http://www.mtxoom.com/political/ 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 administration. 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 century. 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 Hitler." 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 1812; · 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.