Daily Archives: May 2, 2004

“I’m with Stupid”

Jay Leno spoke for a lot of people in the blue states last week when he joked about the extraordinary joint interview of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney by the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“I guess right now they’re finalizing the seating arrangements,” Mr. Leno said on “The Tonight Show.” “Should Bush sit on Cheney’s right knee or his left knee?”

Actually Jay Leno spoke for no one at all. Like the “consensus” figure he was worked so long to be, the last thing on the “Tonight Show” host’s mind would be to say something to upset the status quo. Were he to do so he’d be every bit the persona non grata that his late night TV rival David Letterman has become. For Letterman’s antipathy to BushCo is more than a source of offhand humor. It’s become the driving force behind his show.

For those of you who’ve been living in a cave for the past 3 1/2 years, Jay Leno’s mention of “Blue” states is a reference to the Beltway boilerplate that would have it that our country is “evenly divided” into those states whose majority voted for George W. Bush (“Red”) and those who voted for Al Gore (“Blue.”) This of course overlooks the fact that no votes counted at all as Bush and Cheney were appointed to the presidency by a bought-and-paid-for Supreme Court, and the notion of an “evenly divided” populace is an increasingly pathetic bit of spin confected for the “Mainstream” media by their RNC bosses.

Mr. Bush and his vice president of course sat side by side, and Mr. Bush did most of the talking. Commission members said the president answered tough questions without hesitation, and with little help from Mr. Cheney and Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel who also attended the session.

This was hardly news at the White House, where no one doubts who is in charge. Although Mr. Cheney is the most powerful vice president in history, it is Mr. Bush who makes the decisions, overruling, if necessary, Mr. Cheney.
Mr. Bush, for example, went to the United Nations over the vice president’s strong objections in the fall of 2002 to seek international support for a war on Iraq and overruled Mr. Cheney when the vice president wanted to inoculate every single American against a potential outbreak of smallpox.

And it’s hardly news that Elizabeth Bumiller is a Beltway hack, dutifully injecting RNC “talking points” into her “reports” with an enthusiasm that would give Nedra Pickler pause.

Bob Woodward’s new book, “Plan of Attack,” which is not uniformly positive for the Bush administration, nonetheless portrays Mr. Bush as decisive and engaged, and quotes Mr. Cheney as referring to the president when he is not around as “the Man.”

Aaron Macgruder should doubtless find the notion of Dick Cheney”gettin’ down with his bad self” amusing.

As for Woodward, I’ve discussed the quid pro quo of his allegedly “revealing” tome ( a “limited, modified, hang-out” if there ever was one) at length in the L.A. Weekly

Yet the perception persists among Mr. Bush’s most fervent critics: Mr. Cheney is de facto president, and a clueless Mr. Bush takes his orders from him. An angry left, still stinging over the 2000 election and now furious over the shifting reasons for war in Iraq, sees in Mr. Bush’s less-than-articulate news conferences a less-than-sharp mind. Therefore, Mr. Cheney must be running the country from under Mr. Bush’s Oval Office desk.

“Under” it? How Clintonesque !

But where’s the beef? What’s so wrong with Dubbya being Tweedledum to Cheney’s Tweedledee? Is Cheney’s “I’m With Stupid” T-shirt too small?

I could reccomend a different T-shirt.

“People on the left hear Bush discuss things in such simple ways, and yet carry off what seem to be diabolical plots so effortlessly, that they can’t believe it’s really him,” said David R. Gergen, the communications director to another president, Ronald Reagan, who was perceived by his critics to be manipulated by a powerful White House staff. “It’s almost impossible for people on the left to believe that simple-speaking people can be successful at politics, or can successfully govern.”

And as we all now know, Ronald Reagan, his brain decaying long before the start of his second term — a fact the “mainstream” was perfectly well aware, but kept far from public view — was a highly underrated. . .actor.

Give him a script and he could read it forcefully (“Tear down that wall!”) even if he didn’t know a damned thing about what it meant.

Hell, he didn’t even know he was playing a gay man in Dark Victory !

Mr. Bush’s advisers, who still bristle at the perception, acknowledge that it has benefits.
“Look, the best commodity in politics is to be underestimated,” said Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director. “He’s happy to keep expectations low. He’s been underestimated in politics since he first ran for office.”

Shouldn’t that be “misunderestimated,” Dan?

For a half-century, Republicans have embraced anti-intellectualism, in some cases as a way to broaden the party’s reach. The tradition started with Dwight D. Eisenhower, the West Point graduate who mangled the English language but was more purposefully obtuse than was known at the time.
When Eisenhower’s press secretary, James C. Hagerty, told his boss that the State Department was frantic that he should say nothing at a news conference about a 1958 crisis over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu, which China was threatening to seize by force, Eisenhower replied: “Don’t worry, Jim. If that question comes up, I’ll just confuse them.”

But Ike was far from confused when he warned us all about the “Military-Industrial Complex” — a phenomenon the “mainstream” is loathe to ever mention.

Under President Reagan, the strategy reached its zenith in the creation of an entire new group of Republicans, Reagan Democrats – working-class voters who warmed to the president’s plain talk about family and faith.
“How do you make a party whose policies appeal to big business and the wealthy appear to favor the little guy?” said Bruce J. Schulman, a professor of history and American politics at Boston University. “One of the ways you do that is to make it the party of the regular guy, and to try to turn the opponents into the sophisticated, highly educated and internationalized elite.”

No wonder Francis Fukuyama feels a chill.

Historians say that the perception that Mr. Cheney is in charge continues in part because he reflects a more recent trend, started under Bill Clinton, of influential vice presidents. In an earlier era, the historian Robert Dallek noted, Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy would never have wanted their vice presidents at their sides before a high-level commission.
“Kennedy was very concerned not to let Johnson steal the show, particularly on domestic affairs,” Mr. Dallek said. “He pushed him into a corner. Bush doesn’t seem to be bothered by that, and maybe that speaks well of him.”

Not it all. It ust speaks to the fact that he and Cheney are on the same page. That wasn’t the case with Kennedy and Johnson — the latter eager to deal with the black civil rights movement, the former disinterested in it.

This past week, administration officials described Mr. Bush as engaged with the fighting in Falluja and the complications of trying to create an interim government in Baghdad before the United States is scheduled to transfer power at the end of June. At the same time, Mr. Bush let members of the 9/11 commission know that he was well aware of the more heated statements that were made about the administration in past public hearings.
“The president got off a couple of good shots,” said John F. Lehman, one of the commission’s Republicans.

Got any quotes, John? What about the questions he was asked — any of those?
Nah, I guess we’ll have to do without for on White House insistence there was no record made of what Bush and Cheney had to say about the unprecedented attack on this country that happened on their watch.

Of course, in Mr. Bush’s White House, meetings do not evolve into free-flowing intellectual seminars, decisions are made crisply, and the world is viewed through an us-against-them prism.

So we “Red states” people were right after all, eh?

Even so, the orderliness does not change the fact that Mr. Bush is a hands-on president, said Michael K. Deaver, Mr. Reagan’s image czar.
“The impression we get of him is at a press conference, or walking to his helicopter,” Mr. Deaver said. “But for people who know, Bush is clearly in charge.”

And who better to testify to that fact than the PR whiz responsible for Ronald Reagan laying a wreath at the grave of the Nazis buried in Bitburg cemetary as
the nazi anthem “I Had a Comrade” played in the background
— just as it did when Adolph Hitler laid an identical wreath at an identical ceremony in Triumph of the Will.

But Dubbya doesn’t have a Leni to guide him.

He’ll simply have to make do with Roger Ailes and Fox News.