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May 23, 2004 - Vox Populii, Vox Dei and all that stuff...

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Vox Populii

Vox Dei

and all that stuff…



A smattering of comment on the web of note –

Atrios at the site Eschaton on Bush and his enduring appeal to American voters –



It's a point which has frequently been made by many commentators, but it's worth restating for about the millionth time.  Back when Bush was running for president, the media lickspittles assured us that it didn't really matter that Bush may not, actually, be competent enough to do the job because he would surround himself by a gaggle of "grownups" who would, you know, actually run the government.  And, that would be fine and dandy because the country really just wants a president they can imagine having a beer with. 

Some of us pointed out that the problem with this little idea is that if ever those responsible grownup underlings started to disagree with each other, someone would have to actually have a wee bit of sense and an ability to resolve the conflicts and make decisions. 

The press has been talking about the war between the Pentagon, CIA, and State as if it were a tennis tournament.  But, look, it's a bit more important than that.  The fact that our entire government is apparently paralyzed with infighting is the kind of thing which should be treated with concern.  After 9/11 the media promised us they were going to get all serious for a change. 
Well, the screwed that one up pretty badly but maybe it isn't too late.  As Big Media Matt says: - “Should be an interesting investigation -- if elements of the U.S.  government are busy preparing to arrest one another, that would go a long way toward explaining the seeming confusion regarding what to say about this in the White House communications operation.

But, obviously it's more than just the communications operation, even if that's about all BushRove really cares about.


Well, the long knives are out in DC this weekend.  The grownups are a bit unhappy.  Bush is not saying much.  Not his business. 

Jerry Bowles at the site Best of the Blogs on Bush and his enduring appeal to American voters –

The Only Thing We Have to Fear


For most of us centrists, the fact that George Bush's approval ratings have fallen into the mid-40s is not surprising.  The real shock is that so many Americans still believe he's doing a good job in the face of the enormous amount of objective evidence to the contrary.  Clearly, there is something at work here that goes beyond reason and logic. 

Here's my theory. 

Americans have a bias for action and little patience for reflection.  A large segment of the population will always pick the person who does something, even if it is the wrong thing, over the person who waits until all the facts are in and then acts.  "At least, he's doing something" is perceived to be a virtue even if that "something" is ultimately disastrous.  "Wouldn't be prudent" did Bush I in; Junior has bet the farm on doing the opposite.  The only thing holding Shrub up at this point is his reckless adventurism and foolish consistency.  The main thing holding Kerry back, even among those who will vote him, is the growing perception that he is afraid of his own shadow.  The Republicans aren't defining Kerry; he's defining himself as gutless and soulless by opting out of the tough debates.  It may well cost him the election.


As I mentioned before, Kerry speaks fluent French and folks do remember the words of Marge Simpson - "We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it."

A letter to the editor in Eric Alterman’s online MSNBC column, Altercation -


I'm almost 40 and during my life world history has been largely a story of fatalism.  Chronic starvation in Africa?  Well, the Bible says the poor are always with us.  Maoist killing seasons in Asia?  We can't get involved.  Women subjugated in the Middle East?  Don't go imposing our culture on others.  People forget how revolutionary President Clinton's "humanitarian interventions" were -- the first true manifestation of "never again" in foreign policy.  As Beinart wrote, what is at stake in Iraq is the principle of universal liberal democracy.  If we fail in Iraq, the American zeitgeist will be that we offered Iraqis freedom but "those people are different." Already some on the right are mumbling this, and if the left thinks the U.N.  will fill the void, note that their reaction to the mini-genocide of Sudan has been to elect the genociders to its human rights panel.  Maybe saddest of all: Kerry seems to understand all of this and yet he is attacked on both sides for the sin of a nuanced opinion. 


The president says, repeatedly, that he doesn’t do nuance. 

Oh well. 

Then we have Eric Alterman himself in The Nation on waning support from the right…

Hawks Eating Crow
Stop the Presses - Eric Alterman
[from the June 7, 2004 issue]


The Bush Administration has not made it easy on its supporters.  David Brooks now admits that he was gripped with a "childish fantasy" about Iraq.  Tucker Carlson is "ashamed" and "enraged" at himself.  Tom Friedman, admitting to being "a little slow," is finally off the reservation.  Die-hard Republican publicist William Kristol admits of Bush, "He did drive us into a ditch." The neocon fantasist and sometime Republican speechwriter Mark Helprin complains on the Wall Street Journal editorial page--the movement's Pravda--of "the inescapable fact that the war has been run incompetently, with an apparently deliberate contempt for history, strategy, and thought, and with too little regard for the American soldier, whose mounting casualties seem to have no effect on the boastfulness of the civilian leadership."

Most of the regretful hawks blame the Administration for its failure to execute what they consider a noble endeavor.  But it is a noble endeavor only in the way it would be noble to give all your money to one of those deposed Ethiopian princesses who fill your inbox with pleas to send them all your money for a guarantee of future riches.  In other words, yes, while it might have been nice to liberate Iraq from Saddam's clutches, it was a lot more likely that under Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co., we would end up arresting innocent people, holding them without trial and systematically torturing and sexually humiliating them; all the while saying, as the Daily Show’s Rob Corddry so brilliantly put it, "Remember, it's not important that we did torture these people.  What's important is that we are not the kind of people who would torture these people."


Otherwise, it’s nuance? 

And after a review of this week’s events, Alterman lays into President Nuance –


What was Bush's public response to the man responsible for what Senator Ted Kennedy aptly terms "America's steepest and deepest fall from grace in the history of our country"?  It was to congratulate him for doing "a superb job." In Congress the word came from Dick Cheney's office to "get off [Rumsfeld's] case."

These are the men not just the neocons but self-described progressives and human-rights advocates believed capable of carrying out the delicate and difficult mission of bringing democracy and modernism to the Arab world, while safeguarding the security and good name of the United States.  Excuse me, but just what was so hard to understand about this bunch?  We knew they were dishonest.  We knew they were fanatical.  We knew they were purposely ignorant and bragged about not reading newspapers.  We knew they were vindictive.  We knew they were lawless.  We knew they were obsessively secretive.  We knew they had no time or patience for those who raised difficult questions.  We knew they were driven by fantasies of religious warfare, personal vengeance and ideological triumph.  We knew they had no respect for civil liberties.  And we knew they took no responsibility for the consequences of their incompetence.  Just what is surprising about the manner in which they've conducted the war?


Eric is not subtle here, is he?  Well, no one is surprised, and, in fact, it seems folks want four more years of this. 

Well, Americans have a bias for action and little patience for reflection.  Indeed. 


Ric in Paris sent along these comments - 


  • The 'surprise' is learning that the people who run things are more immature than kids, with five-minute attention spans and skin-deep memories.  Nobody thought the United States would drive itself straight into the muck with its eyes wide open.
  • For the D-Day memorial ceremonies in France on Sunday, 6. June, the security alert level has been raised to 'red,' the highest level.  It's possible that some shy people here don't want to be seen with Bush - some memorial events are already going on.

And then he added this:


22.05 - No Surprise


Bonjour Alan –


People in New York City are worried that 'the terrorists' are going to be looking for revenge.  They are worried that they will be the target because wars no longer only pit trained soldiers in uniform against each other. Of course the people in New York City have already been hit, so they know it can happen, and they are pretty convinced that nobody in Washington will do anything to stop it.  This is the only result - of the all-out 'war on terrorism' waged by armchair neocon hawks.


While few outside of America are 'surprised,' potential victims in America are disappointed and afraid.  They lack hope.  When New Yorkers become hopeless, this is a danger signal.


Is there anybody there with any ideas about how to get out of the mess the United States has created for itself?  Try to guess what it means if the answer is 'no.'

If 'no,' expect the folly to continue.  You have, as they say, not seen everything yet.


I am not following any of this carefully. I didn't 'follow' Vietnam either.  But if any remember it - a classic example of folly - that war wasn't over in '69; it dragged on until '74 or '75, ending with the United States escaping from Saigon with only the shirt on its back.


The United States looks like it is setting itself up for another debacle and doesn't appear to have any way of changing the course of history that it's following.


What 'friends of America' think about this is irrelevant.  What Americans think of it - well, it's your future.  It's time to sit down and think your way out of the situation.  This is not a reassuring message given the way things seem to be.


regards, ric


Yes.  We created a mess.  And there may be no way out.  See May 23, 2004: Notes on the War Scandals in this issue.

Then there is Mark Morford in the San Francisco Chronicle -

Bush: Dumb Like A Bullet
Is Dubya both a bumbling simpleton and a shrewd manipulator who smirked at tortures in Iraq?
Friday, May 21, 2004


When last we left our sneering caped crusaders, Rummy had testified under oath that he didn't really know who ordered what at Abu "Tortures 'R' Us" Ghraib prison, and George "Wha Happun?" Bush was mumbling into his hand puppet about how he was utterly shocked and appalled and was blaming the whole thing on "a coupla bad apples" and gul-dangit, he warn't gunna stan' fer it. 

And while he still loved Rumsfeld like a drunken frat brother and swore Rummy was doing a "superb job" and stood by him 'til death or impeachment they do part, something must be done and some heads were gonna roll and it would definitely be some sad pregnant trailer-park chick from West Virginia ha-ha snicker. 

What a difference a couple weeks make.  Now word is emerging like ugly greased lightning that not only did Rummy himself order the Abu Ghraib tortures, but it was also a long-standing super-secret plan based on ultra-vile (and morally repugnant) interrogation techniques already employed in Afghanistan. 

Not only that, but the plan was authorized across the board, from the Pentagon to the National Security Council to the CIA and then on up the ladder to where Bush his own dumbstruck self was fully informed and fully aware of the general plan to make a sad mockery of the "quaint" and "obsolete" Geneva Convention. 

… Let's just say it again: Rummy allegedly ordered the torture plan.  Rummy's undersecretary, Stephen Cambone, ran it.  Bush knew about it, even way back in February.  As did all of his senior staff.  As did the CIA and the NSC and even the Red Cross. 

They knew of the torture and humiliation techniques.  Knew of the secret beatings.  Knew of the electrodes and the snarling dogs and the pistol whippings and, very possibly, of the forced sodomy and the rapes.  Not of suspected terrorists, but of people.  Men.  Women.  Young boys.  Suspected Iraqi "insurgents," many of whom were, by the military's own admission, wrongly detained in the first place.  What fun. 


Yeah, over the top.  But so what? 

This fellow is really hot on the real problem –


It is the eternal Bush conundrum.  How to appear sort of blank faced and ignorant of the true atrocities your administration commits so as to avoid any sort of direct accountability, and yet still pretend to be a savvy, aware, tough-guy leader who gets things done and takes no bull and launches unprovoked wars on anything that stands in the way …. 


This is the key to the upcoming landslide for Bush – maintaining the willfully dumb but in control image.  And Bush has handled it well so far. 

And Morford concludes that’s pretty smart.  Or not.  He’s conflited. 


So then.  You gotta admit, maybe Bush isn't all that stupid after all.  Maybe he's not the smirking aww-shucks born-again simpleton he constantly appears to be, the one who sits back and lets his henchmen do all the dirty work and all the complex thinking while he lets Condi Rice massage his ego and fill him in at the ranch while taking more vacation time than any other president in history. 

Or, rather, maybe Dubya really is that stupid, just not in the ways anyone really imagined.  Maybe Bush is stupid in a way that is far worse, and far more dangerous for the health of this planet, than mere inarticulate, nonintellectual, semiliterate Texas cow-pie bumbling. 

It is, in short, the stupidity of the indignant and the self-righteous, of the morally arrogant, of someone whose power base is threatened and yet who is still blindly forcing America down this nightmare path, even when all signs and all leaders and all U.N.  councils and all weapons investigators and all flagrant U.S.-sanctioned rapes and tortures are veritably screaming in his face that it is a mistake of increasingly epic, treacherous proportions. 

And so maybe, ultimately, it all comes back to us.  Maybe it is the majority of people in this flag-wavin', happily deluded, fear-drenched country who can't believe it could happen, who simply, you know, "misunderestimated" just how poisonous Bush's savage brand of stupidity really is.


Oh heck, it’s not that a nation gets the leaders it deserves (which always seemed to me to be a nasty way of insulting Americans as not deserving much).  It’s more that the nation gets the leaders it wants.  And if the polls are to be believed, half of America wants just what we’ve got. 

Vox Populii - Vox Dei - and he said God, also, wanted him to be president. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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Paris readers add nine hours....