Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

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:


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

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017