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What Fresh Hell is This?
March 31, 2003
By punpirate

In recent days, the pressure to conform to the government line has increased. Almost every newspaper column I've read, regardless of region of the country, makes at least some mention of the need for the support of troops and George Bush as the war in Iraq begins, either by quoting someone who believes this, or as a direct editorialization in favor of the quelling of dissent.

Foremost in those protestations for support is "respect for the President." Much less frequently, "respect for the office of the President." And yet, in the late '60s, when I was a soldier, the prominent cry at anti-war demonstrations was, "hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" Quite a question, especially in the context of the moment. It was a sort of equal-protection statement, as well, since it encompassed both Vietnamese kids, and our own fresh-faced high-schoolers in jungle fatigues and flak jackets. Despite the perhaps deserved nastiness in the shouted question, there was little vitriol from the Johnson White House about such.

How times change. For a White House with a self-created reputation for toughness, there has been a notable brittleness and sensitivity to criticism in the Bush ranks. This tendency has been apparent ever since the inauguration (beginning with Bush's eschewing of the traditional half-mile walk to the White House after inauguration - the occasional egg pelting the Presidential limousine may have figured into that impromptu decision), but it is in full bloom as the war against Iraq unfolds.

Most recently, the remarks of Paul Celucci, the ambassador to Canada, are most instructive in this regard. Sent to a meeting of Canadian businessmen (the Bush White House is always more comfortable in the company of businessmen), Celucci excoriated the Chretien government for its position on the US-Iraq war (let us please call it what it actually is), and, curiously, called on Chretien to "muzzle" the Canadian press.

That latter remark reveals a wondrous tapestry of truth about how the Bush crew thinks and operates. The Bush administration is more top-heavy in corporate CEOs than any other in living memory, and as we all know, by now, the modern CEO is decisive, imperative, and simply won't stand for anything or anyone sullying the "brand" or the corporate image.

In the case of this bunch, the corporate image is one of the Lone Ranger, Superman, Prince Valiant and Terry & the Pirates all rolled into one. Mr. Natural and the Doo-Dah Man need not apply. It's all about image, rather than substance, and that's why red-blooded cartoon character metaphors seem so appropriate. The brand is the US of A. For that reason, it was no surprise that the Bush administration looked to Madison Avenue and Charlotte Beers to make the US look good while it was planning gross mayhem. Equally, it was no surprise that Ms. Beers found the task of making the rest of the world love us and, particularly, love the Bush CEOs, to be beyond her considerable skills in advertising.

More to the point, Celucci's remarks indicate a sad reality in this country, and quite another reality outside this country. In this country, today, the press is satisfactorily muzzled. Ari Fleischer, as Bush's PR flack, applies rules to the White House press corps' behavior which would make Goebbels proud, and the press dutifully grovels. When they do not (as with Helen Thomas, for example), the delinquents are relegated to the back row and treated with studied disregard. The largest number of the White House press corps would rather have a hand-fed story to take back to their editors than nothing at all.

Elsewhere in this still-large world, the press chooses not to be quite so obeisant. Hence, Celucci's indirect remarks to Chretien. The supposition implicit in Celucci's demands regarding the Canadian press is that "subjugation of the press works in the US. It will therefore work as well elsewhere. Do it."

Ignoring for the moment the implicit hubris in this attack, there is also the CEO's demand for compliance to subordinates, and the equal absurdity of the consideration of the leader of a neighboring sovereign nation as a subordinate to not just the United States, but to the US's most prominent CEO, George W. Bush. Some news reports in Canada relate that Celucci's remarks came "straight from the top." Moreover, the Canadian press isn't happy at the prospect of such attempts at control by the US.

The great hilarity in all this is that the modern American CEO is, in fact, a joke, a P.T. Barnum character using personal power in small arenas to manipulate the stock market for personal gain. The Skillings, Lays and Kozlowskis have, through incompetence, legislative influence-peddling and greed, effectively ruined the investments of not only their own employees, but the pension funds of countless state employees and the market at large. From such a stock has George W. Bush picked his team. One imagines these twits to begin imitating W.C. Fields in their very rare press conferences.

George W. Bush is not far away from W.C. Fields impressions. His recent press conferences and impromptu encounters with the press have suggested both a testiness and a drug-induced inebriation fitting Fields at the height of his popularity.

Nevertheless, we are talking here about the President of the United States - the most visible representative of America, but who is also the most prominent spokesman for American views and the person who is responsible for distilling American opinion for the benefit of the world outside the US. Bush is not a comedian, however much he thinks himself one (as evidenced by a recent tape of his antics prior to announcement of war while having his make-up artists prepare him) and, certainly, the subject of his recent remarks to the public required a seriousness about and acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation which seems not to be in his character. It's telling that the response of the Bush White House, when such off-the-cuff videotape made the internet rounds, was to restrict control of the cameras to the White House. Perish the thought that some poor PR flack in the White House will lose his job because he might have to tell the Presidential CEO that he behaves like an idiot on Qaaludes.

Governing a nation is not like running a corporation. There are interests in every nation which compete with the government view and don't take kindly to being told to shut up. Even a minor-league CEO like George W. Bush should acknowledge that simple fact, can't demand by fiat that a simple "no" not be in the vocabulary of either his own public or of the officials of other countries. Mussolini tried to do that, and he and woven hemp became intimately acquainted.

In a democracy, the press can't be "muzzled" and the message can't be micromanaged. In Canada, they still understand this simple truth, despite the fact that large corporate interests there have sought to make of its press what corporate interests here have made of ours. In the US, the corporate press has conveniently forgotten its Constitutional mandate as the "Fourth Estate" of government, but that's not the way it is elsewhere, for now.

While the Bush administration's CEOs are trying to apply muzzles to those who disagree with them, trying to spin every nuance of government to their advantage, people are dying unnecessarily. A great deal of the rest of the world understands this. George W. Bush and his corporate handmaidens do not. They still think they're running corporations. They still think they have the right to dictate, rather than the obligation to govern.


punpirate is a New Mexico writer who ponders, almost daily, Dorothy Parker's remark, "what fresh hell is this?"

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