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Unfunny Business
by Stacey Moberly

Unfunny Business

Dateline: January 27, 2001 — It is seven days after the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration of this country's 43rd President, and the average American is still recovering from the mental hangover of the election peccadillo. Distracted by the mental numbness inflicted by conservative punditry and preparations for the Super Bowl, Joe the Software Engineer and Sue the Secretary have not been paying attention to Bush's first week in office. Too bad.

Ignoring Bush's 180 degree turnaround on abortion and his petulant insistence on reviving Star Wars, we're still faced with the ugly spectacle of him and his staff whining and stomping their feet about White House "vandalism." In the days leading up to the inauguration, Former President Clinton's staff was working around the clock, tying up loose ends and preparing for the transition of power. Keeping their desks neat and tidy wasn't a priority, I'm sure, as hard disks were erased, documents were packed up and shipped off or shredded, file cabinets were emptied, inspirational posters and pictures of kids were dumped into boxes, and resumes were e-mailed to contacts around D.C. Since these people were about to be unemployed, I'm sure that making the White House tidy for the people who would take their jobs wasn't the first thing on their minds. Any reasonable person is capable of understanding their thought process. "Screw them," they probably thought. "Their guy won, and they have jobs." Or, as one Clinton aide succinctly put it, "It was nothing serious. Nothing like stealing an election." (NYT, 1/24/2001.)

The story first broke on January 23, 2001, with a small piece in the Washington Post. It was printed, e-mailed, pinned up on bulletin boards, and laughed about at water coolers and coffee machines across the country. Heck, even the Republicans in my office thought it was pretty funny, and they're a rather humorless bunch. They don't laugh when I refer to Bush as the Commander-in-Thief, but even they had to admit that plucking the "W"s off of keyboards was, in a way, poetic. Can we expect Bush and his staff to take down the signs poking fun at his unrepentant slaughter of the English language, replace printer paper emblazoned with doctored images of a Time magazine cover, replace the defective keyboards, and get on with the business of running the country? No. That would be asking far too much.

Bush is passing the buck to his aides on this one. He has said publicly "It's time now to move forward. It's time to focus our attention on what's possible and how to get children educated." If you believe that, I suppose you also fell for his "I'm a uniter, not a divider" mantra. Ari Fleischer is also putting on a nice public face, mentioning that "The cataloguing that I mentioned, frankly, that's one person in our administrative offices who is really just keeping track in his head about things that may have taken place." Why? Why bother? If this isn't a big deal, why is it even a story? It wouldn't have even seen the light of day if White House officials had not rubber-stamped the press release. The Washington Post didn't take a walking tour of the White House, looking for vandalism. This was reported to them by a Bush aide. This is yet another puerile attempt by the Republican party to tarnish the image of Clinton, a man whom they attempted to devastate politically for eight long years, yet who left office with approval ratings higher than Reagan's in early 1989.

Bush is not well known for his ability to laugh at himself. Political wonks, particularly those from Texas, may remember an oft-repeated but not quite well publicized quote from Bush himself regarding a site spoofing his campaign. Bush called the webmaster, Mr. Zack Exley, a "garbageman" and said, "there ought to be limits to freedom." (May, 1999) Bush sic'ed the Federal Election Commission on Exley, stating that his site was actually a political committee. The FEC wisely refused to take action on the matter, and the story made barely a ripple during the campaign. Observers should take note, however, as this is strong evidence of both a lack of humor on Bush's part and his strong desire to silence his critics. Bush passed the buck to the FEC and the law firm of Patton Boggs in 1999, and he is passing the buck to his anonymous aides here.The goal is still the same: to reap the psychological rewards of victimhood.

I, as a staunch defender of First Amendment rights, could have easily ignored all this, but the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back was disclaimer on http://www.georgewbushstore.com. For those of you that have been hiding under a rock, typing the search string "dumb motherfucker" on the google.com search engine will produce a variety of results, the first being a link to the campaign's store previously mentioned. On the site is a disclaimer that reads: "Note: If you have arrived at this site through inappropriate references via a search engine, please be assured that we did not utilize this language in our site, our HTML, nor in our internet promotion of this site. What happened was the result of a malicious act by a third party and we have pursued remedies through the efforts of our staff and attorneys." Come on. Can't anyone take a joke anymore? It's surprising that someone who built their 1994 Gubernatorial campaign on tort reform would call a lawyer and threaten to sue whenever someone uses the word "fuck" in association with him.

This overreaction to a rather innocent prank (innocent when compared to stealing a national election) is yet another example of Bush's dry hypocrisy and transparent "good old boy" image. He might shake your hand warmly and grasp your shoulder, but it's only so he can stab you more easily.

 

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