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December 04, 2003

Turkeys Can't Fly

President Bush's turkey run is another one of his handlers' manufactured episodes that's troubling more in principle than in fact. On the face of it, he did a nice, even arguably brave thing, and anyway he did no harm, so criticizing it seems petty, paranoid, and, in any event, futile.

What matters is whether it passes the smell test with Bob and Peggy Armchair, and they're mostly unaffected by the gasps and pursed lips of political opponents or editorial-page commentators (or bloggers). If they do take note of his critics, they may see any fuss as sour grapes over a point scored, or be nudged into sympathizing with Bush by their general distaste for conflict. People who get misty at such theatrics will never believe the theatrics are insincere--or, more importantly, irrelevant--because then they'd have to believe that they're chumps, and it's the murky fear that they may be chumps that makes them resent and distrust the complaining "elite" politicians and commentators who seem always to be threatening to brand them as such. Not that I just did, but if I did, it's only because I'd hate to subject them to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Anyway, that's a digression from a more complete theory on How America Lost Its Way. Sitting in my own armchair, I have gradually tried to suss out what's truly troubling about last week's stunt. As was no doubt part of the Bush team's calculations, like most of America I missed first-hand reports because I was in the blackout conditions of holiday ritual. I overheard a news item and thought I must have heard wrong--a secret trip to Baghdad? The president?! Believing that everyone's digestion of the episode has been similarly out-of-time contributes to a general impression of intentional misdirection. That Bush held up a decorative turkey is more a symbol of the affair's disingenuousness than specific evidence of it. As for the supposed British Airways communication thing, I have no idea whether something/nothing did/did not happen there. Was some wag from the White House communications office just trying to drop a humorous, Disney-esque double-take into their little caper? "Did I just see Santa's sleigh?"

But these things add up, from the canard about Clinton staffers trashing the West Wing to who put up the "Mission Accomplished" banner (and to what "mission" it referred) to where Saddam and his weapons and his al Qaeda connections are. Sometimes it's reasonable (and disposable) political gamesmanship, sometimes it's destructive national policy, but always it is of a piece, consistently reflecting this administration's ideology and methodology.

In this case, the twain (trivial politics and grave policy) seem to meet. I suppose you could say it made some soldiers feel good, indirectly supporting a (now-) critical initiative that is clearly on shaky legs. But come on. They're soldiers, and adults. Surely some of them only felt used by Bush's prop department. At best this offered an extremely modest boost for our mission in Iraq, yet so delicate a political football are our servicemen and -women that it is taboo to accuse a leader of utilizing them: it is tantamount to questioning his or her patriotism. Which allows anyone shameless enough (or naive enough to believe they're not doing it) to do so with impunity. But whether or not you believe that's what Bush did, it's merely despicable strategy in the trivial game of politics.

In the realm of governmental gravity, I believe it's much more serious. On Thanksgiving morning, the media was informed, and you and I heard, that the president was spending the day in Crawford, and would be making a few calls to troops in foreign stations. That was misinformation: a lie. He wasn't, and many people knew he wasn't--people who serve the country, and people who serve the press, whose job it is to tell the country the truth. The President of the United States was to undertake a planned, secret mission into insecure territory, with a hand-picked corps of complicit "journalists," to stride and pose before some soldiers.

Every citizen will decide for him- or herself whether it was an OK thing to do. I've decided it was a dishonest, potentially dangerous or even catastrophic stunt, undertaken solely for the president's individual political gain; an irresponsible utilization of the military, the presidency, and the press, disguised as a warm morale-booster. None dare call it treachery now, but it sets a disturbing precedent. Having pulled this off, what charade will the White House and its press-corps lackeys perpetrate upon us next?

Posted by pk at December 4, 2003 10:46 AM


[yawning] schyeah what-ever.

Posted by: Bob Armchair at December 8, 2003 11:49 AM

Basically agree with your analysis, but think it's mostly more-of-the-same of what we've seen from Bush, and as decisions go, it's more disconcerting than disastrous.

Since Bush has now admitted to having cried wolf, all future announcements of Bush's whereabouts and doings will be publicly taken with a very large grain of salt.

Posted by: Kevin Andrew Murphy at December 12, 2003 01:25 PM