Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bush and advice

Bush’s new leaf

How many of you were caught off guard by President Bush’s plan to gather his advisers to “review” the Iraq mess this week? If Bush and his team have shown anything during their term in office, it’s that they don’t listen to anybody but themselves (and ‘God’). On decision after decision, they have acted without listening to generals, scientists, advisers, history, democrats, the citizens, the world, and the facts. The Iraq invasion, our disaster policy, the social security and Medicare debacles, their appointments at nearly every government position, and numerous other policy decisions are directly attributable to a small group of Neocon advisers, oil & military corporations, and the religious right political machine. Their government is a cabal.

So what is going on? Have they realized the error of their ways? Is God not speaking to Bush anymore, and he has determined to rely on his own savvy? Has reason prevailed? Of course not. Don’t be naïve. I hoped that such a thing would happen, too -- but that’s how the con artists get you - by helping you believe what you want to believe anyway (“If you help me sequester $1,000,000, I’ll send you half. All you have to do is give me your bank account number.”). Snap out of it.

Today, even more shocking news: Bush, instead of attending the meeting at Camp David takes a surprise dramatic trip to Baghdad! An on-the-ground “look ‘em in the eye” fact-finding mission. Right. Now he needs facts? The facts he can find only by personally taking an expensive, dangerous trip right into the heart of the storm.

There was an old Saturday Night Live sketch with Phil Hartman (a comedy god) as Reagan that comes to mind. Hartman shows Reagan as the doddering grandpa with the disarming quip that we all knew… but as soon as the press leaves, he springs into action - his real personality, we find, is aggressive and commanding. He explains his new “Iran-contra” plan to his aides like a general to misbehaving troops. But he’s interrupted by his press secretary - there’s a photo op with a girl scout now - Hartman curses and says “this is the part of the job I hate”, but dons his idiot persona again to do the picture, and makes a cute remark. Then he yells “back to work” and he screams his orders around some more. The skit was hysterical - because it was utterly unbelievable that he could have had that kind of command. On the other hand, there was a nugget of truth - he couldn’t possibly be as clueless as he played.

Bush is the same way, I think. But here, rather than have Bush show command and aggression, the skit would show him being supremely rational, inquisitive, subtle, and insightful - a modern day Sherlock Holmes. Imagine Bush with his magnifying glass. He’s having conversations with political leaders and judging the manner of their speech and the subtle way they bend forward or blink. Ah! He thinks. “Now I begin to understand this man! By the color of the dust on his robes, I can tell that he’s from the northern Tigris valley, a date producing region. As is well-known, the recent date crops have been decimated by a date fruit fly, which the growers have not been able to prevent because of their hibernation behavior. The pitch of this man’s voice and the age of his shoes tells me he’s under economic strain - probably from his family farm. Tell Condi to have her people slip an insecticide allotment to the power broker deal. I’ll signal this to him by remarking on the development of beta-lamadine X, the new fruit fly treatment they’re working on at M.I.T. Now, sir - it’s your move!”

What do you think? That must be what he’s doing there, right? Using his expertise to understand the political problems better and drag us out of this quicksand pit. Right?
Am I being too cynical to suggest that in fact, both these political events are just a show - a stunt? That, in fact, per usual, the administration already knows what they’re going to do, but that they find it useful to make people perceive they’re going through the motions of rationality and empiricism. Thus when they announce their move, however strange and pernicious it appears, it will be seen to have been arrived at after long and careful thought.

If I’m right (and I am), then some new development is near (perhaps they’re getting ready to stand down some portion of troops - perhaps to send more). And that move is just as ideologically based, just as wrong, and just as poorly planned as all their other moves.

If you weren’t careful, though, you might get the impression these event were a bold policy action. The talking heads on the news is portraying these events as genuine, rather than as staged. “Bush flew to Baghdad today to learn all he can and take advantage of the window that Zarqawi’s death has opened.” Why take this on faith? Is there any indication that the administration has changed its way of doing business? Is there any reason to believe that the president is really, finally, listening - and that his eventual policies will be drawn from the wisdom of the sources he has consulted? I just can’t see it.

No, what we have is a press that has devolved into a propaganda machine. They are so desperate for news - any news - to fill their 24-hour cable schedule, that they are glad to accept any compelling story, true or not, as long as they can say they didn’t know it was false at the time. So, the government feeds them - giving them something to talk about for a day. Just don’t look too deep. How can you fill a segment on “The Situation Room” with “a government spokesperson is fictionalizing again about the administration”. No - better just to play along. The government is really just another columnist today. Or more aptly, a reality show - and Karl Rove is a writer. It’s just entertainment. Bread and circuses, baby.


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