September 15, 2004
By The Plaid Adder
learned this during the Lewinsky debacle: you never want to say
that we have reached the low water mark of American politics, because
it can always get lower.
As the lawyers would put it, by introducing an attack on Kerry's
military record, the Bush team "opened the door" for the
current discussion of his own Vietnam-era service record.
CBS, to everyone's surprise, went out and did an actual piece of
journalism in which they unearthed some actual evidence to substantiate
the charges that have been circulating since 2000 about George W.
Bush having been sleazed into the National Guard by his father's
friends and then deserted his post for several months so he could
work on his father's campaign (or so he could avoid failing a physical
due to his drug and alcohol abuse, or both).
The rest of the media, shamed by this example, responded the only
way they knew how: by picking up some bullshit that had been posted
on right-wing blogs and websites and repeating it as if it were
Now, CBS is in the absurd position of having to defend itself for
having a few reporters on staff who can still do their jobs; and
all over the country thousands of people, sane and insane, are getting
into heated arguments about which kinds of typewriters were capable
of producing a superscript TH in 1972.
Outside our borders, there's an entire world waiting with bated
breath to see whether the American political system is still functioning
well enough to allow us to vote out a government that is obviously
and breathtakingly corrupt after having endured four years of their
mismanagement, mistakes, and outright pillage. And it's got to be
depressing to them, too, to feel as if the fate of the world is
going to hinge on the history and development of the IBM Selectric.
I personally do not care that much about the fact that Bush went
AWOL in 1972. My problem is that he's AWOL now. This was
crystallized for me this past April, when the fighting in Iraq started
to boil over after a long period of comparatively quiet seething.
As you may recall, on April 8 of this year, Condoleeza Rice testified
before the 9/11 Commission. Most of the subsequent commentary focused
on the moment at which she was forced to reveal the title of the
infamous Presidential Daily Briefing from August 6, 2001: "I believe
the title was 'Bin Laden Determined To Attack In The United States.'"
That certainly was a startler, especially since she then went on
to insist that this memo was not any kind of a warning about any
kind of terrorist attack or anything like that. They had had no
warning, she said; they could never have imagined such a thing;
anyway they hadn't had enough time to do anything to prevent something
like 9/11. After all, they had only been in office for 233 days
when it happened.
Rice repeated "233 days" frequently during her testimony. Dana
Milbank and Robin Wright at the Washington Post must have
been struck by it, since they were at work on a piece about the
recent uprising in Iraq, and the fact
that while Americans were dying there in unprecedented numbers,
Bush was on vacation in Crawford:
This is Bush's 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president.
He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since
taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78
visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine,
Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his
three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency.
So by last April, the amount of time that Bush had spent goofing
around on his movie set in Crawford exactly equaled the amount of
time that Condoleeza Rice and the gang had had to work out their
anti-terrorism strategy before 9/11/01. And, in fact, Bush was at
Crawford when that August 6 PDB was issued.
It's the kind of coincidence that just makes a person think. Specifically,
it makes a person think, hey, maybe those first 233 days of the
Bush Administration might have been put to better use if the President
currently in office had actually been, you know, IN THE OFFICE.
If your employers allowed you to spend 40% of your time on vacation,
you'd get five months of vacation every year. You could knock off
in April and come back in September. Which would be nice for a while,
until you started to feel some nagging doubts about whether the
people stuck covering for you back in the office were really covering
for you, or whether you were going to show up and find out that
of the eight important projects you had been working on when you
left, three have been fucked up beyond recall, three have been transformed
into something you never envisioned, and the two most important
ones haven't been touched since you left your desk.
And that's why most people don't get 40% of their work days as
paid vacation, whether they're President of the United States or
Between the photo-ops and the fund-raisers and the campaign appearances
and the trips to the three different vacation spots, it is perhaps
not surprising that so many of the moments of crisis that we've
faced during his presidency have occured when he was somewhere other
than where you might expect a President to be. The big one, of course,
was September 11, which found him sitting in an elementary school
classroom in Florida listening to the students read The
Thanks to Fahrenheit 911, an enormous number of Americans have
had the chance to watch footage of those now-infamous seven minutes,
during which Bush, having been told by Andrew Card that the nation
is under attack, sits petrified on his chair at the front of the
room while the children go through their drill.
He says nothing. He is not following the story, but it's hard to
tell if anything else is going on inside his head, apart from the
slow expansion of those black pools of fear in his eyes. This has
never happened before. He is not prepared for it and there is no
script to follow. He has no idea what is supposed to happen next.
So he does what he's always done: he sits where he's been put and
waits for the handlers to come in once this appearance is over and
tell him where he's supposed to go.
My brother went through a Steve Martin phase when we were younger,
and on one of Martin's albums he loses his place in the middle of
a routine and has to stop talking. Then he picks up a few seconds
later, saying, "Sorry, my brain went to Bermuda there for a minute."
I have used that line on occasion myself; let's face it, we all
have moments when our brains go AWOL. Seven solid minutes, however,
is a long time for one's brain to spend vacationing in Bermuda;
it's so long, in fact, that Moore made the decision not to include
the entire sequence in his film, presumably because he felt he couldn't
ask the audience to spend that much time watching nothing happen.
But this isn't just about those seven minutes. To understand the
importance of the Pet Goat Incident, you have to look at what it
reveal about the way Bush approached his job.
On a morning when more than 3,000 people died in New York City
because they had gotten up and gone to the office that day, Bush
was out on yet another school reading photo op. He went on an astonishing
number of these visits during the first months of his presidency
- so many, in fact, that by August of 2001 he was starting to get
ribbed for it in the press, especially because regardless of the
age and grade level of the children, he always read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Now when I say "the press" here, of course, I'm not talking about
mainstream outlets like CNN. Far from wondering aloud, as Ariana
Huffington and others had done, why the President of the United
States was apparently incapable of reading anything more challenging
than a book pitched at four year olds, the good people at CNN's
Politics let us all know why Bush was sent out on those photo-ops
in the first place:
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) - In recent days, it's been hard
to tell that President George W. Bush has been on vacation for
this month of August. Yes, he's been spotted on the golf course
at times, but other images have prevailed over pictures of the
president engaged in summertime leisure activities. There he was
on Wednesday reading a book to second graders in Albuquerque,
and delivering a speech about his thoughts on education. He then
planned to head to a job training center located in a predominantly
Hispanic, working class part of town, before wrapping up a two
day trip away from his vacation base - his ranch in Crawford,
In other words, these tours to elementary school classrooms had
been arranged as a way of making it look as if Bush was still working
when he was actually taking "the longest vacation taken by any recent
Perhaps the most important effect of Bush's 2-day trip and other
recent events, some political analysts say, is simply that Bush
is seen at work. "I think they're trying to stifle the inference
that when he's working he doesn't work, so they have him working
while he's on vacation," said Lee Miringoff, an independent
pollster who heads the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in
This little gem is dated August 16, 2001 - ten days after a vacationing
Bush either read or maybe didn't read the "Bin Laden Determined
to Attack" PDB. And apart from the valuable lesson it gives us about
how tamely the media allows itself to be led - look back at that
opening paragraph, which reproduces the very spin that it discusses
further down in the piece - what this piece shows us is that although
Bush's handlers were aware that the American public were starting
to get the feeling that Bush was playing hooky, their solution was
not to have him actually do some work, but to try to make
it look as if he were working.
Sticking Bush in a classroom full of cute kids and having him
recite a book he had no doubt already memorized was apparently enough
to fool CNN into believing that Bush was on top of things. It was
not enough to fool Bin Laden.
By the time 19 of Bin Laden's operatives hijacked four American
days later, Bush's handlers had indeed gotten together and made
important decision. They had figured out, no doubt after a lot of
late-night poring over many thousands of opinion polls, that it
was crucial to get Bush away from The Very Hungry Caterpillar
before people started to get the idea that he could not, in fact,
read. So they decided to give The Pet Goat a whirl.
And while Bush was listening to the children read about this goat,
we were all learning, among other things, that in these times it
is not good enough to have a president who is capable of looking
busy for the cameras. In these times, there is no substitute for
actual, honest-to-God work. And unfortunately, we are being led
through these times by a man who either cannot or will not show
up day after day and do the job.
September 11, 2001 taught us a lot. It does not appear to have
taught Bush much. In April 2004, he was, once again, on vacation
in Crawford when the latest phase of the Iraqi resistance began
surging forward. He remained on vacation while people continued
to die in the war he and his advisors had moved heaven and earth
to start. I well remember staring at my computer screen, reading
the mechanical expressions of concern that Bush had phoned in to
the media from Crawford, and thinking, forget Vietnam. This bastard
can't even be bothered to show up for his own fucking war.
You hear all the pundits now wringing their hands and wondering
why we're still talking about Vietnam in this day and age. Well,
I'll tell you why: it's because after banging our heads against
the wall of media complicity for the past three years, we have all
learned that it is impossible to have a frank conversation about
what's going on right now.
You can't talk about the fact that during one of the worst periods
in American history, Bush has been an absentee president. You can't
get a conversation started about what that really means. You can't
get the pundits to wonder whether Bush's extraordinary neglect of
his responsibilities is the result of negligence, malice, incompetence,
or some combination of the three. You can't talk about what it means
that Bush has held fewer press conferences than any recent president,
that his campaign staff is going to unheard-of lengths to make sure
that every single person at every one of his campaign events is
a bona fide Bush supporter who understands that he can't be expected
to answer substantive questions, or that Bush is now trying to duck
out of a debate that would require him to respond on live television
to questions put to him by undecided voters. You cannot get anyone
at the major outlets to acknowledge the obvious fact that Bush's
inability to do his job has been making us more and more vulnerable
with every day that passes.
You can't talk about any of this. The media are all dedicated
to telling us day after day that this is a normal state of affairs
and that everything is just fine, and that all we have to worry
about is what might happen one day if, God forbid, we replaced
Bush with someone who could and would actually work. To talk about
Bush's record of absenteeism in the twenty-first century would require
them to acknowledge that the ship of state is in the middle of a
category five hurricane and the captain is somewhere down in the
cabin watching Veggie Tales on DVD. And nobody wants to be the first
to tell their viewers that.
So instead it all has to be done in code. We can only talk about
Bush's failure to do his duty now by talking about his failure to
do his duty then. As much as I enjoy a good mudfight, I just get
sick of the game sometimes. Would it really cost us so much to confront
the danger we're in, and to just come out and say that we could
forgive Bush for skipping out on his duty in the Texas National
Guard if only he hadn't skipped out on his duty as President? Or
that it would be possible to overlook the fact that in 1972 Bush
exploited his family connections to keep his own ass safe and his
own secrets hidden while other men went off to die in a war that
he supported, if only he wasn't doing the exact same thing right
So. To hell with the superscript, with Ben Barnes's daughter,
with CNN and Fox and all the rest of them. I don't give a shit about
where Bush was in 1972. I know exactly where he was on September
11, 2001. That's enough for me; and it ought to be enough for everyone
else in this country. Forget 30 years ago.
Since January 2000, Bush has racked up a piss-poor attendance record
and even worse job performance, and if he were anyone else he would
have been fired long ago. And when he finally is fired in November,
even I am not going to bitch about how much vacation he takes. Once
we've got a real President, Bush can take all the vacation
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an equally
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