Belaboring the Obvious

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Nonsense Presidency

Sometimes, it's hard to keep up with it all. I recently ran across Bush's phrase, "commissioned by history," and my reaction upon reading it was that it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard.

Turns out, after a little looking around, that it's not new, but is one of his favorites, with a rhetorical rap sheet going back to his 2000 campaign.

Maybe the larger question is how such drivel is so unremarkable these days that the press never thinks to parse such idiocy. How, exactly, does "history" undertake such commissioning? Is there some sort of panel of events that makes the award? Or is it a no-bid, cost-plus contract issued, as to Halliburton, from out of thin air?

Certainly, it has an implicit intent--especially when it is tied to another of Bush's stock phrases, "Our nation is chosen by God"--the design of which is to bolster the always factually-challenged notion of American exceptionalism, a sense of entitlement which began rhetorically with John Winthop's "city on a hill" and which has been embellished upon or expropriated by almost every President since the beginning of the Republic.

But, rhetorically, "commissioned by history" is pure, unadulterated mush, as has been so much of the speechwriting in the last tortuous seven years of the Bush administration.

Sure, Bush is, extemporaneously, an artful bumbler (except when the subject is of interest to him, or war or cruelty, and his role in it), in futherance of some Madison Avenue conceit of his that it fosters in the audience a belief in his innate populist goodness, as if he were the Junior Samples of Pennsylvania Avenue. The speechwriting, however, is something else--and one suspects that while Bush may leave the grammatical tidiness to others, he himself approves of and kibbitzes for the worst of the rhetorical trash littering his prepared speeches, the slogans. One further wonders what manner of detritus Bush's speechwriters convinced Bush not to include.

There have been, of late, attempts by former Bush speechwriters to redistribute credit for that work, including polite pissing matches between David Frum, Michael Gerson and, most recently, a not-so-polite pissing on Gerson by Matthew Scully in the Atlantic Monthly.

Truly, though, it's mystifying why there's any rush to claim credit for a body of work that will be remembered for its mendacity, rhetorical hollowness and absurdity. The prime example, of course, is the "Axis of Evil." Bush's speechwriters are still trying to make that one part of their personal credentials, although it has all the intrinsic clarity of mud. That it tries to weld Bush's Manichean world view to Cheney's agenda doesn't make the welds clean and strong, nor does it manage to hide its origins in Reagan's equally vacuous "Evil Empire" nor its rhetorical dependence upon the "Axis" of WWII, to which Iran and Iraq (at the time, avowed enemies who fought a ten-year war against each other) and North Korea have no geopolitical or military semblance. More nonsense.

However, what has distinguished the public pronouncements of this President, through his rhetoric, is a profound tendency to lie with impunity, and to conceal the truth by cloaking his intentions in language opposite to those intentions. Irony, as a rhetorical device, came into common usage in the Roman Senate, and depends upon the same sort of rhetorical trick--using words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning--but, the Bushies have no ironic intent in their slogans (although the RNC may get some chuckles out of them).

Their slogans are explicitly deceitful. Their literal meaning is designed to obscure the actual intent of what is being promoted. "Clear Skies" sounds good, but it promoted legislation designed to cripple the Clean Air Act. "Healthy Forests" would make clear-cutting possible. "Ownership Society" would have money managed under government control as part of the common weal transferred to private investment companies. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was not an act of liberation, but, rather, a complicated and bloody attempt to wrest the assets of a resource-wealthy nation from it and distribute them among a select group of giant U.S. multinational corporations. The USA Patriot Act didn't encourage anything remotely resembling patriotism--it drastically diminished the rights of individual citizens and increased the power of an Executive Branch operating in tyrannical fashion.

What historians will likely remember is that Bush and his administration spent eight years propagandizing the public, and that much of their propagandizing was not to promote otherwise reasonable goals, but to make their actual intentions invisible to that public.

Part and parcel to this program is the considerable increase in secrecy employed by Bush--and his co-conspirator, Cheney--thus preventing the comparison of rhetoric to fact. In those instances where such a comparison has been possible, the rhetoric has been shown to have no basis in fact.

Is it any wonder that Gen. Petraeus and the Bush administration, in just the last couple of days, chose to hide under the rubric of national security the very methodology and metrics employed in determining whether or not the "surge" has been successful? If the GAO report is any indication, the facts, once again, are in diametrical opposition to the rhetoric.

"The surge is working." Another deceitful slogan. Another rhetorical sleight-of-hand. More nonsense.


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