I read in the Drudge Report that Bush "has become isolated and feels betrayed by key officials." Maybe Cheney and his neocon protégés are really in the dog house these days. The report asserts that "Mr. Bush maintains daily contact with only four people: first lady Laura Bush, his mother, Barbara Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes."
I read too on Capitol Hill Blue news service that presidential aides have become increasingly concerned about Bush’s "short temper and tirades," directed especially at anyone who questions his war and his honesty. But he’s also been exploding in cabinet meetings at his subordinates. Angry at his enemies, angry at his friends, he may be under stress and returning to his youthful habits. Check out this video clip of his appearance at Jerry Kilgore’s campaign rally in Virginia awhile back.
No further comment on that clip, but I’m just wondering. Might the president be feeling so messed up on account of him feeling himself, you know—-duped? Big time?
The president is of course not the most intelligent man to ever occupy the Oval Office. In debates or news conferences, in any unrehearsed unscripted situation, he is inarticulate, repetitious, incoherent, unfocused, lost, fourth-grade, apparently brain-fried. He famously avoids reading newspapers, has a poor memory for details, is unable to grasp nuance, mistrusts science and embraces religious fundamentalism. On the other hand, he is surrounded by people who are highly intelligent and sophisticated, and he has been uncommonly dependent upon them—especially Cheney and his neocon Machiavellian amoral warmongering staff.
Quite likely, the latter think of Bush the way Margaret Thatcher thought about Ronald Reagan. ("Poor dear," she remarked in 1988, "there’s nothing between his ears.") But just as Thatcher found in the Gipper a staunch friend and ally, Bush’s advisors may see in Dubya the perfect front man for their world-changing agenda. He doesn’t know much about foreign countries, won’t ask many questions, loves Israel as a matter of principle, thinks its existence fulfills Bible prophecy. The perfect patsy to get to say, "I know Ariel Sharon is a man of peace," "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," "Iraq has also provided al-Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training," "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories" and other such suckered nonsense.
But now, the majority of Americans think Bush’s dishonest. 58% of those polled question his integrity. Maybe that explains the reported rages in cabinet meetings. Of course it’s possible that Bush was in on the lies all along, as I’ve pretty much assumed to date. But maybe not. Maybe he really believed what he was told to say by trusted staff members, and has only gradually come to ask, "How’d they dare make me say all that bullshit, that makes me look like a liar?"
Cheney is out lecturing reliable neocon-friendly audiences that it’s "dishonest and reprehensible" for anyone to suggest that any member the Bush administration "purposely misled the American people" before the war. It’s a perfectly natural self-defense mechanism for the vice president—whom only 29% of Americans think honest at this point because he himself indeed purposely mislead the American people before the war—to bark in that fashion. Meanwhile, wouldn’t it be nice for Bush to have the following conversation with his trusted spouse?
Laura: I was at the library today, reading this book about Leo Strauss.
Dubya: Who’s that?
Laura: He’s a philosopher who had an impact on Wolfowitz, Libby, Feith, Perle, Wurmserthose guys.
Laura: He divides society into three groups. The wise, the gentlemen, and the masses. He thinks most people are pretty dumb and need the wise to lead them.
Dubya: Well that makes sense.
Laura: The Wolfowitz-Perle guys think they’re the wise ones. And they think you’re a gentleman.
Dubya: I won’t argue with that.
Laura: And the function of the gentleman is to convince the masses to support the decisions of the wise.
Dubya (exploding): Goddam it, look, nobody had to persuade me to go to war on Iraq! I wanted to myself!
Laura: Yes dear, I know you did. But these wise guys used what Strauss called "noble lies."
Dubya: Whadya mean?
Laura: Well, they think that if you said the truth—that we want to invade Iraq because of the oil, and for bases, and to make it a friend of Israel—people wouldn’t agree with it. So instead, they said Iraq might stage a nuclear attack on New York, and they got you to say things about Niger uranium and centrifuges and mobile labs that just weren’t true. So most people supported the war.
Dubya: Dick let them make me say that?
Laura: Yes, dear. Remember when you started saying that there was no evidence for a connection between bin Laden and Saddam?
Laura: But Dick kept saying it was true?
Dubya: I didn’t notice.
Laura: Well he’s been repeating the same thing over and over again. He thinks it’s completely right to say whatever it takes to get people to want to conquer the Middle East.
Dubya: So now people think I’m a liar.
Laura: Yes, dear. As these investigations move forward I’m just afraid more and more folks might think that way.
Dubya: What can I do?
[Indeed, how does he get out of this mess? I think of Ronald Reagan, who finessed his way out of the Iran-Contra scandal by explaining that he wasn’t a hands-on manager but rather delegated responsibility to trusted subordinates who let him down. Many believed and forgave him. But he was for many an endearingly doddering, if nothing-between-the ears, sort of president, and this one’s a strutting punk with a murderous streak whose fratboy smirk has lost its charm. And an arms-for-hostages deal is nothing next to a bloody unwinnable war based on lies.]
Laura: You could give a speech, and confess the truth, say you made a mistake because of bad advice.
Dubya: But they’re all in on it! All of them used me, made fun of me! Cheney, Rumsfeld, Libby, Wolfowitz, Feith
Laura: They abused your trust, yes.
Dubya: Damn them all! Who can I trust?
In this coterie of women around the lonely president, Rice holds the greatest power. While a team-player, willing to use the "mushroom cloud" imagery concocted by the White House Iraq Group in September 2002 and to promote the centrifuges lie at the same time, Rice is not a neocon ideologue. She may wish to rein the crazies in. She’s stated specifically that the U.S. seeks "policy change" rather than "regime change" in Syria, and that she will hold John Bolton, neocon ambassador to the UN and big-time disseminator of disinformation, "on a short leash."
Maybe she and the other ladies should do the same for Dubya. Handcuff him to the bed for a few days, for godsakes. Tell people he’s choked on a pretzel, fainted again, and needs rest. Do NOT let Dick Cheney near him, lest he curse the man out so that the veep in turn lashes out wildly at Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy again. Do NOT let Rev. Franklin Graham in the room, lest he be shocked at Dubya’s slurred and ungodlike speech. Do NOT let Patrick Fitzgerald get anywhere near the man until the wild glint disappears from his eyes, the impish grin disappears from his lips, the tell-tale tongue-in-jowl dry-mouth symptoms fade and he’s ready to identify just one teeny-tiny mistake he’s made in his presidency. Bring in almost Supreme Court justice Harriet Miers, and station her at the bedside, repeating, "You’re not a dupe, not a dupe, not a dupe. You’re the most brilliant man I’ve ever met!" He’ll like that.
But what if he was used, unwittingly, his callous cruel arrogant nature exploited by those who really are Evil Incarnate, and who are going to make him go down in the "History" he alternately validates and despises as the worst and stupidest president ever? How painful for the spoiled brat, who as Texas governor mocked a born-again Christian death-row inmate, pursing his lips to the camera in mock desperation cracking that she’d pleaded, "Please, don’t kill me!" before he happily decreed her death. How painful for a child of privilege accustomed to abusing everybody else to wake up and discover he’s been had by people far more aware and intelligent than him.
Isolated and betrayed, this most powerful of men. May he withdraw further into himself, and those divine voices in his head telling him "Smite! Smite!" as out in the real world the crimes of his administration become more and more clear.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org