President Smoke and Mirrors



The Bush presidency has been the most elaborate public relations swindle in the history of the country. From his inauguration to the present day, Bush’s every move has been carefully choreographed to maximize the ambitions of his handlers. His appearances have meticulously exorcised any fractious elements that might suggest that he is not unanimously revered by the American people.

As Noam Chomsky notes: “For George Bush the younger, PR specialists and speechwriters have constructed the image of a simple man with a direct line to heaven, who relies on his gut instincts as he strides forward to rid the world of evildoers while contemplating his visions and “dreams, a caricature of ancient epics and children’s tales, with an admixture of cowboy fiction.”

George Bush is entirely the invention of Madison Ave and the feverish imagination of Karl Rove. If it was possible to get close enough, you could probably pass your hand through the pasty gray spectral figure that is the central image of this political light show. There is simply nothing there.

The iconic image of Bush is devoid of any real substance; rather it is a repository of familiar American symbols and comforting “sound bytes. This has elevated the President to an archetypal figure whose wisdom issues from his deeply felt commitment to God and flag.

This manipulation of symbols first took root during the Reagan administration. Reagan’s handlers learned how critical it is to create the illusion of leadership while obscuring the brutish machinations of government. Reagan’s cheerful and bumbling character became a convenient foil for ongoing atrocities in Nicaragua and shadowy dealings with Iran. He was an upbeat guy who photographed as well in a Stetson as in a pinstriped suit. His good-humor and alleged forgetfulness proved to be valuable tools in disguising the many crimes that were perpetrated in his name.

The Bush character duplicates much of the Reagan mystique, with one notable difference; the emphasis on religion. The Bush chimera is one part plain-speaking cowpoke and one part Tent-show preacher. This adjunct to the Reagan formula has inspired legions of loyal followers to profess their unflinching devotion to their new messiah. The unfortunate facts concerning his dubious personal history ( a unique mix of shady business deals, insider trading, arrests, alcohol abuse, unaccounted for absences in the National Guard etc) has done nothing to upset their unshakeable belief in junior Bush.

The illusion of Bush’s popularity has been, perhaps, the thorniest aspect to stage manage. Bush is the most reviled public figure of our era. Even when he visited close friend and ally Tony Blair in England he had to be accompanied by an entourage of 4,000 secret service agents and an army of 18,000 Bobbies. His presence provokes a similar reaction wherever he goes. (The unprecedented pre-war protests, that sent millions of people across the world into the streets, attest to the overwhelming public revulsion to his policies.)

Never the less, the media has done an admirable job in concealing the rage of the common man by isolating the “Dear Leader from his myriad detractors and by filming him in only the most flattering environs. Public appearances have deteriorated into private affairs for well heeled contributors, who are, in turn, asked to take off their Brooks Brothers coats and roll up their sleeves so they can affect the appearance of Joe six-pack.

Most people know by now that this painfully scripted vaudeville is nothing but political fakery, but it plays well on America’s TVs and it lends a bit of credibility to a predictably vacuous performance.

Bush’s televised appearances are equally artificial but, regrettably, frequent. On the rare occasion when the camera lingers too long on the presidential visage, peering through the vacuous executive gaze, a broad expanse of emptiness unfolds stretching across the ether; the motionless void of Bush’s brain. Then, just as quickly, a shifting of cameras, a jolt back to life, the set jaw, the firm tone and the confident stride; our man from Crawford is restored to his task of saving the free world from fanatics and infidels.

The Bush presidency, with its heavy dependence on symbolism rather than content; “archetypal wizardry rather than leadership, has sent the ship of state limping towards the rocky shore. In just three years the administration has torpedoed long-held alliances, savaged the treasury, eviscerated our international credibility, initiated two wars of aggression, curtailed civil liberties and established an archipelago of torture camps across the globe. These accomplishments would never have been possible without the smoke and mirrors handiwork that spawned the Pretender in Chief.

The White House illusionists have created an effective mask for disguising their rampant criminal activity. By manufacturing a folksy, Bible wielding President, Rove and co. have fully embraced the “cult of the personality” that faithful friend of autocrats and boon to power hungry politicians.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com


MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

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