I Shrunk the Presidency
By Sheila Samples
1962, on a jaunt through Texas, President John F. Kennedy
was presented a cowboy hat. He accepted it graciously, but
laughed, gave a good-natured shrug and changed the subject
when the media begged him to "try it on."
I remember thinking it was a bit "east-coastish"
and arrogant - even rude - for Kennedy to refuse such a neat
photo-op, especially since the expensive gift had obviously
been hand-crafted just for him. What better way for Kennedy
to show that he was "one of us" than by donning
the cowboy hat - what better place than Texas to do it? Heck,
every good ol' boy I knew wore a cowboy hat - and most of
the good ol' girls did too.
I know now that Kennedy was neither arrogant nor rude. He
may even have been one of us under different circumstances.
But Kennedy, like the 34 men elected before him, was acutely
aware that he was not just the President of the United States.
For four years - eight if he earned the trust of the voters
- Kennedy would be the virtual "presidency" of the
In our history, only 42 presidents have both entered and
exited the Oval Office. They ran the gamut of intelligence,
morality, vision and experience. Of course they lied, most
attempted to govern in secrecy and some worked - feverishly,
as in the case of Richard Nixon - to cover up their misdeeds.
However, none managed to do lasting damage to the "presidency"
which - thanks to the prayer, debate and forethought that
went into creating the US Constitution - is a separate institution;
a separate arm of the government. Like Kennedy, all presidents
valued the appropriate photo opportunity, but were uniformly
diligent in ensuring that they were presented with an aura
of dignity. They took great pains to appear "presidential."
But that was before president number 43 - George W. Bush.
It is impossible to list the many and varied ways Bush has
shrunk the presidency since the Supreme Court shook the pillars
of democracy by appointing him the world's top photo-op Robo-Cop.
The Supremes gave him the keys to the kingdom, the combination
to the treasury lock, and assured him that, since he was president,
he didn't have to explain to anyone why he did anything.
What pampered, mean-spirited, totally self-centered schoolyard
bully wouldn't get a hard-on at hearing that bit of good news?
Especially one who had always had everything but accomplished
nothing, who had discredited himself in college and in military
service, and had emerged from a lifelong drug and alcoholic
haze just 14 short years before?
Bush hit the ground at a dead run, middle finger erect. Before
September 11, 2001, he busied himself with razing regulations
or restrictions put in place by previous presidents to protect
the environment from corporate abuse, with shredding the social
safety net that protected those most vulnerable among us,
and with dividing the spoils of his presidential "victory"
with his corporate donors.
However, with the implosion of the twin towers on 9/11, Bush
burst upon the international stage a Disneyesque "Mantra
Man" superhero, in a struggle to the death with nothing
more concrete than a faceless, formless enemy - the concept
of evil. Bush and the ravenous corporate warmongers who surround
him were beset by evil and evil-evildoers, by gathering storms,
and "massive and sudden horror" on all fronts.
Suddenly, world dominion was within their sight and their
grasp. They salivated at the thought of feeding on the soft
underbelly of the world's resources. Individuals or nations
who disagreed with them, or questioned the morality of preemptive
strikes against anything that moved, were threatened with
dire "consequences," and soon found themselves on
the Bush Doctrine Evildoers Short List.
Few things are more frightening than the idioic, one-size-fits-all
"smoke 'em out, git 'em on the run and bring 'em to justice"
speech that Bush continues to give - whether in a kindergarten
classroom or before the United Nations - as a solution to
all problems, both domestic and foreign. The rest of the world
was at first amused, then outraged at the blatant lies that
were sweeping the region into war and, finally, terrified
at the destructive force hurtling toward them with Messianic
In his whirlwind trip through Asia this week wherein he cajoled,
bribed and threatened countries for more troops and money
for his war on terrorism, Bush successfully thwarted any discussion
of economic issues at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
meeting in Bangkok, forcing the 21 economic ministers instead
to endure yet another "smoke 'em out" carney-barker
spiel. They know that he cannot be dealt with except on his
terms, that he abhors treatys and pacts and that his promises
were made to be broken.
Some people believe that Bush has been lying to us for the
past three years. They say there's a veritable graveyard of
lies out there. In fact, just last week, an angry Senator
Edward Kennedy told the Senate in no uncertain terms, "Before
the war, week after week after week after week, we were told
lie after lie after lie after lie..."
There's a case to be made for that - and I've made it more
than once. However, the Republican pundit corps over at FOX
news are feverishly spinning the theory that Bush "misspoke,"
and since he doesn't like to read, he only repeated what he
was told. At the end of the day, they say, we will see that
Bush was merely an "accidental" liar. According
to these venerable "political analysts," Americans
will finally see that their president has no clue; that he
is too utterly vacuous and dumb-as-dirt stupid to tell a lie.
Historians will be scratching their heads for the next millenium,
trying to figure out that one.
Bush appears blithely unconcerned about shrinking the presidency
to the one or two issues with the power to hold his interest.
Other than tax cuts for his buds and breaking things so his
corporate masters can get paid big U.S. bucks for fixing them,
he likes to be in charge and to dress up and play war hero.
Unfortunately, since we don't build statues of our leader,
he had to settle for a 12-inch "fully posable" action-figure
doll complete with "detailed cloth flight suit, helmet
with oxygen mask, survival vest, g-pants, and parachute harness."
Although there was no mention of it, I assume that the crotch
sock is included; otherwise the package would be incomplete.
Authentic war hero and former presidential candidate George
of the rapid retreat from democracy and shrinking Bush presidency
in the April 21 issue of The Nation: "Appearing
to enjoy his role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces
above all other functions of his office, and unchecked by
a seemingly timid Congress, a compliant Supreme Court, a largely
subservient press and a corrupt corporate plutocracy, George
W. Bush has set the nation on a course for one-man rule."
Bush should be reminded that there are consequences to sailing
against the democratic wind. Although it is meticuously hidden
from his view, there is unrest rippling across the land. Bush
cannot venture outside the presidency, which is overshadowed
by an eight-foot, double black steel fence. There are snipers
on the rooftops, jackboots patrolling pesky First Amendment
Zones to crush sounds of dissent, helicopters hovering nearby.
Beyond our shores, Bush is an object of both ridicule and
hatred. During his recent trip to Africa, an entire village
- men, women and children - were rounded up and contained
on a football field until his departure. In Thailand this
week, after being cursed by hundreds of farmers protesting
the destructive US agriculture policy, black magic voodoo
practitioners sealed Bush's "spirit" and his photograph
inside a pot and tossed it into the Ping River in an effort
to keep him from "liberating" them.
In Britain this week, Prime Minister Tony Blair was not only
afflicted with a palpitating heart but with cold feet as he
was forced to cancel plans next month for Bush to prance triumphantly
along the Mall with the Queen, which is the traditional high
point of any world leader's state visit. According
to the UK Telegraph, "President Bush's trip
is the first full state visit of an American president since
the Queen came to the throne 52 years ago."
Because of the anti-war sentiment in Britain, Bush cannot
even arrive at the palace by motorcade, but will surreptitiously
helicopter in and out to avoid protesters who plan to line
the road routes. The article said, "Other proposed events
have also been curtailed or cancelled, and he will not address
Parliament because of fears of a boycott by MPs."
An official from Downing Street said, "We are liaising
with the White House and they have made no attempt to hide
their disappointment. They saw it, obviously, as a great photo
Pity. The United States presidency has finally shrunk to
the point where not even a desired photo-op is available to
the man whom it imprisons - a man whose presidency depends,
ironically, on the staged photo op.
Perhaps John F. Kennedy was right, after all, when he warned
that those who foolishly seek power by riding the back of
the tiger - ultimately end up inside.
Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma freelance writer, a former
US Army Public Information Officer and Axis
of Logic contributing editor.