President Bush doesn’t allow negative news to interfere with his predictable rendition of clichés and slogans. “Iraq will be free, the world will be more peaceful, and America will be more secure,” he regularly announces, as news of bloody chaos emanates from Iraq. He claimed success for his 2002 “No Child Left Behind Act.”
“We are regularly testing every child … and making sure they have better options when schools are not performing.” Studies showed, however, that charter schools “options” left behind lots of kids. Bush never had to worry about his financial future yet dogmatically insists that privatizing social security will afford future generations increased security. By skimming 15% off the top as brokers’ fees?
Bush’s clichés remind me of how my mother tried to indoctrinate me with Shakespeare’s truism: “neither a borrower nor a lender be.” In fact, Shakespeare put those words in the mouth of Polonius (Hamlet’s would-be father-in-law), who continued that “loan oft loses both itself and friend.” But how would Mom or Polonius have survived in 2005 without credit cards and mortgages to say nothing of auto and appliance loans?
She also neglected to tell me that Shakespeare drew the Polonius character as a pedant whose lack of practical wisdom proved fatal. This pompous bungler served as a character foil. By following his simplistic logic spying on Hamlet to learn the cause of his infirmity — he got himself fatally stabbed.
Like Bush, Polonius possessed a one-dimensional view of the world; a stark contrast to Hamlet’s complexities. Hamlet reflected on experiences, analyzed his emotions and rejected facile solutions to his moral and political problems: how to avenge his father’s murder and punish the murderer, the King who had married his mother? But Hamlet’s introversion led him to ignore threats to Denmark’s security. His Byzantine mental process led not only to his own and his loved ones’ demise, but to the conquest of Denmark as well.
Contemporary US leaders speak with the pomposity of Polonius, but lack the elementary moral foundations education that Shakespeare gave to his foil. How would Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld interpret Polonius’ most famous saw, “To thine own self be true”?
For truth to surface in the Oval Office, Congress would have to create the position of “court jester,” a truth-telling clown who would counsel the president on the politics of contemporary empire. Such a truth telling clown would announce: “Nothing succeeds like failure.”
He would use Bush as an example. He failed as a student (poor grades and questionable character) and a young adult (addict and shirker). In business ventures, from oil drilling to owning a baseball team, Bush invested millions of dollars of other people’s money. He failed, but nevertheless grew richer, thanks to bailouts from wealthy Republicans. Stockholders, however, lost money. Bush’s friends encouraged him to invest $600,000 in the Texas Rangers. He made almost $15 million when the team was sold.
In 2000, he lost the popular vote for President in 2000, but slimed his way into the Presidency thanks to Florida shenanigans and a Republican Supreme Court. He launched an invasion of Iraq, which he called a “catastrophic success.” Bush built up the US debt and deficit to record levels and divided the nation more than it had been since the Civil War. While his hand steered the ship of state, a vast corporate scandal emerged that involved Bush’s friend and campaign contributor, Ken “Kenny Boy” Lay, ENRON’s Chief Executive officer. Bush emerged as a moral failure. But it didn’t seem to matter.
Before the 2004 election, the public also knew that on the economic and social level Bush had delivered nothing for the majority. His tax policies, however, had made the filthy rich even filthier.
In foreign policy, after 9/11 Bush succeeded in converting immense world sympathy and support into unabashed hatred and contempt. He isolated the United States by withdrawing from important world processes like the Kyoto environment discussions and the International Criminal Court. He also lied about the reasons for invading Iraq: weapons of mass destruction and ties to the 9/11 terrorists. If lying signifies failure, then Bush is overqualified.
Bush also took more vacation time during a war than any other president. He eroded traditional foundations of the nation: separation between church and state. In light of this record of fiascos, he garnered some 60 million votes in 2004.
“They’ve seen me make decisions, they’ve seen me under trying times, they’ve seen me weep, they’ve seen me laugh, they’ve seen me hug,” Bush told USA Today (Aug 27, 2004). “And they know who I am”
Yes, the voters knew. But why they chose Bush would defy even Shakespeare’s infinitely complex mind. Do millions identify with Bush because he screws up?
Recent history provides evidence that failure is the road to success. As National Security Adviser and Secretary of State for Presidents Nixon and Ford, Henry Kissinger offers a prime example of failure at the highest levels leading to future rewards.
Kissinger helped devise The Nixon Doctrine. In the post-Vietnam War atmosphere, Kissinger wanted a strategy to replace US forces with surrogate powers. Since the public rejected the notion of the US military as world police force, Kissinger erected a surrogate notion. Each region would have a US flunky doing the dirty work. To placate critics, Kissinger used peace and human rights language in his speeches and edicts.
He chose Iran and Israel as his Middle East police power centers. The Israeli lobby’s influence could help overcome critical sentiment. Iran under the Shah, the other regional US subordinate, would become Israel’s partner in keeping the Middle East orderly that is, maintain energy flow and insure that no revolutions occurred. Washington would provide heavy weapons, which Iran not Israel would pay for, thus further softening domestic opposition. In 1979, the Shah’s regime collapsed to an Islamic revolution and Israel became Washington’s sole military ally in the region, which has produced tension and violence ever since. By elevating Israel and not an Arab country to the role of regional cop, Kissinger insured long-term instability.
In addition, Kissinger promoted in 1974 a southern Europe strategy, in which the United States would rely on Spain, Portugal and Greece as the pillars of anti-communism. All three of those dictatorships fell within two years.
Kissinger’s support for authoritarian regimes throughout the third world brought about the horrors of institutionalized torture and murder in several Latin American countries and led to a network of assassins (Operation Condor). To this day no one is certain of how many hundreds or thousands of victims fell to this sinister “national security” operation. He backed coups and dirty wars that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. Kissinger also carries the burden of millions of dead Vietnamese and thousands of Americans because he prolonged the Vietnam War in order to achieve “peace with honor,” which of course did not happen.
Kissinger created greater world instability and murderous organizations that did not go gently into the night. Despite having authorized wholesale slaughter, Kissinger continues to earn large fees as a business consultant and to pontificate on network political shows. Indeed, Bush nominated him to chair the 9/11 Commission who understands terrorism better than a man who inspired it?
Bush intuitively understood that he would succeed by nominating failures to high posts. After the Bush Administration earned the world’s moral outrage for torturing captive at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prison, Bush named the very man who counseled him on those legal fine points for Attorney General. As White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales posited the legal interpretations that led US officials to torture, abuse and even kill scores of detainees held in the war on terror. For staining the international reputation of the country, Bush promoted Gonzales to attorney general.
When Senators asked Gonzales at his confirmation in early January if he still considered valid his statement in a memo claiming that the president should not feel bound by international law or domestic anti-torture statutes, he refused to commit himself about the president’s power to order torture and immunize torturers. Gonzalez dodged questions about the foreign powers possibly torturing U.S. citizens and using “national security” doctrines.
And he got away with it! Those who make war policies don’t take seriously the consequences of their actions. During the annual Radio & TV Correspondents’ Association dinner, Bush made charade-like search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. “Nope, no weapons over there,” he chirped, looking under a chair.” Maybe under here,” he chortled, looking elsewhere. “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere.”
Roman emperors had jesters to remind them that they were not God. Bush may not think he’s God, but does believe God has spoken to him. A jester would whisper in his ear: “You have power to destroy the world, but maybe it’s not God who’s talking to you,” as he pointed downward and winked his eyesatanically.
SAUL LANDAU teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University, where he is the director of Digital Media Programs and International Outreach, and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. His new book is The Business of America.