The G.W. Bush introductory montage was narrated by Fred Thompson, reminding me of Waylon Jennings’ narration on The Dukes of Hazzard. This led me to the realization that Bush sort of looks and acts like Rasco P. Coltrane. It’d be fitting at this stage for Republicans to change their symbol from elephant to Boss Hog, an emblem of down-home corruption and disregard for the law wrapped in its enforcement.
“I’m back, ladies,” George Bush might as well have said. His speech was designed to soft-pedal his ideological psychosis, recycle “compassionate conservatism,” and excoriate what was his speechwriter’s best turn, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Bush has never done partisan machete work, leaving it instead to Party underlings who can be jettisoned and disavowed if their knifing makes the polls drop too low. This speech was no exception, with swipes at Kerry delivered with a phony heavy heart and the by-gosh tenor of a barstool jibe.
Predictably, he framed his next four years in crude terms that omitted the consequences, a pattern he repeats for everything from student testing to Iraq. “Simplifying the tax code” means finding more ways to provide relief for millionaires who stock the G.O.P.‘s troughs with cash. “Restraining federal regulation” means allowing corporations to dump pollutants into your water and air at whim, or simply pick their businesses up and transfer to other countries where children toil for 15 hours a day without health care for pocket change. Don’t worry. The Bush Administration will provide you with training to make up for your lost job: you can go into Ferris wheel repair, deep fryer maintenance, and squeegee handling. When George Bush said he will curtail federal spending, he neglected to mention that this will most assuredly come at the expense of social programs that Republicans have always loathed and sought to dismantle.
This is also the intent of every one of his reforms, all hinging on tax cuts, tax-free health savings accounts, and tax “incentives.” Conservatives’ long-term goal is to reduce government via intentional bankrupting. If you think deficits are bad now, imagine what they’ll be when G.W.‘s done with his carpet bombing of the federal budget.
Speaking of warfare, the President came at last to the heart of this acceptance speech: his defense of the Iraq invasion. Despite everything we knew then and now, Iraq was a “gathering threat,” though absolutely no one at any time has explained how it threatened the U.S. Worse, he linked U.S. presence in Iraq with Afghanistan, his furrowed brow reminding us that he didn’t want to wait until we were attacked again. Perhaps we’re supposed to pretend we don’t know that Bush began war plans for Iraq prior to September 11th, or that CIA analysts vigorously disagreed about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Bush repeatedly offers rationales like parade candy and no one pays much attention to the untruths.
Bush wants voters drunk on righteous vengeance, so that every U.S. action seems anointed and every disagreement with the Administration the murmuring of the damned. He paints himself as the Johnny Appleseed of Liberty, planting wars that will grow into “democracies,” even if some local gardeners—Saudi Arabia and Pakistan—are themselves bastions of hideous oppression. Of course, Bush carefully elided the reality that the U.S. has returned Afghanistan to government by warlord and left Iraqis with a decimated infrastructure and no jobs, not to mention internecine violence.
Like most true believers, he prefers to think about a sumptuous future rather than the present’s grisly slaughterhouse. “Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom.” Such bad poetry was an attempt to inflate Bush beyond his smallish stature, to make him look like a man taming the mechanical bull of history, like Nietzsche’s Superman dressed up like Tim Allen’s Everyman. Bush ended his speech by alluding to Ecclesiastes, reframing his actions as somehow attuned to ancient Biblical rhythms of right thinking. He’s correct that our choices are frequently a matter of recognizing the truth and responding accordingly. Which is why, after four days of the Republican National Convention, I recognized that it was a time to live, laugh, love, and bounce President Bush out on his ass by voting for John Kerry.