagan (it seemed), Bush could play the down-home “regular guy” man of the people, the kind of leader that would look good in the media, while the real policy makers would endeavor to push their extreme rightist agenda into law. Then the September 11 atrocities made a bad situation a thousand times worse—Bush was elevated to “fearless leader” status while terrorism was exploited in order to remake the U.S. into a full-fledged dictatorship.

Here I advance what I think is a novel argument. The fact that Bush is an intellectual pipsqueak turned out to be a stroke of luck for progressives, liberals, patriots—in fact, for the country. With a corrupt sensationalist media willing to go along with the “9/11 changed everything” script, a right-wing leader of even modest charisma and intelligence might have pulled off the coup. Now imagine a very clever demagogue, charismatic and handsome, with a command of rhetoric, and you can easily imagine a successful dictator. All in the name of freedom and security. This does, however, beg the question: do such men even exist anymore in the current political climate? Not on either end of the spectrum, it would seem, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Using the Reagan example again, we can see that even a third-rate actor managed to seduce the majority of the country into believing in a whole package of lies and prejudices that were neatly wrapped up in the flag. I could never understand Reagan’s appeal, his supposed skill at communication. What I saw was a mean glint in the eye, a narrow-minded hatred of difference, and an assortment of simple-minded slogans that bore no relation to reality. But the media has turned politics into a game of personalities, and on those terms Reagan was sold to us as a leader.

With a modicum of cleverness, even just an average ability to make a case, who knows what kind of cover Bush could have provided? But the Republicans and neo-cons ended up hiding behind an empty suit. Although the media continues the pretense that Bush is the “President,” acting as if he can be taken seriously as a political figure, not to mention a statesman, Dubya’s lack of the most basic skills has been evident to the public for quite some time now. His policies have been disastrous, and that of course is the main factor in his consistently low poll numbers, but I would argue that a President with an actual brain would have been able to salvage more support.

The Republicans picked what they thought was the perfect little puppet to play President in front of the TV cameras. But the qualities by which such puppetry was judged—affability, the illusion of being a “regular Joe,” etc.—were not enough to sustain support when the right-wing agenda produced spectacular failure. What’s astounding is how much media slack is still given to this pathetic little frat-boy President even now. If someone this stupid was a liberal, he would be mercilessly pilloried on TV every day, and probably impeached by now. It’s clear that the folks who own the country have a stake in maintaining the illusion, no matter what it may cost.

1 comment:

Samela said...

What a lovely, lucid piece of writing!