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Honey, I Shrunk the Presidency
October 24, 2003
By Sheila Samples

Back in 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 United States.

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 fervor.

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 McGovern warned 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 opportunity."

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.

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