Was there ever a US President who exemplified Cult of Personality more than George W. Bush?
A cult of personality arises when a country's leader uses mass media to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. Cults of personality are often found in dictatorships.
This is like a textbook description of the fawning, prattling mass media-fueled fortunate son President from 2001-2009. George W. Bush was the first President to have his own television network. Let's go over the fold to look at just what a media-manufactured construction he was.
Note: this is the second in a series of diaries I intend to do on fake people in US politics. Upcoming are diaries on the cult of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.
The CEO/MBA President
From the beginning of the Bush campaign for President, we were told that he was a businessman and an MBA, and that those were the skills needed to navigate America's future. Well, Bush sure had connections to business.
Enron George W. Bush was very close friends with Ken Lay, the CEO of Enron. Enron helped trigger the 2001 recession with a patchwork quilt of fraudulent business ventures, and was instrumental in causing the rolling blackouts in California, which helped usher Democrat Gray Davis out of office and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger into office. Enron employees, under the direction of their management, did this by fraudulently restricting the electricity supply in that area of the country. Enron employees were caught on tape joking and boasting that they'd just screwed 'Grandma Millie' out of her pay.
Arbusto / Harken
After having had a company formed for him by a group of his wealthy father's friends, including one Salem bin Laden (whose famous younger half-brother was a person of some interest in later years), Bush rooked the shareholders out of millions of dollars and drove the company into the ground. It was after reading about Harken that I started telling people that Bush would be the last Republican President ever. I still stand by that prediction. His ability to accomplish anything is completely nonexistent. He's a total fraud and fraudulence is the only way he knows how to get along.
Alcoholism and False Piety
For several years, Bush wallowed in his own misery, the special kind of misery only a spoiled wealthy brat can feel for himself, and descended into alcoholism. A meeting with Jerry Falwell (supposedly) started Bush on a renewed devotion to Jesus and blah blah frickety blah, but Bush never actually treated his alcoholism. I can't say he was America's first Dry Drunk President, but he likely was one of the few. And it's worth noting that as his Presidency dragged on, Bush seemed more and more like he'd fallen off the wagon again anyway. His erratic behavior (trying to leave through locked doors, giving backrubs to foreign governments' officials, his increasingly garbled, nonsensical speech, etcetera) certainly hinted that something was very wrong.
Meanwhile, Bush paid lip service to the fundamentalist Christianity he pretended to espouse but was rarely observed going anywhere near a church.
Focused on the Small Stuff
For the first few months of his term in office, Bush was an unremarkable President. The most notable high-visibility item of his agenda was a ban on stem cell research, which Bush pretended to "consider" for several days before announcing that he would embrace the far-right wing interpretation of the issue, and enact a ban which would continue the slow slide of the United States' scientific and medical prowess to the sorry state we have arrived at today.
The Failure of 9/11
On August 6th of 2001, a Presidential Daily Briefing was placed in front of Bush which conveyed to him the following information:
- Title: Bin Laden determined to strike in US
- Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America."
- bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington
- he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks
- Al Qaeda members -- including some who are U.S. citizens -- have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks
- A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.
- Bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft
- FBI information . . . indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York
Bush told the flunky who brought him this memo that his ass was covered, and went back on vacation for another month. Just a few days later, 19 hijackers flew passenger-laden airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, a federal building located in Washington.
Having virtually all the details of this plot spelled the fuck out for him over a month in advance, Bush sat with his thumb up his ass and let 3,000 Americans die.
Leaders Take Charge Quickly
Bush was busy reading The Pet Goat to a bunch of schoolchildren in Florida the day the attack he'd been warned about occurred. Rather than having shored up airline security, security around any of the buildings or cities mentioned in the memo, or checked up on the leads that the PDB contained, Bush had done nothing whatsoever. Now, with the attack in full swing, flaming planes jammed into smoldering buildings, people leaping desperately to their deaths rather than allowing the flames to scorch them in agony, Bush continued to read The Pet Goat to the elementary school class for several minutes after he was informed the United States was under attack by terrorists. The moment is captured on film and to anyone who gives a shit about human life or anything at all, it is darkly hilarious to watch the little thoughts bubble through Bush's brain, one by one, as no doubt the key details I bolded in the paragraph above percolated through his tiny brain. I can see how it might have gone.
"Hey, we were attacked."
"By hijacked airplanes."
A few seconds pass. "Oh, and they hit the World Trade Center."
Maybe one of the seraphim on his shoulders spoke up at this point. "That's in New York, you fucking idiot. When did you last see that someone wanted to attack New fucking York???
Another couple of minutes go by. "Hey!" the seraph shouts. "Do you think we might want to look at air traffic destined for Washington?"
"The state?" Bush asks. Bush's shoulder seraph rolls his very small eyes. "Good fucking Christ," he groans. "You remember that you WORK in a city called WASHINGTON??????" It's a cloudless day in Florida, but somewhere, thunder is rumbling.
"Oh yeah," Bush says. "Silly me. I do most of my work in Crawford. Clearin' brush. Yeah."
Another few moments pass before the seraph realizes Bush has completely lost focus again.
"ANYTHING???? Don't you think you need to go be PRESIDENT for awhile?"
"I ain't goin' anywhere near Washington!!!"
Bullhorns Make You a Leader
For several hours after the attacks, neither President Bush nor Dick Cheney could be found anywhere, and the country floundered along without their non-leadership. Vice-President Cheney virtually dug a hole and pulled it in after himself, not resurfacing into the light of the Sun until slightly in advance of the 2004 elections. As for George W. Bush, he was next found standing atop the smoldering pile of rubble and dead bodies his incompetence had helped create, bullhorn in hand, shouting "leaderlike" things in order to create the illusion that he gave a flying fuck.
Shooting Missiles at Camels' Butts
Almost immediately after the dust settled from the 9/11 attacks, Bush was enjoined by the immediacy of the event to at least making a halfhearted effort to attack the correct problem. The United States rapidly formed up and invaded Afghanistan in order to flush out the Taliban.
One Great Big Festering Neon DIstRAQtion
However, there were bigger distractions on the horizon. Without really intending to finish the job in Afghanistan, Bush and his quote-unquote "Administration" began forming plans to invade Iraq by inventing piles and piles of phony facts which would terrorize the American populace into doing something NOW! before a villain could get a hit in. Saddam Hussein had been pre-screened in 1990 as an acceptably sinister villain upon whom any number of grievous offenses (Being the Dictator of A Bunch of Ay-rabs, Having a Big Dark Moustache, Bearing a Suspiciously Foreign-Sounding Name, And So On), Saddam was now fingered as the mastermind behind the Al-Queda plot to terrorize America, even though he was in a different country than 15 of the 19 hijackers, and even different than the country where Osama bin Laden (whose half-brother once invested in George W. Bush's energy company) purportedly plotted the 9/11 attack.
Bush's quote-unquote "Administration" prepared a speech for him in advance of the effort to market the war which contained sixteen words stating something pretty direct and unambiguous: that Saddam Hussein was trying to get his hands on yellowcake uranium from Niger. Not long afterwards, the documentation used to support this assertion was determined to be fake, but Bush's quote-unquote "Administration" very likely already knew this.
For Want of his Credibility, a Vial of Salt
Bush then continued his campaign of destroying everything he touched, by persuading Colin Powell to go in front of the UN Security Council with a vial of salt and a computer-made drawing of a "mobile weapons lab" and subsequently scare the living fuck out of everybody on the planet for less than $0.89. It sure was a good prank, but the aftermath has been incredibly expensive. The only real Anthrax attack on the United States was never tried in a court of law, instead being somewhat dodgily pinned on a conveniently-dead scientist AFTER Bush left office. Not only were no mobile weapons labs ever found, but Colin Powell's credibility has also not been seen since.
Incredibly, after invading a nation approximately the size of the state of Ohio with under 150,000 soldiers, Bush broke one of the longest-standing conventions of the US Presidency and donned a military uniform to be piloted to the deck of an aircraft carrier. Beneath a gigantic banner boasting "Mission Accomplished" Bush told is that the major combat operations of the Iraq war had ended. On that day, there were still over 5,000 U.S. soldiers unkilled in Iraq, and who knows how many Iraqi civilians still unexploded by drones or daisy cutter bombs or each other's AK-47's.
The Silly Party Campaigns
Throughout Bush's Presidency, his popularity sank like a pair of concrete overshoes in a particularly dismal bay somewhere, with three notable exceptions. He entered office at around 60% approval, sank gradually from there, spiked to 90% after 9/11, again after "Mission Accomplished" and the discovery of Saddam Hussein in his spider hole.
But other than that, the best way for Democrats to bring Bush's poll numbers down was to let him do his thing: speak incoherently and do incredibly stupid things.
However, Bush's wizard political team came up with a fantastic plan to offset Bush's complete lack of public speaking abilities, plan for anything but tax cuts and wars, or in fact accomplish anything for the betterment of the American People.
This wizard plan was: don't let people talk to Bush. Throughout the 2004 election campaign, attendees of any Bush/Cheney campaign event were required to sign loyalty oaths, and protestors were sequestered behind fences, far from the President, his audience, or any cameras, in the Orwellian-named Free Speech Zones.
Unfortunately, in order to credibly run for President, one must participate in debates where one DOES have to be spoken to by someone not completely sychophantic to the President's fragile prima-donna ego. No worries for Bush, however, as he apparently donned a personal in-ear monitor so that someone who had a fucking clue what the issues were and what was going on could feed lines into the President's ear during the debates. This tactic only partially worked, as most folks watching on TV at home (even pre-HD saturation) were able to spot the wire running up Bush's back, in addition to noting that Bush clearly appeared to be talking to someone that nobody else could see during the debates.
Bush's cult-like followers of course tried to insist that the multi-millionaire President of the USA, campaigning for re-election in the wealthiest nation on the planet, was wearing a JC Penneys coat that hadn't been correctly fitted, and they just didn't have time to get another one before the debate commenced. Ha, ha, ha. Very fucking funny, guys.
A Fake Bin Laden Videotape
Right before the voting commenced in 2004, Saudi Arabian terrorist Osama bin Laden purportedly released a videotape through Al-Jezeera which contained an explicit threat to the United States. Though the videotape was later hilariously lampooned on Youtube, proving that virtually anyone could have digitally manipulated bin Laden's image in order to "speak" through him, at the time the public perception it created was one of panic.
The American public voted by one of the narrowest margins in history to return Bush to the Oval Office.
No questions were ever asked of anyone as to whether the videotape was faked, why bin Laden would want to talk to American voters, why American voters would want to give a fuck about his opinion, or where Karl Rove was at the time the tape was released. In the end, Bush took the White House.
Would You Like Your Political Capital in Dimes or Pennies, Mr. Bush?
After the razor-thin majority Bush won during 2004, the last year on record that the American public supported the Republicans' shenanigans, Bush claimed quite loudly and confidently that he had a "mandate," or "political capital" and he was going to spend it.
As if to exemplify how poorly George W. Bush understands numbers, politics, or the real needs of the American people, the public spent most of 2005 showing Bush that his political capital was barely enough change to get a soda out of the White House vending machine.
Bush started off 2005 with the Republican wet-dream of the decade, if not the century: convince Americans that, with the deficit so high (ignoring that Bush and Bush and Reagan put it there) and the looming retirement of the Baby Boomers coming up, it was time to start talking about privatizing the Social Security program. Apparently the Republican Party had nerved itself up to once again grab firmly hold of American politics' famed Third Rail and see if they could get away with it without their clothing bursting into flame.
Vaulting the Propaganda and Free Speech Zones
Bush kicked off his agenda for the year by starting a series of town-hall style meetings to talk Social Security down and hopefully drown it in a bathtub. However, the public wasn't buying it. Furthermore, Bush's advisers apparently thought it would be a good idea to hold invitation-only town halls where all attendees were pre-screened for loyalty to the President.
Despite these obvious and hilarious shenanigans, Bush toured the United States throughout the first half of the year, and failed to move public opinion in the direction of privatizing Social Security at all. The public didn't buy into the fake crisis, nor did they buy the fake solution that was being offered. However, events were conspiring to make the Social Security initiative the very last initiative the Bush quote-unquote "Administration" would be able to undertake. Believe it or not, Bush's second term was almost over by the spring of 2005 as far as policy initiatives were concerned.
GOP: Protecting the Unborn and Vegetables since 1860
In one of the most embarrassingly stupid fiascos in the history of US politics, the US Senate and Congress, along with a George W. Bush already flagging limply at the Social Security wet noodle and getting nowhere, attempted to forge one final policy clusterfuck out of their boneheaded ideology, and chose to involve themselves in the burgeoning case of Terri Schiavo. Schiavo had been subsiting on life support for over a decade, and all informed medical advice was that she would never recover. Taking the side of her emotional parents, and gleefully cherrypicking video footage of Schiavo in order to exaggerate their case, Bush's congressional flunkies rushed into the private medical decision of an American family in order to score a "pro-life" point. At which they failed utterly.
It turned out that having your ethically compromised Senator who Used To Be a Doctor attempt to remotely diagnose someone didn't help the credibility of the Bush Republicans. It also turned out that an overwhelming majority of Americans (63%) did not want the Republican Party to interfere in their family's end-of-life decisions. This, piled upon the wreckage of Bush's Social Security plan, was pretty much the end of the Permanent Republican Majority.
But wait! The disasterpiece wasn't done.
Cutting Cake and Fucking Off while People Drown
Mother Nature, having a particularly nasty temperment, could have waited almost forever, if not longer, to unleash the horror of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans. However, she decided to do it in August of 2005, right after the Bush Administration had spent both of its pennies of political capital; one on Social Security, the other on Terri Schiavo. Completely bankrupted as far as their credibility or fitness to govern was concerned, the Bush Administration appeared to go on autopilot, just in time for Mother Nature to arrange a vicious demonstration of just how shitty a leader George W. Bush really was.
While Bush celebrated John McCain's birthday, Americans in New Orleans, whom Bush had taken an oath to defend, drowned due to a complete lack of any sort of response to the crisis. Stupid and venal Republican scolds would spend most of the rest of the year frantically trying to pin the blame for the clusterfuck of Katrina on someone, anyone, but their beloved cult leader. However, the American public by and large wasn't buying it. I believe those cake-cutting images were probably the end of the Republican Party for a generation, because more than anything else they showed what a bunch of elitist, out-of-touch, clueless, fuckoff asshole cowards the Republicans really are.
The material here is so rich . . . Michael Brown, formerly the holder of a meaningless sinecure in some horse-owners association, was given the much more important job of FEMA director, which he treated like a meaningless sinecure, and did so quite publicly. Bush then tried to paste over the naked incompetence and callous disregard of his FEMA chief by telling him he'd done a "Heckuva job." A thousand corpses bobbed up and down in the water in agreement, but it was later discovered that they were agreeing that Brown did a heckuva job letting people die in a natural disaster without even trying to do anything about it because he was a useless fuckoff who'd never had a real job in his worthless life.
In a segment broadcast on NPR that would have been hysterically comical were it not so grimly true, I was privileged to listen to reporters covering the refugees in downtown New Orleans shouting for help from the rooftop of the New Orleans convention center, while they interviewed Michael Chertoff and exposed his disgusting incompetence. Chertoff claimed during this NPR interview that he had no knowledge of the refugees in the Convention Center, even though it had been widely covered on the news. I had a very hard time believing that the director of fucking Homeland Security couldn't catch the news during a major crisis, nor could he apparently have anyone watch it for him and summarize the major events of the day so that he could sound like he either knew what was going on, or gave a living fuck.
Also, let's not forget the Potempkin Relief Centers that were hastily erected for the cameras, featured a quick minute or two of Bush chatting about relief efforts in the midst of it all, only to be abandoned as soon as the lenses were shuttered. To quote Senator Mary Landerieu:
But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment.
Suffice it to say, New Orleans wasn't the only thing destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Also lost were the electoral prospects of the Republican Party for many years to come.
2006: A Total Lack of Engagement
After the catastrophe that was 2005, Republicans were summarily handed their asses at the polls. This had the effect of cutting Bush's power base right out from under him. Without a compliant House and Senate doing his every whim, passing bills through reconciliation, and crying bloody tears over the occasional use of the filibuster by Democrats, Bush pretty much could give executive orders, make stupid speeches, and scribble graffiti on the bills he was required to either sign or veto.
For the last two years of his term, Bush appeared to pretty much shut down. I'm having trouble remembering if he accomplished anything worth talking about in those years, good or bad.
At any rate, the media-driven image of George W. Bush was a complete fiction. Bush himself is an ignorant, barely functional adult who had to be constantly managed, shepherded, guided, coached, and cheerlead through his Presidency. Without a pliant media machine refusing to look into his dodgy background or the too-numerous-to-mention illegal shenanigans of his Presidency, Bush would have been forced, like Richard Nixon, to resign in disgrace.
The cultish knob-slobbering devotion to Bush can be best summed up by this hysterical paragraph from John Hindrocket, er Hinderaker, one of the most absurd and reliably-wrong bloggers of all time:
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
This paragraph boggles comprehension. He's a genius who also happens to be the President of the USA. I've made this comment before: NOBODY who is President should complain that they can't get anyone's attention. Even a non-media-approved President like Barack Obama can announce that he is going to be speaking, and cameras will appear by the gaggle to record what he's saying. Bush certainly was able to drive whatever narrative he wished, assuming he was telling the truth. This is a conundrum that probably never occurred to the cultish Hindrocket. As far as "masterpiece . . . "
By 2006, when the aforementioned sycophantic drool was written, Bush's major policy initiatives had ALL failed very publicly and dramatically. The Iraq War was electoral kryptonite, NCLB had been widely branded a dismal failure, Bush himself was the subject of repeated mocking on the Internet due to the words "miserable failure" having been googlebombed to go to the white house page on Bush, the Social Security initiative had blown up in his face, the Schiavo incident had blown up in his face, and Katrina had blown up in his everything. Osama bin Laden remained at large, the Anthrax killings remained unsolved, Afghanistan was slowly returning to its Talibany ways, the American job market was lurching along like a Frankenstein in search of some high-voltage wires to grab hold of, and our social safety net's unraveling threads were letting more and more Americans fall free into a black, sickening void of nothingness which exemplified everything the Republicans were willing to do for America.
Is This Over Yet? Jesus!
The long-ignored structural problems of the American economy were gradually catching up with us, and in the final year of the Bush Presidency all of the chickens came home to roost. As the magitastically-deregulated Market imploded, vaporizing trillions of dollars of American wealth with it, the Bush apologists mostly shut their fucking mouths, at least temporarily.
No Hits, but a lot of Myths
Bush's accomplishments are basically nonexistent. He failed to add a single net job to the American economy over his 8 years as President.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined rapidly after Bush became President, and never recovered very far beyond its pre-2001 levels, essentially also stagnating.
The purchasing power of the majority of Americans declined under Bush. People asking the famous Ronald Reagan question (are you better off today than you were 4 years ago?) after 8 years of the Bush Administration would, if answering honestly, have to say no.
Terrorism increased under Bush. Not only were two of the most damaging, and vile terrorist attacks of all time carried out under his nose, but worldwide terrorism (pardon the pun) exploded out of control, giving power and influence to small-time thugs and murderers who otherwise would have had no compelling platform on which to base their thuggery.
Civil Rights and Liberties almost completely vanished under Bush. With the Patriot Act Bush was granted unprecedented reach into Americans' private lives in the name of preventing terrorism. However, apparently the draconian provisions of the Patriot Act were not enough, and Bush assembled a dodgy legal team to provide cover for him simply doing whatever the hell he wanted. His actions with respect to torture and surveillance, as well as his use of the Guantanamo Bay facility in Communist Cuba in order to avoid treating terror suspects with the same right to trial and humane treatment that is expected on American soil are a gigantic embarrassment that will take decades to fade.
Bush's Presidency was almost completely stage-managed for maximum impact. Everyone remembers the creepy, ominous billboards that periodically went up during the Bush years.
Finally, to get the frosting on the cake of this whole idea, re-read this excellent Daily Kos story on wide-angle lenses by diarist STOP George.