Tactics and Substance in the 2004 Elections GoogleNews: Howard Dean

February 13, 2004

by V

President Mao and his Cult of Worshippers

Paul Krugman neatly summarizes one of the most cynically manipulative strategies of this administration, which has extended into the unprecedented contamination of the budget:

The Real Man
By my count, this year's budget contains 27 glossy photos of Mr. Bush. We see the president in front of a giant American flag, in front of the Washington Monument, ... and, of course, eating turkey with the troops in Iraq. Somehow the art director neglected to include a photo of the president swimming across the Yangtze River ... In this budget, as in almost everything it does, the Bush administration tries to blur the line between reverence for the office of president and reverence for the person who currently holds that office.

...when administration officials are challenged about the blatant deceptions in their budgets -- or, for that matter, about the use of prewar intelligence -- their response, almost always, is to fall back on the president's character. How dare you question Mr. Bush's honesty, they ask, when he is a man of such unimpeachable integrity? And that leaves critics with no choice: they must point out that the man inside the flight suit bears little resemblance to the official image.
I remember in 2000 when McCain compared Bush's honesty to Clinton's in an ad and the Bush campaign flooded the media with 'HOW DARE YOU' until McCain recanted. Bush himself said things like 'You can say what you want, but don't you question my inTegriTee.'

As I recall, only Bill Maher on Larry King had the temerity to state the obvious, with examples: "Why not, exactly?"
There is, as far as I can tell, no positive evidence that Mr. Bush is a man of exceptional uprightness. When has he even accepted responsibility for something that went wrong?
Never, that I've heard... it's like pulling teeth to get the whole government to admit that anything ever went other than exactly as they planned.
Some of his critics hope that the AWOL issue will demolish the Bush myth, all at once. They're probably too optimistic... The sad truth is that people who have been taken in by a cult of personality -- a group that in this case includes a good fraction of the American people, and a considerably higher fraction of the punditocracy -- are very reluctant to give up their illusions. If nothing else, that would mean admitting that they had been played for fools.
"Bush Cult" is a phrase I plan to come back to often.

True story: In a local mall, a framed-picture shop has a painting of Mr. Bush standing in front of a podium with his head bowed and a vague halo above him; that's bad enough. But the real overreach is that to his right and left are the ghosts of Washington and Lincoln, their heads also bowed, each putting a hand on Bush's shoulder. Oh, the reverent imagery! Oh, how holy this President! How approved by God and history!

(Bush talks about having married above himself; surely then he's being depicted above himself, or else I'm missing some Laura-Bush-as-Mother-Mary paintings somewhere.)

The only nice thing about it is that it was originally priced in the $300s, is now marked down to $149, and still hasn't sold for weeks. Ha!
Posted by V at February 13, 2004 07:43 AM

You know, Krugman is truly brilliant -- in the sense that he has this remarkable ability to crystallize complex issues into concise, understandable, yet still lively language in a way that neither dumbs things down nor caricatures. It is a skill I wish I had.

(By the way, I highly recommend his book -- linked over in our sidebar.)

Posted by: J at February 13, 2004 11:29 AM

In fact, there is an additional issue to the pictures. The budget documents for fiscal years 2000, 2001, and 2002 were each contained in a single pdf file of between one and two megabytes. Now, with all the pretty pictures, the budget is in a zip file of 63.7 megabytes! This makes the document virtually impossible for anyone with a dial-up modem to download. In addition, the zip file unzips into numerous pdf files, making it much harder for everyone to search the budget. Was this done on purpose to limit scrutiny of the budget by those pesky citizens? If the Administration want to avoid this charge, they should immediately make available a smaller version of the budget, without the pictures. Of course, they can continue to offer the picture version for the children.

Posted by: R. Davis at February 16, 2004 06:13 AM

What format would you prefer? PDF is actually not a bad choice, given that at least the pdf reader is available for free (unlike, say, if they were to put them up in some proprietary format like Microsoft's .doc....)

Posted by: J at February 16, 2004 10:56 AM

Recommended Reading:

The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir
The Politics of Truth... A Diplomat's Memoir

Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush
Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush

Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke
Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror

LIES by Al Franken
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

The Great Unraveling
The Great Unraveling

The Great Big Book of Tomorrow
The Great Big Book of Tomorrow

Clinton Wars
The Clinton Wars

Blinded by the Right
Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative

Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat

Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture

Living History

The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton

John Adams

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

In Association with Amazon.com