Bernard Weiner: Bush Rehearses For Debate
Bush Rehearses for Debate:
By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers
Nobody knows how the young girl, wearing a Victorian dress, mysteriously got backstage at George W. Bush's practice session for the first presidential debate. Perhaps she's the one who planted the bottles of Evian water, the ones with "EM KNIRD" written in reverse letters at the bottom.
In any event, Bush and his assistants -- those playing moderator Jim Lehrer and the journalists who would pose the questions -- apparently all drank from the bottles, and behaved most irregularly. Here is a transcript of that Wonderland-like session, which we found in our mailbox the next day, with a note signed "Alice."
Rove: OK, let's get the show on the road. Don't know about you, but I'm feeling a bit...peculiar. One minute, I feel like I'm an unconquerable giant, and then shortly after that, I feel beaten down like I'm tiny. Sort of like running a campaign. But, whatever, it's pleasant. Mr. President, are you ready to go?
Bush: Let's do it. I'm feeling a bit strange myself -- but in a fun, exciting way. Can't wait to hear what "John Kerry" is going to say. Actually, I can't wait to hear what I'm going to say.
Rove: We're mainly going to be working on your answers, Mr. President. Somebody will stand in for Kerry, and just blah-blah when it's his turn. Blah-blah -- that's good, sort of what he sounds like when he's speechifying all the time. Borrr-iing! So French, you know? But you'll do great, Mr. Prez. We'll throw questions at you, so you can get used to responding quickly. Just let 'er rip and enjoy; we'll tape the rehearsal and use it as a guide later. Break an arm, kid!
"Lehrer": I'm just going to have some fun with this, Karl. Feeling' good.
Good evening. Welcome to the Presidential Debates. I am Jim Lehrer, and I'll be your moderator. This evening, the two major candidates will face off for the first time. Tonight's topic is foreign policy. You may wonder why other legitimate candidates are not present. The answer is simple: Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry said they would not appear if other candidates were invited. And, since the Commission on Presidential Debates is run by the two major parties, that's just the way it is. Negotiators for the Democrats and Republicans approved the format for the debates, and chose the journalists who will ask the puffball questions the candidates have prepared for.
Before we get to those questions, each candidate will give an opening statement. By a flip of the coin -- or was it a flop?, sorry I couldn't resist -- Mr. Bush will go first.
Bush: Whooo-eeeeee! Thank you, TexasMan -- I mean, Mr. Lehrer. Are you Jewish, by the way? The name, I mean, kinda makes you wonder. Anyhoo, glad to be here to try to defend myself from all the harsh things -- many of them containing nuggets of truth, by the way -- said by my opponent here over the past several months.
Johnboy seems to think I'm incompetent and probably stupid. Cop some to the first, but not the last one: I may be dumb as a woodpost, but I didn't get to be President by being stupid. I got here by hard work, street smarts, familial connections, some really effective dirty tricks, and a firm belief in the American people. I know the American people -- I'm an American-type person myself -- and I know how eager they are to hear anything that makes them feel good inside, even if they know deep down it's just political bullbleep. Can I say "bleep" on the air, Jim?
They know, for example, that Iraq is one big stinkin' pile of manure. I guess if I can say "bleep," I can use the M-word, right? We got ourselves caught in a huge rathole over there in Iraq, and I haven't the foggiest idea how to get us out before we've accomplished our mission there, which is real complicated, involving oil and military bases and changing the geopolitics of the Middle East and stuff like that. But none of that matters: All I have to do is to say how "we'll stay the course" and "America doesn't cut and run" and slogans like that, and our citizens, totally wanting to forget that 54,000 of our boys died in Vietnam, just nod and say they like me, 'cause I am "decisive" and "strong" and "speak my mind" and other silly things like that.
So, my fellow Americans, I continue to say tonight that, yes, our Administration made a big mess in Iraq -- getting our soldiers killed daily by rushing into war without many willing allies to do the job and without a plan for what happened after our quick invasion victory and without an exit strategy and without the proper equipment -- but Johnboy here doesn't have a way out either. So stick with them that brought you to the dance. That's me. I know what I'm doing -- making sure you're scared as hell about those terrorists comin' over here to kill your children -- and I'll keep doin' it, until the next election, when Jeb or that musclebound guy from California -- whose name I won't say because every time I try, it sounds like I've said the N-word -- take over.
I see the orange light comin' on, so I'll just close by saying vote for me. I know what I'm doing, what God wants me to do -- or at least what I think God might want me to do, I haven't got a clue what God really believes -- and I will continue to be a strong leader. Well, OK, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney will be strong leaders, and I'll be like the king who makes appearances to make people feel good. Whoops! Red light now. Whoooo, a Tom Ridge moment. Anyway, talk to you later, after Johnboy gives his little speecherooni.
SENATOR KERRY'S TURN
"Lehrer": Thank you, Mr. Bush. That certainly was a lively, little romp. Mr. Kerry, you're on.
"Kerry": Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Bush...Iraq...disaster...phony intelligence...no WMD...bumbler...catastrophe...lies...no Osama connection...torture...rosy picture....Vietnam....blah, blah, blah....way over his head...blah, blah, blah.
"Lehrer": You can respond to Senator Kerry's remarks, if you wish, Mr. Bush.
Bush: I resent the implication that my head is way over in this job. And, OK, maybe I didn't go to Vietnam, but I did serve in Iraq: a painted turkey to the troops on Thanksgiving; great photo op. And, even though things are not what we'd like in that country -- well, OK, we're barely able to hold it together -- the elections are coming and I think democracy will win out. I mean, over there. Finally, let me remind everyone that Johnboy voted for the war, so he's to blame too.
"Lehrer": Mr. Kerry? A response?
"Kerry": Blah, blah, blah, blah. Phony intelligence...lies...authorization...final resort...first resort...body armor...cuts family benefits...no postwar plan...Fallujah...flip-flop...commander-in-chief...blah, blah, blah.
"Lehrer": Mr. Bush, I think Senator Kerry just accused you of flip-flopping. How's that for turning the tables? Your response, sir?
Bush: I have never flipped a flop in my life. I am resolute. I am decisive. I make a decision and stick to it. And I've never flopped a flip, either. I love saying that.
You, Monsieur Kerry, are notorious for flip-flopping, constantly changing your mind. It's almost like you're windsurfing, first you go that way and then you go the other way. The American people deserve to know where you stand -- or rather where you fall in the water since you're moving around so much on your board. You like that one, Karl? And the flipping-flopping one? Those were good, right?
Rove: Mr. President, they were dandy. But let's stay on track here. We're pretending here that this is for real. Why am I laughing, then?
Bush: Got ya. OK, feed me another question. Which reminds me: I'm getting the munchies. Can someone send out for some ribs and chips and a Dos XX? Ha, ha, fellas.
"Lehrer": Let's go to one of our tame little journalists. Who's got the first question?
"Journalist#1": That's me, boss. Here comes the inevitable question. Mr. President, your opponent and his surrogates allege that you did not fulfill your National Guard commitment during the Vietnam era, when you were supposed to be in Alabama. How do you respond to that charge?
Bush: I am proud to have served in the National Guard, wherever I was. I received an honorable discharge -- I also had a not-so-pleasant discharge that I had to have a doctor look at, but that's another matter -- which takes care of that unpatriotic question. You can't be discharged honorably from the armed farces -- did I really just say that? -- I mean armed forces unless you fulfilled all your duties. I got, or somebody got for me, my honorable discharge. End of story. Those who say otherwise can't prove anything. If there were any incriminating documents, they disappeared years ago.
"Journalist#1": A followup on that. What about your not taking the flight physical, which you were ordered to do on base with the military doctor, and then being dropped from flying? Sorry, sir, but you've got to deal with this one, as it may well come up during the debates.
Bush: I understand...I was rushing around like crazy at that time, and thought my own doctor could do it or maybe I'd take the physical somewhere else, in Alabama, where I wouldn't have to run the whole battery of tests, if you get my drift. I did take a partial exam in Alabama. Of course, it was just of my teeth, but it shows my good-faith attempt. As for why I stopped flying, I was little more than a student then, and the air fares were way too high. But, seriously, folks, I received an honorable discharge, which answers that.
"Kerry": I'd like to respond. Blah, blah, blah, blah. Coward...Vietnam...swiftboat...my medals...Texas Guard...doesn't make sense...Alabama AWOL...blah, blah, blah...didn't answer question.....blah, blah, blah.
ANY MISTAKES MADE?
"Journalist#2": I guess I'm next up. Mr. President, more than 1000 American young men and women have died in Iraq, with estimates of U.S. soldiers injured running from 4000 to 17,000; you've constantly changed the rationale for why you felt it necessary to invade. Do you feel you've made any mistakes in the way you've conducted the war?
Bush: Everything went so swimmingly, we didn't expect victory to be so easy. So we slightly miscalculated in the post-war phase. Yes, there are just a few wascally wabbits out there fighting us, but we'll soon wipe them out, and establish Iraq as a shining beacon for liberty and democracy. That's my story and I'm sticking to it, at least through November 2.
"Kerry": Blah, blah, blah, blah...Mission Accomplished...mortar attacks...roadside explosions...RPGs...no body armor...blah, blah, blah, blah...oil pipelines...no electricity...disaster...$200 billion...Halliburton...blah, blah, blah, blah.
"Journalist#3:" I guess it's my turn. Mr. President, Secretary Rumsfeld said the Iraq election would be legal if not every registered citizen voted, that some parts of the country were simply too risky to hold elections in. Do you believe the Iraqi people will accept the results of such a partial election as a legitimate form of democracy?
Bush: Why wouldn't they? We do it here, don't we? But seriously, folks: Look, the only election I really care about is the one on November 2. If the Iraqi election isn't held in January, or only partially held, that's a problem for another day. All I need to do now is to contantly assert that there really is going to be an election in Iraq soon, shortly after ours, and that things are moving quickly in the direction of democracy. The American voters want to believe what I'm saying and they'll be happy. What happens after I win will be handled appropriately. Or not. But there won't be anything they can do about it then. Na nee, na nee!
"Kerry": Blah, blah, blah, blah...Allawi...rosy picture...sucking up...leave out Sunnis...civil war...corruption...Vietnam governments....blah, blah, blah, blah.
"Journalist#1": Mr. President, White House and Justice attorneys have authored memorandums that give you authority as Commander in Chief to do anything you want in the name of national security during wartime, including torture of prisoners -- and would declare a partial election in the United States legal as well. Did you know of these memoranda and do you think the Supreme Court will OK this rather broad interpretation of presidential power?
Bush: Of course the Court will approve the action we took. It's wartime in terror land. And, anyway, it looks like I'll be appointing at least two or three new justices in the next several years. They better agree to approve those memos or I won't nominate them.
I'm gonna name me a conservative black Jewish woman to that court -- let Teddy deal with that one! Goodbye, Roe! Oh, it's going to be such fun to watch the liberals squirm when I start making those appointments. We'll play it the usual way, won't we, Karl? We'll nominate some terrible extremist bigots, the liberals will object loudly, and then we'll name someone a little less objectionable and they'll sigh and ratify those. I love that game!
"Lehrer": One final question on foreign policy, Mr. President.
"Journalist#2": Your opponent and his followers have said that if you win another term, you'll re-institute the military draft, given that there may have to be other wars fought. If there are such war plans in the works, will it be necessary to re-start the draft?
Bush: You got a better idea? We've got to get the bodies from somewhere. Lots aren't re-upping, you know, or are going AWOL -- whoops, better stay away from that word -- or are not signing up for the National Guard. Whoops! Besides the draft is more fairer all the way around. Everybody gets a chance to die and kill equally.
Rove: That's a great start, Mr. President. Don't understand why, but I was giggling the whole time. That's probably enough for tonight. We'll...uh..."refine" your serious answers for the next rehearsal. That's a wrap, everyone. See you jokers tomorrow. Anybody want to go out for some pizza? Hey, someone order more of that Evian water for the Green Room!
Satirist Bernard Weiner was the San Francisco Chronicle's theatre critic for 16 years; a Ph.D. in government, he has taught at various universities, is co-editor of The Crisis Papers ( www.crisispapers.org), and is a contributing author to the recently-released "Big Bush Lies" book.