The more Americans call for Congressional hearings to investigate the NSA wiretap scandal, the more President Bush talks like Yul Brenner playing Ramses II in Cecil b. De Mille's film The Ten Commandments.
Rather than just telling America why he broke the very laws set up to help him defend the country from terrorism, President Bush just keeps saying some version of Yul Brenner's famous line: "So it shall be written, so it shall be done!"
Consider this example of the President's "Yul Brenner Complex" in action at his last press conference.
In response to a question about his blatantly illegal use of his own secret police to monitor phone calls in the United States, President Bush said:
This program has been reviewed, constantly reviewed,
by people throughout my administration. And it still is reviewed. It
has got -- not only has it been reviewed by Justice Department
officials, it's been reviewed by members of the United States Congress.
It's a vital, necessary program.
(see the full transcript here)
Ignoring for a moment that nobody knows what he means when he says "reviewed" (By whom? When? To what end?), it is clear that President Bush believes that whatever he decrees will come to pass.
"If I say that spying on Americans shall be legal, so shall it be legal!"
In De Mille's movie version of The Ten Commandments, Yul Brenner only repeated "So It Shall Be Written, So It Shall Be Done" (or some variation of it) about ten times. One time for each commandment, apparently. But President Bush repeats his version of this decree far more times than that.
Rule by decree ("So shall it be done!") is the mark of a leader who thinks like a Pharaoh in ancient Egypt--standing on his royal balcony, surveying the construction of his temples and his pyramids, arms akimbo, festooned in gold, as frightened generals and foreman tell stories of 'progress' on the great project, bowing their heads as they enter and leave the room.
In his 2006 New Year's Day message, President Bush told America exactly what great pyramids and temples he is building:
In the past year, we continued our work to spread freedom and peace. In 2005, Iraqis three times exercised their right to vote in free elections, and the Afghan people conducted successful parliamentary elections. In the coming year, America will continue to stand beside these young democracies and lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren.
Yes, indeed. The great monuments that Pharaoh Bush II has decreed into existence by his sheer force of will are 'young democracies.'
"I decree that there shall be young democracies in the Middle East! So it shall be done!"
And as he decreed it, so it came to pass. Sort of. Actually... (not so much).
Just like Ramses II learned the hard way, the more he tried to decree his will into law, the more frogs and flaming hail fell from the sky. The more Pharaoh pompously declaired "So it shall be written, so it shall be done!" the more the great land of Egypt suffered when water turned to blood.
So it is in our land.
But the President keeps ruling by decree, keeps speaking as if he is Pharaoh in the ancient land of Egypt.
In the movie, like in real life, Ramses II was eventually stopped by Moses--a slave-turned-aristocrat-turned-exile who returned to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh. Moses spoke with a thick tongue, but he occasionally had private chats with God, which gave him both confidence and remarkable timing.
At first, when Moses confronted Pharaoh and demanded that he stop ruling by decree over the Israelite slaves, Pharaoh was defiant.
"Who is this God that he should be more powerful than Pharaoh!" replied Ramses (or something similar).
We all know ths story from there. Maybe some of us know the move better than others, but the lesson of history is within us all.
When Pharaoh defied Moses, God sent down a wrath of plagues. Ten plagues in all, each one worse than the next until the sons of Egypt--including that of Pharaoh--lay dead and dying in the shadows of the great temples.
Strangely, we have yet to see Moses return from the desert to confront our version of Pharaoh, but it sure seems like we've had our share of plagues--some of us more than others.
But who will arise to confront the will of Pharaoh? Who will play Moses to George W. Bush's Pharaoh?
Time will tell, of course. In movie terms, it seems that the auditions for the part of Moses are still on going. There are Republicans and Democrats trying out for the part. Republican Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were the latest take a screen test at confronting President Bush on his habit of rule by decree. We shall see what comes of it in the day ahead.
Ramses II did not stop building his temples and his pyramids just because Moses asked him to. Unfortunately for everyone, once a Pharaoh believes that he can rule by decree--that his will is the law--the only way to stop a Pharaoh is to make him suffer.
"And the Lord said unto Moses, "Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt." (Exodus 10:21)
© 2005 Jeffrey Feldman