Archive for the ‘BUSH’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: GOMER AS CLAUDIUS   Leave a comment

GOMER AS CLAUDIUS

John Chuckman

There has been a fair amount written recently about whether America should just get over the inhibitions of its anti-imperial origins and boldly embrace the fact of its having swelled and fattened into a full-fledged empire – a kind of imperial coming out of the closet, if you will. Favoring, as I do, honesty in politics and human affairs, I tend to support this approach.

But before all the drawling, born-again, yahoo-patriots with custom shotgun racks in the rear windows of their Cadillacs and faded little flags fluttering from the antennas break into the chorus of “Onward Christian Soldiers” (actually, an excellent choice for a new Imperial Anthem), a few qualifying reflections are in order.

Rome built magnificent roads, aqueducts, forums, and theaters where its imperial footstep trod. America leaves behind Coca-Cola bottlers, Lay’s potato-chip distributors, piles of trash, cluster-bomb canisters, and landmines. Rome built beautiful temples and embraced all religions. America sends loopy fundamentalist missionaries and people who believe God is an alien life form speaking from tin cans to disparage the ancient beliefs of others.

Rome at least had some great emperors before it fell into decline and experienced such notable events as a group of legionnaires declaring a horse to be emperor. America starts off with the likes of Reagan, Clinton, and Bush – one intelligence, immersed in hormones, sandwiched between two bell hops elevated to the imperial purple. I know, I forgot the whining, snobbish mama’s boy who doesn’t eat broccoli and who kept looking at his watch when others spoke in a debate, but then, so have most Americans.

It has been observed that so often true evil has a banal appearance, and in the case of many of history’s most evil people, this appears often to have been the case. Think of Hitler eating his beloved pastries, the vegetarian, non-smoker and teetotaler, watching Marlene Dietrich movies. Or Himmler, the weak-chinned, former chicken farmer who ran the dread powers of the SS and other state security for the Third Reich. Think of Stalin, generally sitting quietly at meetings or dinners, always praised by outside observers for his modest manner, quietly smoking his pipe and rarely drinking much even while those around him were reduced to comradely stupor.

These are the kind of people who once in power set in motion the machinery that employs the psychopaths and thugs that constitute some natural share of any society’s population in order to turn bad dreams into reality. Generally, their own boots are not splattered with the blood of their victims.

And so we have Emperor Bush, certainly not ranking as one of the great menaces of history, but a man whose banality comes married to a decided taste for the stupid and brutal use of power.

As to his banality, it would be hard to match not just among the world’s leaders but among the men briskly walking by on any busy downtown street. His droning, nasally voice suggests a cardigan-sweatered Ozzie Nelson giving Dave and little Ricky a homily after being caught chugging root beers in the kitchen. One senses in Mr. Bush intense earnestness about insignificant matters and uninformed self-righteousness about big ones. One imagines him fitting right in as the manager-trainee going nowhere in the ladies’ garments department at a Wal-Mart or the petty assistant vice-principal at an elementary school whose life swells with purpose when disciplining ten-year olds.

Actually, if it weren’t for his slurred pronunciation, his Archie-Bunker vocabulary, and the odd, deliberate nincompoop-phrase like “Axis of Evil” or “homicide-bombers” cropping up, there would be no reason ever to listen to his speeches. You can learn nothing from them. They are imperial gestures. His words and views are utterly predictable and commonplace in their expression. The empire would be no worse off were his staff to prepare a multi-purpose, all-occasion, error-free DVD and distribute it to the press corps and members of Congress.

But in so many of Mr. Bush’s words and actions one also senses that same conscience-numbed, sniggering tone he used during his campaign in speaking of the scores of prisoners executed in Texas. Whether it’s thousands of innocents killed in Afghanistan, murdered and mistreated Afghan prisoners, or Mr. Sharon’s running a Murder Incorporated, the tone is the same. Just as with the prisoners in Texas, his emphasis is always on, not the plight of those suffering before him, but on the crimes they are presumed to be answering for.

The banal Mr. Bush in a comparatively short period has managed to give the world a nasty whiff of in-your-face Americanism and, while doing so, to create the beginnings of a dark, unholy alliance. While I fully recognize the inconsistency of speaking about foreign policy and morality in the same breath, still America is the world’s first great empire that pretends to adhere to principles of democracy and concern for human rights. There is some reason at least to hope that the mold of history in these matters might one day be broken.

Well, the simple fact is, that with virtually every breath Mr. Bush has worked against these important principles. His idiotic, undefined War against Terror has created needless destruction and privations, threatening itself to become a kind of global terror. That and his cavalier attitude towards international treaties have set a frightening precedent and basis for relationships with the rest of the world.

Israel’s Sharon is free to crush Palestinians’ hopes, crushing a good many of their people along the way. Russia’s Putin, in return for toning down his criticisms of American policy, has been given carte blanche to continue state-terror in Chechnya, the bulldozing of Jenin on a vaster scale. And Turkey, in return for its support of a future attack against Iraq, appears to have received the same carte blanche for its campaign against the Kurds, a people who have suffered under Iraq, Iran, and Turkey and who were treated atrociously by that tireless worker for peace, Henry Kissinger.

Oh, and then there’s the new alliance, complete with an exchange of bounty for information and cooperation, with a military man in Pakistan. And the “we’ll bomb, you fight” pact with cutthroat warlords of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Of course, they are looking for someone to fill the same role in Iraq, but it’s going to be tough with the record of flip-flops and betrayals the U.S. has earned amongst various groups there over the years.

I am reminded of the old joke, “What do you get when you cross a canary with a gorilla?” “I don’t know, but when it sings, you had better listen.” Perhaps better than any image I can come up with, this joke describes Mr. Bush as Emperor. A weak, narrow, uninformed man married to a colossal, imperial military machine. And you had better listen.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: DISTURBING THE PLANET AND BLAMING THE MESS ON OTHERS   Leave a comment

DISTURBING THE PLANET AND BLAMING THE MESS ON OTHERS

John Chuckman

I received a letter from a reader recently asking me what it is about America that I hated so much. Since its tone was polite, I replied at length. I don’t hate anything – ‘hate’ is an awfully strong word – but there are things I find disturbing about America, and, as it happens, these are things many others also find disturbing.

There’s certainly no need for my services in the 24-hour-a-day orgy of noisy, self-praise that pours from television, radio, magazines, movies, sporting events, and even sermons in the home of brave. This non-stop, drum-beating, national revival meeting has become the background noise of everyday American life, so much so that many are not aware that there is anything unusual about it.

There is a wonderful scene in “The Gulag Archipelago.” After a speech by Stalin, the audience applauds and applauds and cannot stop applauding. Everyone waits for his or her neighbors to stop before stopping, only the neighbors also do not stop. The applause threatens to continue forever. Why? Because NKVD men prowl the aisles, looking for anyone who stops applauding.

Without making any outlandish, inappropriate comparisons between Bush’s America and Stalin’s Russia, there is still a very uncomfortable parallel between that frightening historical scene and recent events in the US, especially the State of the Union address.

Even though the President said nothing demonstrating statesmanship or imagination or even compassion, everyone applauded and applauded and kept applauding. Some media commentators actually compared his feeble recitation of platitudes with the thrilling cadence and brilliant words of Franklin Roosevelt at a time of true darkness. Several well-known television news personalities felt called upon to make odd, jingoistic personal statements as though they felt the need to prove their patriotic bona fides.

What a big fat disappointment America is today. An affluent, noisy, moral netherworld. A place where fundamentalist pitchmen in blow-dried coifs and Pan-Cake makeup plead to fill the moral void, but only add to the noise.

A place where jingoism and mediocrity are lavishly praised. A people bristling with demands about their rights and redress of grievances, but with no thought about their responsibilities. A people who brag of being freer than any other people without knowing anything about other people.

An insatiably-consuming engine of a country whose national dream has been reduced to consuming more of everything without a care for anyone else on the planet. A people without grace who always blame others for what goes wrong.

Americans, roughly 4% of the planet by numbers, gulp down more than half the world’s illegal drugs, but in all the strident speeches and in all the poorly-conceived foreign policy measures, it is always the fault of Mexico or Colombia or Vietnam or Panama or the French Connection or someone else out there. Anyone, that is, but the people who keep gulping and snorting the stuff down, and all the shady American officials who are so clearly necessary to keep the merchandise widely available.

One of history’s great moments of insufferable posturing came with the creation of annual “report cards” on how well various nations were doing at controlling drugs, as though these other countries were unreliable children being assessed by their wise Auntie America, the same wise Auntie zonked out on a million pounds of chemicals at any given moment.

America has a long history of vote tampering and rigged elections in many local jurisdictions. It is widely understood that vote tampering, especially in Chicago, gave John Kennedy a victory he did not win in the 1960 election. Biographer Robert Caro has revealed how Lyndon Johnson’s political career in Texas had the way smoothed by vote fraud. And now, two and a quarter centuries after the great republic’s founding, she still cannot run a clean election for president.

On top of fraud and unwillingness to spend enough to assure proper ballots, America clings to the most corrupt method possible to finance election campaigns, defining private money as free speech. The more of it, the better. One would almost think that all the billions in bribes paid out by the CIA over the decades to corrupt other governments had influenced thinking about how things should be done at home.

Yet with a record like this, the State Department never stops passing public judgement on the inadequacies of democracy in other places. The State Department’s views on democracy, about as deserving of serious consideration as the last Congress’s idea of why you impeach an elected president, reduce to the same tacky business as the drug report cards: it’s always someone else who’s wrong. Even worse, the sermons on democracy and rights frequently are used as wedges for trade concessions. It just doesn’t get more hypocritical than that.

Having mentioned the CIA’s bribery over the decades, its interference in the internal affairs of so many countries, I recall the reaction of American legislators a few years ago when it was thought possible, though never proved, that Chinese money had been funneled into an American election. Heavens, how dare they do an underhanded thing like that! Sully an American election! The same legislators never considered that they themselves, in tolerating a corrupt system of election finance, were responsible for such activity’s even being possible.

Consider Mr. Bush’s lurid fantasy about an “axis of evil.” One almost wants to ask whether the choice of words reflects long-term deleterious effects of the cocaine he reportedly used when he was sowing oats instead of bombs. The fact is that much of the world’s terror is a direct response to American foreign policy that reflects daydreams and wishes in Georgia and Iowa rather than actual conditions abroad.

The CIA’s three billion-dollar fraternity prank with other people’s lives during the 1980s in Afghanistan was great fun while it lasted, and there was no concern about Osama and the boys until they decided that the U.S. was just as unwelcome as the U.S.S.R.

But it must be someone else’s fault, so we’ll topple the entire national structure of Afghanistan, destroy much of its infrastructure, kill thousands of innocent people, hold thousands more as illegal prisoners, and maybe go on to attack other places that never heard of Osama bin Laden just in case they’re thinking about anything underhanded.

A former American diplomat has revealed how hundreds of visas were rubber-stamped for Afghan fighters. How else was it possible for 19 suspicious people to enter the U.S., some working away for months, with no attention paid by those immense, highly intrusive agencies, the CIA, FBI, and NSA, whose snooping costs tens of billions of dollars every year? Every phone call, fax, and e-mail in America, and a lot of other places, is vetted daily by these agencies’ batteries of super-computers.

After the attack on the World Trade Center, there were many American news stories about two of these nineteen people who possibly entered the U.S. by way of Canada – stories that proved utterly false as it turned out. But huge pressures were, and still are being, put on the Canadian government over this concern. America simply blames someone else rather than cleaning up its own house.

A few years ago, the world’s richest country suddenly decided to stop paying U. N. dues, ignoring its long-standing treaty obligations. With an arrogant wave of the hand, it dismissed its responsibilities and blamed the U. N. for waste and bureaucracy. The “waste and bureaucracy” stuff came from American legislators who spent years investigating an insignificant, sour real estate deal and put on a colossal, lunatic, government-stopping, impeachment-as-passion play spectacle. The same folks now prepare to squander tens of billions on useless new defense schemes and on measures to curtail American freedoms. But the U. N. has to lobby and wheedle in hopes of receiving its meager portion.

American technical experts analyzing data from a Chinese thermonuclear test some years ago were stunned to realize that the blast had a radiation “signature” similar to that of America’s most advanced warhead. Espionage was immediately suspected, and the long, painful ordeal of Wen Ho Lee, an American scientist born in Taiwan, began. While investigation was reasonable, it was not reasonable to target Wen Ho Lee. His career was ruined even though not a shred of clear evidence was ever produced. The more rational conclusion that the Chinese, a clever and resourceful people, had managed the feat themselves stood little chance when someone from “there” was there to blame.

The case of the Cuban boy Elian provided what may be the most remarkable example of this kind of obtuse and arrogant behavior. An ill-considered policy of granting automatic refugee status to all Cubans who made it in flimsy boats to American shores, part of an incessant campaign of hatred against Castro, lured the boy’s mother to her death, as it had lured many others. The boy still had a loving father, other family, and friends, but they just happened to live in the wrong country. So an already-injured child was put through months of hell in Miami, a hostage to ideology as surely as American diplomats in Iran, his father, family, and home repeatedly ridiculed and insulted, and it was all someone else’s fault, Castro’s in this case.

I closed by telling my reader that I never object to letters that disagree with me, only to those that are rude or insistent or obscene. And, I have to say, America does generate an awful lot of those.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: URGENT CALL FROM CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN   Leave a comment

URGENT CALL FROM CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN

John Chuckman

On the President’s desk in the Oval Office, a phone’s red light urgently flashes. It’s the signal for an incoming call. Only calls from deep inside the vast command-center redoubt known as Cheyenne Mountain come in on this line. Constructed during the Cold War, this hollowed-out mountain contains a virtual Pentagon satellite-city built to survive a hundred years behind million-ton blast-proof doors.

The president gleefully picks up the receiver. He just loves getting important calls.

“Howdee!”

“Mr. President, this is a secure line, so we may speak freely.”

“Dick, you old son of a gun, how’s it goin’ out there, livin’ under the mountain an’ all? T’aint getting’ to ya none?”

“I’m just fine, Mr. President, don’t concern yourself. You know, I spent a lot of time as a congressman with folks who live in abandoned missile silos and mine shafts.

“Anyway, compared to some of those places, this is just damn luxurious. The mountain’s totally climate-controlled, and we have an artificial beach under sun lamps on the distilled-water reservoir.”

“A goddam climate-controlled mountain! Jeez, Dick, I jus’ gotta get on out there one of these days an’ see that.”

“Good idea, Mr. President, uh, er, of course, once the crisis is over.”

“Crisis? Oh, y’all mean that there Osama guy? Don’t worry none ’bout him. He ain’t goin’ nowheres, an’, I’ll tell ya, the only damn climate-control his damn mountains got is two-thousand pound bombs re-arrangin’ the lan’scape…(guffaw, guffaw)”

“No, Mr. President, the crisis I’m talking about is the next election. We have to get you through that looking the part of commander-in-chief.”

“Oh, I get your meanin’, Dick. Well, I’m a working on that, real hard. Ain’t even thinkin’ of another month at the ranch. An’ I’m doin’ jus’ what ya said for me to do.

“After dinner, I come back here an’ jus’ sit by the window for a while, wearin’ my glasses, turnin’ pages on one them big reports. Once or twice, Laura comes in with a cup of hot cocoa to keep me goin’, an’ puts her arm on my shoulder jus’ like ya showed us.

“Don dropped by on the way home from the Pentagon t’other night an’ checked me out. He said I looked good, real presidenshul, in the window. He said the T.V. guys’d be eatin’ it up.”

“Wonderful to hear, Mr. President. Remember, nothing but liberal scum is going to vote against a seated president in wartime. I’ll keep the war going here. You just keep sitting.”

“Righto, Dick. Say, how they all feedin’ ya down there?”

“I’ve got to say, Mr. President, the food could be better. It’s freeze-dried rations. A lot of my survivalist friends swear by them and eat nothing but. They’re okay for a couple of days.”

“Dick, y’all want me to have some nice big juicy steaks flown on up from the ranch?”

“No, thank you very much, Mr. President, I’ll stick to what the boys in uniform are having. Good mess-hall photos, sets a fine example. Anyway, they went and sealed the blast-proof doors, and it’s a major operation getting them open again. Nothing gets in or out of here with those damn doors sealed.

“Well, you know, Mr. President, (chuckle, chuckle) it does have its advantages. They can’t exactly serve any subpoenas for Enron, now can they?”

The President enjoys a hearty laugh.

“Tarnation, that’s right, Dick. I almos’ forgot about that shit, sittin’ here by the window an’ all.

“Don’t worry none, ’cause I jus’ keep tellin’ ’em we got ya outta harm’s way with all them damn terrorists flyin’ ‘roun’ the country. An’ I tol’ ’em how all the head guys in them big oil companies never fly on the same plane or even take the same elevator.”

“Now, George, I mean Mr. President, you’re not saying anything off the script, are you? Especially nothing about a certain company?”

“Oh, shucks, no, Dick, I know better’n that.”

“Good, Mr. President, just call Ari to check on any little thing you’re thinking of adding. He can always pass it by Don. Mark my words, Mr. President, sticking to the script’s going to get us through this.”

“Okay, Dick. So what else y’all up to down there, you ol’ rascal?”

“The officers have an underground driving range and putting green, Mr. President, so the golf score won’t suffer too badly.

“We get satellite feed right from the B-52s, so we’re watching the boys give all those damn turban-heads what they deserve. You can freeze the action, do re-plays, or move in for close-ups.”

“Anything else, you ol’ rascal? I know ya can’t stick to serious stuff long.”

“Well, Mr. President, we do have a couple of those special channels, if you know what I mean?”

“Shucks, Dick, I know egzac’ly what y’all mean. An’ ya ain’t got Lynne down there, sniffin’ out your trail.

“Mr. President, just between you and me, that is the part that’s just like a real vacation.”

“I tell ya, Dick, she’s havin’ the time a her life out here, scowlin’ an’ spoutin’ them goddam librarian pamphlets a hers at anyone that says things is less than hunky-dory!”

” ‘Libertarian,’ Mr. President, they’re ‘libertarian pamphlets.’ ”

“Well, still, don’t ya go worrin’ none ’bout what she’s up to. She’s doin’ a hell of a job goin’ after them no-good fifth wheels!”

” ‘Fifth columnists’, Mr. President, I think you mean ‘fifth columnists.’ ”

“Shucks, Dick, I think I gotta go. I jus’ seen the docs pullin’ up out front. I reckon they’re a comin’ to change the bandage.”

“Excellent, Mr. President, that bandage locks-in the sympathy vote. America has already forgotten all about your pretzel caper. Joe Six-pack never thought it was anything unusual anyway. But just the sight of a wounded President in time of war gives us an 80% floor-rating.

“Do you think you could ask them to just put the new one on a little higher up? I noticed it’s not showing up on some of the news shots.”

“Okay, Dick, what ya figure, ’bout half an inch?.”

“That’d be just about right, Mr. President. And try not to spill any more gravy on it. That’s a real turn-off for some of the women.”

“Gotchya, Dick. Be talkin’ to ya soon.”

“Thank you, Mr. President.”

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: AN ANGEL APPEARS AT THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB   Leave a comment

AN ANGEL APPEARS AT THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB

John Chuckman

This morning, an angel – yes, that’s right, an angel – appeared to a gathering of reporters at the National Press Club in Washington. The stunningly beautiful creature with satiny white wings and glowing pink skin announced that it was appearing on behalf of the Creator for a brief, informal press conference.

The Almighty wants people to understand that He is getting mighty tired of being asked ten million times a day to bless America. It is beginning to grate on His nerves. Twenty-four hours a day from truck stops, pool halls, jumbo television screens, and shag-carpeted basement rec-rooms, the noise just never lets up.

The angel said that it was widely recognized that few other people have enjoyed so many blessings – heaps of them, whole mountains and rivers and seas of them – and He has mighty little sympathy with folks who ask for more. The Creator regards it as impertinent to be stuffing your face with whole fried chickens, French fries, biscuits, gravy, and beer while praying for an extra slice of pecan pie.

He wants other people to understand that America has no special standing with Him, despite having received enough material stuff to choke every horse on the planet several times over. Throwing blessings at America was just one of His thousands of experiments with life forms, and it has not been a particularly happy one.

As to taking sides in America’s idiotic wars, Jehovah suspects it’s only because the President is from Texas that he’s so addled on this point. The Eternal One has been mildly diverted once in a while by scantily-clad cheerleaders and armored hominids bowing in prayer before stadiums full of Texans yelling for blood. God does have a sense of humor. But He always credited this lunatic behavior to something in the water – perhaps too much arsenic or runoff of bovine growth hormone – or to eating pork rinds. Now He is concerned that it appears to be national trend.

And that “no special standing” goes double for the Demander in Chief. Talk about a guy who has received more than his share and still asks for more! Without a heavy dose of unearned blessings, this guy would be selling popcorn in a Cineplex.

God never does endorsements. But if He did, He sincerely hopes everyone on the planet recognizes that the Maker and Destroyer of Universes could do a whole lot better than that.

He would like to remind people that Heaven is not a gold-plated trailer park with sequined loud-speakers and fields of tent-meetings. He actually hates country and western music. He is sick of people who claim they’ve found God when all they’ve found is that they’re burnt out at forty. He can’t imagine anyone thinking for a moment that heaven resembles a baton-twirling finale with acres of big hair and mascara and preachers blubbering for quadrillions of years about the Clintons, gays, and the need to send larger donations.

In fact, no one who makes a buck holding tent-meetings or speaking in tongues or selling self-help books and tapes ever gets past the Pearly Gate. St. Peter is under strict orders.

On a more serious note, God was more than a little upset about that name Infinite Justice, suggesting as it did that He would ever confuse vengeance with justice. And He would like it noted that B-52s at thirty-thousand feet versus peasants with muskets is not His idea of a fair fight, much less justice.

God had strongly considered suggesting that this stupid war be ended with just two champions fighting it out – Osama and Dubya, mano a mano.

But with Dubya felled by a pretzel while watching football from his couch, He has decided to postpone the proposal at least until there’s a full recovery.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: INSPIRATION FROM THE TOP   Leave a comment

INSPIRATION FROM THE TOP
Observations on the President Addressing the Nation in the War against Terror

John Chuckman

Millions of Americans settle into their couches with bowls of popcorn, bags of potato chips, and diet cola. They enjoy the color pictures on the evening news report of bombs exploding in Afghanistan. Pictures of explosions are always popular in America, no matter what their meaning or origin.

True, news pictures are less impressive than Hollywood special effects, and you generally don’t get to see any blood or bodies – that would be unsuitable for a family show – but these pictures have their own thrilling quality, much like those grainy pictures of violent arrests or sting operations photographed with pin-hole cameras that are so popular. They offer the satisfaction of peeping into the face of horror, into the anguish of others from the complete safety of your living room.

The television pictures do bring a satisfying sense of justice being done, of having witnessed America’s retribution on the godless, or at least on those unlucky enough to have embraced the wrong god. Satisfaction lingers into the evening while families munch their way through the next couple of hours before the big event: The president is going to address the nation.

“Boy, he’ll tell us what we need to know!” flashes through minds as the scene from the Oval Office suddenly snaps on. An objective observer, perhaps a de Tocqueville-like visitor from another planet, might wonder at such thoughts, for here is a provincial politician, a flop at business but with impeccable contacts, who bragged about never reading the international section of the newspaper just before his election to national office. But an objective observer might not be aware that except for enjoying explosions on the evening news, most Americans share the president’s level of interest when it comes to foreign affairs.

The boyish-faced president, his hair suitably graying enough to suggest the heavy burden of office, with a perfectly-knotted, thick silk tie and an obviously expensive suit whose shoulders look a little over-padded, seems just slightly uncomfortable at his desk, like a home-town actor playing his first big role in the amateur-theater group, but it is a look generally interpreted as humility or decency rather than ineptitude or fear.

If he were a better actor, a few gulps to tug at his Adam’s apple and a suggestive bit of moisture at the corners of his eyes might evoke images of Jimmy Stewart speaking on behalf of the little man. But Jimmy Stewart through the lens of Frank Capra is as outdated in America as the stirring tones of Franklin Roosevelt re-assuring people with ideas like fear itself being the only fear they need have. And, as for the little man, well, that’s just not a topic of discussion any more, suggesting, as it does, the existence of class in America.

Heavens! America long ago abolished class by declaring everyone a consumer. No bleeding-heart garbage about class and society, no boring stuff about citizenship and responsibilities – just a nation of open mouths with differing abilities to fill them. Inspiring.

Indeed, ideas themselves are pretty much outdated in a place totally immersed in the shallow fantasies of advertising, self-help books, television series, and vacations in Disneyland – the only exceptions being ideas about how to make lots of money.

And besides, this president is a man who actually works for the likes of Claude Rains’ and Raymond Massey’s most memorably villainous characters. Nothing he says, nothing he does, is not first carefully scrutinized and sniffed by teams of mole-like eyes and noses. He went through a few hundred million dollars of their money getting elected, and he’s not about to let them down now.

As always, he is surrounded by flags, beautifully-sewn flags, as thickly textured and elegantly draped as the president’s custom-made clothes, undoubtedly provided fresh from a supportive manufacturer hoping to receive the much-coveted White House letter on elegant stationery suitable for framing and showroom display. In fact, it is known that this president goes nowhere without two fresh, four-hundred square foot flags, one just for backup. Rumor has it that the labels, “Made in China,” are carefully snipped before shipment.

The excessive use of flags and patriotic slogans has always been suggestive of the tyrant’s temperament, even when soft words are used (after all, Hitler, who never went anywhere without scores of monster flags, made one of the most effective speeches about peace ever heard). But this man could not possibly be confused with a tyrant. First off, he’s just too gawky and ordinary.

Yes, there is an underlying sense of meanness that pokes through his words, here or there, like elbows protruding from the frayed fabric of a comfortable jacket, especially when he talks about death-row inmates or terrorists dying. His harsh, almost adolescent sense of humor, displayed on a number of occasions during the campaign, betrays something fairly mean in his make-up. Maybe, Mama Bush wasn’t all that warm and loving after all.

But for the most part, the look and sound are what Americans like to call family: it’s kind of a code word for a set of qualities that might be summed as three-car-garage Christian.

There is something in his character much like the hamburger oases that dot the American landscape, so beloved by suburban families on shopping safaris in air-conditioned Jeeps – safe-and-cheerful way stations replicated beyond counting across a continent, offering the assurance today in Wichita of exactly what you had last year in Greensboro. Of course, these are the very qualities for which he had his pockets stuffed with cash to play leader of a party actually run by people whose faces won’t bear much direct exposure without revealing the hard lines and ugly attitudes of lives spent in predatory behavior.

And when you have nothing to say, flags help a lot. It is almost impossible for any crowd to boo when flags are present in a country whose Congress has passed an anti-flag-burning amendment to the Constitution 437 times. Only the ponderously slow, complex, and costly provisions of an 18th century constitution have prevented this glorious measure from taking its rightful place with freedom of speech.

This president is Disney’s version of Fred McMurray giving calm, fatherly advice about joining Neighborhood Watch or coaching Little League as a helpful public response to terrorists crashing airliners into skyscrapers.

This is Fred McMurray without the cigarettes and booze of his early film-noir career. There is an aura in his tone and looks of redemption, of having moved on from drunken midnight pranks and naked table-dancing to bowing in prayer and dispensing the Lord’s justice as Governor of Texas. Some might say his manner of dispensing justice in Texas, or in Afghanistan for that matter, reflects the self-hatred characteristic of alcoholic personalities.

And redemption is a favorite with Americans who just never tire of the tales of country-and-western singers who hit bottom and live to strum and strut with a wireless mike once again. Only celebrity beats redemption in the admiration of America. And anyone, anyone, who gets to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to put his benignly smiling face on television, no matter how wooly and slurred his words, no matter how banal his thoughts, no matter how unexceptional his achievements, is a celebrity in America.

For some sentences the president manages to keep a carefully-coached cadence, but too often his words take on the urgency of a nervous teen-ager trying to speed through a recitation without missing a line. You almost expect to hear him to say, “Whew, Miss Jones, I did it!” at the end of tough passages. He arouses the same kind of anxiety you feel about watching a kid wobble down the street on a bicycle for the first time – eliciting the indulgence of viewers brought up on The Little Engine That Could and winning the same kind of unearned praise that a cute child receives for a charmingly bad performance in a school pageant.

It is very important for politicians in class-less America, even when they come from wealthy, privileged families and hold offices in which they serve almost exclusively the interests of other wealthy, privileged families, to assume a tone of ordinariness, with no high-falutin’ airs. And this president excels at doing so. He is the best since Richard Nixon talking about his wife’s cloth coat.

His accent is a disconcerting blend of slightly ineffectual, preppy kid who never did his own homework and the corn-husk intonations of the land of armadillos, rattlesnakes, stolen elections, and Confederate battle flags on pick-up trucks – a place that has blessed the country with a vastly-disproportionate share of its more lunatic politicians.

And tent-preachers – yes, there is the unmistakable cadence, however subdued for a national audience, of innumerable, heads-bowed invitations under the sweltery fabric of tents filled with damp white shirts stuck to the backs of folding chairs and mosquitoes droning between the notes of electric organs.

It is difficult to reconcile this man in this office with the Founding Fathers’ vision of the nation. What an immense distance for a people to have traveled in just two centuries under the influence of a feverish consumerism, of a selfish, grasping, child-centered culture in which the children are the adults, of entitlements with no sense of responsibility or citizenship, of unspoken imperialistic attitudes that color all foreign policy under the guise of freedom, and of the influence of a section of the country that supposedly lost the Civil War but now dominates the nation’s political culture and imbues it with stagnant, backwater values.