Voltaire's President- Mr Bush and His Screened Audiences

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 Voltaire's President: Mr. Bush
    and His Screened Audiences
He can cut a holiday to fight for Terri
Schiavo, but cannot spare a few minutes to
meet Cindy Sheeney who is just outside his
gate. All his audiences are screened,
composed of battalions of bobble-headed
buyers of Bush. The man who would be a
"uniter, not a divider" has led America into
one of its most divided times since the
Civil War.
The French philosopher Voltaire was loudly
and proudly a man who would shout out that
the emperor had no clothes. Among his many
comments about religion was this: God is a
comedian playing to an audience that is
afraid to laugh. Methinks monsieur Voltaire
would have a literary field day with the
current Bush administration.
Consider the possibilities from a Voltairian
perspective. The comment Bush made about
being a uniter was part of his 2000 run for
the presidency, and one that the election
fiasco quickly put to rest. But it took the
events of September 11, 2001 to shine the
harsh lights of reality on the
As not one or two, but four jetliners were
hijacked and turned into terrorist weapons,
the president sat numbly in a Florida grade
school reading a children's book about a pet
goat. The famous seven minutes of
presidential inaction are still a source of
sad hilarity.
Then we had the vice president be spirited
away to "an undisclosed location" while Air
Force One took the president on the most
bizarre "direct route" from Florida to
Washington, via Nebraska. Was the pilot,
perhaps, a fan of Charlie Daniels, whose
"Uneasy Rider" decided to go "to L.A. via
Omaha"? Was this, perhaps, a presidential
way to provide us with a bit of levity amid
colossal tragedy?
This was soon followed by instructions for
the common defense against further terrorist
attacks: buy duct tape and plastic sheeting!
Now, coming from a generation that was
taught "duck and cover" would protect us
from a nuclear attack (and hey, I'd seen the
films of A-bomb explosions, and never
thought for a second that duck and cover
would do anything more than put me in a
stupid position when I got nuked), I was
laughing with incredulity that anyone
thought tape and plastic would protect us
from bombs, germs, or crashing airplanes.
But as Voltaire predicted, people were
afraid to laugh, and so shelves across
America were quickly denuded of duct tape
and plastic sheeting.
Then there was all the rhetoric regarding
the terrorists and--suddenly--Iraq. One day
Colin Powell is giving a briefing saying
that Iraq was no0t involved, is contained,
and poses no danger to the U.S., and a week
later he and the whole administration are
cleverly linking Iraq to al Quaida. This
should have been funny, but we were afraid
to laugh. True, the U.S. had sold weapons of
mass destruction to Iraq back in the late
1980s (the British claim we still have the
receipts), but no credible source could
confirm that any remained as long ago as
1997. You know, way back in the 20th
Mr. Bush and team were undeterred by facts
as much as they were undeterred by the few
reporters who were asking probing questions.
For the most part, the White House's
response to the question of WMDs came down
to "trust me, I just know!" "Trust me"? Are
they kidding? After the Bay of Pigs, Tonkin
Gulf, Watergate, Iraq-Contra, Monica? How
naïve of them to think we are so naïve!
We can't leave out the comedy routine about
the War President. Remember the president
who landed on an aircraft carrier just off
San Diego, was dressed in a military flight
suit, and claimed that in Iraq the mission
was accomplished? We collectively asked what
papers he was reading, or news he was
watching, only to learn he neither reads nor
watches the news. The exhortation Mr. Bush
made a few weeks later to "bring it on!'
was met by increased insurgent attacks. Mel
Brooks couldn't write anything that looney,
and Brooks gave the world "Springtime for
The skits just go on and on:
·       the War President loosing the mutts
of former war to dishonor the war record of
an actual Vietnam veteran;
·       the promise to fire anyone connected
to the outing of a CIA agent's name to the
press, followed by a revised statement that
he'd fire anyone convicted in the leak;
·       the same War President who can send
the military into an invasion of a sovereign
country, but is afraid to meet with the
grieving mother of a soldier lost in that
war (and heck, she even came to see him at
the White House and Crawford, so he didn't
have to rearrange travel plans);
·       the president who rages against big,
intrusive government, but curtails his
vacation to fly back to D.C. to sign papers
allowing intervention into the case of a
single woman diagnosed as being in a
permanent vegetative state;
·       the president who advances naked
cronyism in the face of howling criticism
that he should at least seek qualified
cronies. ("heck of a job" Brownie was
relieved of duties a few days later. He was
replaced by the guy who told us to buy duct
tape and plastic sheeting as defense against
anthrax attack...);
·       the president who throws the
gauntlet at an "axis of evil," then acts
surprised when two of the three accelerate
their nuclear bomb development;
·       the first sitting vice president
since Aaron Burr to shoot someone;
·       an administration that has alienated
Canada more thoroughly that at anytime since
the U.S. invaded its northern neighbor in
·       congressional approval of "the
Patriot Act," a huge document that no one
had time to read before the vote, and that
ranks with Sedition Act of 1918, Espionage
Act of 1917, and the Alien and Sedition Acts
of 1789 as a tool to limit the
constitutional rights of citizens.
No wonder Mr. Bush almost universally
refuses to speak before unscreened
audiences. For a man who refuses to
entertain unpleasant and difficult
questions, his only safe venues are
audiences of the faithful or the suppressed.
Screened "town hall" audiences are drawn
from the faithful. Members of the armed
forces, inhibited by strict restrictions on
behavior and expression, are the suppressed.
Neither audience dares point out the
emperor's nakedness, and neither will laugh
when he says something funny. They have
learned that to do either is to be labeled
a traitor.
And that is most certainly not funny.

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