Tuesday, November 02, 2004

What's at stake?

There is much concern over the strange behavior of our president,
and many theories to account for it. The British are quite eloquent on
the subject.  Has
Bush lost his reason?
, asks Andrew Stephen of The Guardian, aghast
at the three faces of Bush on display during the election debates:

The spoiled brat of the first debate: slouching, peevish, pouting,
pursing his lips with disdain at what his opponent was saying… unable to
marshal any coherent arguments

The wildman of the second, threatening at one point to savage even the
clinically inoffensive moderator Charles Gibson: Bush could not stay
on his stool and leapt up to dispense what were - certainly in contrast
to Kerry's cogent recital of statistics and arguments - frequently defensive,
shouting rants.

The jack-o-lantern of Oct 13:  This time, he was peculiarly
flushed, leading a colleague to speculate whether he was on something.
He had clearly been told to look positive… and spent the evening with a
creepy, inane grin on his face.

That odd grin alarmed one physician so much she was unable to attend
to even his feeble, obvious and repeated slogans.  She wrote
to express concern that his down-turned left lip might indicate he’d had
a stroke.  (My own pet theory is that they botoxed his famous “smirk”,
the one that earned him his nickname
“the lip” at Yale

Others suggest progressive brain damage from alcohol or other neurological
impairment.  They hold up his (admittedly spotty) public record as
evidence of a recent decline (Vanity Fair, "The Teetotal Effect",

The PBS Frontline special Decision
, a 2-hour look at the careers of Bush and Kerry provides a good
glimpse of the devolving W.  Clips from his father’s campaigns are
literally cheerleading (“U.S.A. Bush! Bush! Bush!”).  There’s a clip
after W’s first, lost congressional campaign which is strangely reminiscent
of Oswald (the light? camera angle? the slightly deferential interview

There are a few moments from W’s debates with incumbent governor Ann
Richardson.  These are often held up as a lost “Golden Age” of Bush
eloquence.  He’s never especially grammatical, or truthful for that
matter (“crime is more young”), but overall you see him halfway between
George H.W., his father’s transplanted patrician prairie-speak, and the
“Full W.” that we’ve come to know and love.  Over time W. gets progressively
twangier, more fragmented, less polished/posh.

I don’t know that this peculiar manner of speaking can be ascribed to
neurological damage.  I think it is partly deliberate. If you want
to hear the authentic Texas cowboy
that W. is trying to adopt, listen to the fabulous Documentography
series, photos and sound from the real residents of Crawford. Authenticity
can be gauged by the fact that W is probably the only West Texan who does
not ride (now that Oswald’s dead). Note that the real Texan is not taken
in for a moment by W’s prancing pretensions “We’re acting like the bully
on the block,” he says.  Compared to the genuine article, an accent
rich and tangy as good barbecue, W’s attempt is thin and flavorless as

I think W.’s strange speech and manner is partly situational. It doesn’t
help that, at his loyalty-tested campaign appearances and in his rare addresses
to the nation, he is usually shown reading.  He is not a good reader,
he’s not fluent.

I actually saw him welcoming the Clintons to the White House for some
occasion and he was perfectly suave, cordial and well-spoken. It was a
rare glimpse of him in his element.  When he puts on his shirtsleeve
campaign costume he tries to be like us, Joe Lawnboy, but his native dress
is a meticulously tailored power suit.  Power is his suit, his birthright,
the only home he knows.

I think the best explanation is something I heard Harry Shearer tell
Tucker Carlson about television.  The longer you are on TV, Shearer
said, the more feedback pressure you get.  People tell you, “That
was great, do more of it”, or “That didn’t work at all.” You become a caricature
of yourself over time.

Under the infinitely hotter glare of the presidency, W. has been shaped
and molded. His handlers are the only people he deals with. As Maureen
Dowd says, all presidents are in a bubble, this one’s in a thermos. 
Although his base doesn’t believe in evolution, the theory is relevant
here.  Severe isolation can result in insular dwarfism, in which creatures
evolve into smaller versions of themselves, like the extremely
small humanoids
just discovered in Indonesia.  W:  the incredible
shrinking president.

So, stroke victim, dry drunk, swaggering imitator, or media mutation
FrankenBush, the question now, fellow citizens, is are we really going
to elect a man so obviously unfit to govern?


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