The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Two Faces. One Public, One Private; One Phony, One Real

From a Blogger called Digby
http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2004_10_03_digbysblog_archive.html#109686081397041799

Two Faces. One Public, One Private. One Phony, One Real.

Over the last week or so we have seen an edgy, enigmatic black and white image of George W. Bush appear on web-sites and blogs. At first people thought that sites had been hacked, as Eschaton and Kos and Democratic Underground spontaneously erupted with the black and white figure only to have it disappear and randomly return. Within days it linked to a mysterious DNC web-site with cryptic material that only slowly came into focus.

Clearly something was up. This image is disconcerting and it evokes strong reactions because it symbolizes the cognitive dissonance so many of us have been living with for the last four years as we’ve watched the man who lost the election but won the office drive us to distraction with the contradictions of his character. And nothing has been more frustrating than the fact that so many in the media and in the public at large seemed to see something entirely different than we did.

I believe that this happened because after 9/11, the media cast Bush in the role of strong, resolute leader, perhaps because the nation needed him to be that, at least for a little while. And the people gratefully laid that mantle on him and he took it because the office demanded no less. The narrative of the nation at war required a warrior leader and George W. Bush was all we had. Karl Rove and others understood that they could use this veil to soothe the American people and flatter the president to take actions that no prudent, thoughtful leader would have taken after our initial successes in Afghanistan. This “man with the bullhorn” image of Bush crystallized in the minds of many Americans and has not been revisited until now.

That phony image took us from a sense of national unity to a misguided war with Iraq; it excused his failure to effectively manage the economy and fomented partisan warfare by portraying dissent as unpatriotic; it allowed people to overlook his obvious failure to take the threat of al Qaeda seriously before 9/11 (and even after) and created a hagiography based on wishful thinking and emotional need rather than any realistic appraisal of his leadership.

His handlers wisely kept him under wraps, allowing him face time on television only in the company of world leaders or to give stirring speeches written by his gifted speechwriter, Mark Gerson. He rarely held press conferences and when he took questions, he was aggressively unresponsive, choosing instead to offer canned sound bites and slogans and daring the press corps to call him on it. Few did. The mask stayed in place and he remained a symbol instead of a president --- the symbol of American strength, resilience and fortitude. He was, in many people’s minds, the president they wished they had.

On Thursday night sixty-one million people watched George W. Bush for the first time since 9/11 not as that symbol, but as a man. And for those who had not reassessed their belief in his personal leadership since 9/11, it was quite a shock. Their strong leader was inarticulate, arrogant, confused and immature. They must be wondering who that man was.

The truth is that since George W. Bush entered politics he has always had two faces. In fact, virtually everything you know about his public persona is the opposite of the real person.

He claims to be a compassionate, caring man, often admonishing people to "love your neighbor like you loved to be loved yourself." Yet, going all the way back to Yale, he is quoted as saying he disapproved of his fellow students as "people who felt guilty about their lot in life because others were suffering." His business school professor remembers him saying that poor people are poor because they are lazy. This from a man who was born rich into one of America's leading families and relied on those connections for everything he ever achieved.

He lectures on responsibility, saying that he's going to end the era of "if it feels good do it" and yet he failed to live up to his responsibility as a young man in the crucible of his generation, the Vietnam war. In fact, if it felt good, he did it and did it with relish --- for forty years of his fifty eight year life. He has never fully owned up to what he did during those years spent in excess and hedonism, relying on a convenient claim of being “born again” to expiate him of his sins. Would that everyone had it so easy.

He ostentatiously calls himself a committed Christian and yet he rarely attends church unless it’s a campaign stop or a national occasion. The man who claims that Christ is his favorite political philosopher famously and cruelly mocked a condemned prisoner begging for her life. He portrays himself as a man of rectitude yet he pumped his fist and said "feels good!" in the moment before he announced that the Iraq war had begun. (One would have thought that if there was ever a time to utter a prayer it was then.) How many funerals of the fallen has he attended? How many widows has he personally comforted?

He portrays himself as a salt of the earth "hard working" rancher, clearing brush on his land in an artfully sweaty Calvin Klein-style t-shirt. Yet in the first 8 months of his presidency leading up to 9/11, he spent 42% of his time on vacation. His "ranching" didn't begin until he bought his million dollar property just before he ran for president in 1999. He has lived in suburbs and cities since a brief period in his childhood in the 50’s, when he lived in the medium sized boom town of Midland before going to Andover.

He actively promotes the notion that he is a man of action yet in the single most important moment of his life he froze in front of school kids, continuing on with a script prepared before the national psyche was blown to bits. He didn’t take charge. He didn’t react. He was paralyzed at the moment of the nation’s worst peril.

He claims to be a strong leader and yet he is skillfully manipulated by his staff, who learned early that the only thing they needed to do to convince him of the rightness of their recommended course was to flatter him by saying it was the "brave" or "bold" thing to do. His self-image as a resolute leader is actually a lack of self confidence that is ripe for exploitation by competing advisors who use it to convince this him to do their bidding. This explains why he seems to believe that he is acting with resolve when he has just affected an abrupt about-face. His advisors had persuaded him to change course simply by telling him he was being resolute.

George W. Bush is a man with two faces--- a public image of manly strength and a private reality of childish weakness. His verbal miscues and malapropisms are the natural consequence of a man struggling with internal contradictions and a lack of self-knowledge. He can’t keep track of what he is supposed to think and say in public.

There is no doubt that whether it's a cowboy hat or a crotch hugging flightsuit , George W. Bush enjoys wearing the mantle of American archetypal warriors. But when he goes behind the curtain and sheds the costume, a flinty, thin-skinned, immature man who has never taken responsibility for his mistakes emerges. The strong compassionate leader is revealed as a flimsy paper tiger.

On Thursday night, the president forgot himself. After years of being protected from anyone who doesn't flatter and cajole, he let his mask slip when confronted with someone who didn't fear his childish retribution or need anything from him. Many members of the public got a good sharp look at him for the first time in two years and they were stunned. Like that black and white image, the dichotomy of the real Bush vs. the phony Bush is profoundly discomfiting.

Luckily for America and the world, a fully synthesized, mature man stood on the other side of that stage ready to assume the mantle of leadership, not as a theatrical costume but as an adult responsibility for which he is prepared by a lifetime of service, study and dedication. I would imagine that many voters felt a strong sense of relief that he was there.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home