by George Gregoriou
I’ve watched the West Wing once or twice. It’s real Hollywood. The real marriage of convenience between political power and Hollywood was in the 1980s. Reagan was good at it, even mixing roles played in the movies with real-life situations. His naps at NSC meetings got national attention. In-between naps, he asked about the Contras and the evil empire. He cut social services by $2 1/2 trillion, increased military spending by $2 1/2 trillion, and increased the national debt by $2 1/2 trillion, by borrowing money on our behalf. The top 20% families became richer, the next 60% remained the same, and the bottom 20% were poorer. He was a Great Communicator. He read the script. He was an actor.
George W. Bush (I) tried to be Reaganesque. He was not good at it. He was coached about how to speak, how to move his arms in debates, even the footprints where his left and right feet were to be positioned. He won the 1988 election through dirty politics, the Willie Horton and the Boston Harbor commercials.
I supported Dukakis.
I went from door to door for him, even taught a seminar: “The 1988 Election.”
The “Gulf War I” brought President Bush an 88% approval rating. The economy ruined him. He showed his ineptness by shopping for socks at J.C. Penny to boost the economy. In a visit to a supermarket, he was awed by the scanner.
George Jr. is watching the mistakes of Bush Sr. to avoid them. The born-again president, with a 71% approval rating, is not taking chances. He has gone Reaganesque. Hollywood came to the rescue.
“Great personalities appear twice in history,” commented Hegel, an early 19th-century philosopher. Marx’s response: Hegel forgot to add that the first time they end in tragedy (Napoleon I), the second a farce, [his nephew Louis-Phillippe Napoleon (1851-1870)].
In our study, the reverse: The Bush I presidency ended in tragedy. The Reagan presidency was a farce. Peggy Noonan (his speech writer) commented on Reagan’s intellect as the most barren land she has seen.
Not to leave out Bill Clinton, he also tried to imitate JFK, not just the interns in the White House.
Will it be a tragedy or a farce in 2004, for George II? Bush is doing well with the media, and the polls. Two wars transformed him into a war-time president, thanks to a cabal of hawks and oil men. Control of the White House in 2004 means privatization of Medicare, Social Security, and schools. Trillions of dollars will go to Wall Street. What a feast!
Conquering Iraq was easy, as in Afghanistan. Two defenseless states, not the tough guys in the neighborhood. But terrorism is on the rise. The warlords are still in control in Afghanistan, outside Kabul. Karzai is the acting mayor of Kabul, distributing checks from Uncle Sam. War is now sanitized. The focus was on the latest American military technology, smart bombs, the mother of all bombs, precision bombs, laser-guided bombs and George Dubya’s image, President Bush was doing this or that. For working families, this Bush White House did next to nothing. Bush/Cheney were beset by scandals and demands for investigation They needed a war. Enron and friends were off the hook.
The militarized president is not taking chances for 9/7/04. Hollywood was called to the rescue. The White House, NYTimes reporter Elisabeth Bumiller states on May 16, hired Scott Sforza (former ABC producer), Bob DeServi (former NBC cameraman), and Greg Jenkins (Fox News television producer) to improve the president’s image (not his policies). The photo op on the carrier Abraham Lincoln, to announce the end to major combat in Iraq, was orchestrated by Sforza, even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush’s right shoulder and the Mission Accomplished banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call magic hour light, which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush. It was repeated in January in St. Louis: Bush’s speech on his economic plan to truckers. White House volunteers had to cover Made in China stamps with Made in U.S.A.
Last summer’s tops it all. The setting for a speech at Mount Rushmore was choreographed showing Bush in profile, his face perfectly aligned with the four presidents carved in stone.
Bush Jr. went to Yale. His father’s connections, not his qualifications, helped. He was an OK student. Better at partying, beer, and nose candy. There was no intellect nor substance at Yale, nor at the White House. 2004 is near. Will home security, flag waving, and national anthems carry Bush to a second term? If the economy turns around, it will be good for the few. Tax breaks for the few and bread crumbs for the many is the only agenda. The selling of the president in 2004 will be tough and nasty.
George Gregoriou is professor of Critical Theory & Geopolitics at The William Paterson University.