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Niche Marketing The President

Niche Marketing The President

By Bill Grigsby - Assistant Professor of Sociology, Eastern Oregon University

Things aren’t going well for the White House lately. The economy’s lost 2.5 million jobs. Unemployment at a 10-year high. The budget deficit passed $400 billion without breaking a sweat. What were Saddam’s weapons o’ mass destruction a few months ago look more like phantom weapons of misdirection today. Seventy soldiers have died since the president declared victory on May 1—half as many as died before May 1. There is whispering on the streets, in the Capitol, on the Internet, in the editorial pages. When should we start using the ‘Q’ word? Of course, the White House insists this is no quagmire, that everything is going as planned (a scary notion), and has urgently discovered virtue in patience. This same White House that already announced the nomination ceremony for the 2004 election would take place in New York City, on September 11, accuses its critics of politicizing the Iraq fiasco.

This is getting serious—it might even affect approval ratings. Campaign fundraising plans. Future tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (but I repeat myself … ). The front page, which has been so kind to BushCo in the last year and a half, could in a confused state suddenly turn on the President. At least until he can toss out a few FCC-approved bones. But as more civilians and soldiers are killed, the White House is having difficulty whacking all the Qs as they pop up. How will they spin it? They could admit some uncertainty. ‘We need to re-evaluate our strategy.’ Or ‘we’ve made some mistakes, one of which was telling the rest of the world to screw itself.’ Or ‘we should fully investigate the use of pre-war intelligence data, because the public’s got to know if their president’s a – ooops! Wrong president. I meant ‘because the public deserves to know that its elected officials are acting in its best interests.’

  But they won’t say those things. And admit blame in front of those naysayers who predicted the U.S. campaign would stall after the military operations? They seem tragically prophetic now, but rest assured the White House is working round the clock to spin their dire predictions into a self-fulfilling prophecy, blaming its critics for not getting behind ‘the government’ (i.e., the White House). We know how the White House likes to stress accountability.  Here’s what Ari Fleischer said last week:

  ‘I think that the burden, again, falls on the people who are criticizing the President here, for them to explain how and when Saddam Hussein destroyed it (WMD). Or perhaps they believe he never had it in the first place.’

A major problem is that after strong-arming half the world’s governments to invade Iraq, the White House won’t walk away, won’t even vacillate. Acknowledging they’ve lost control of the situation would make the Bush Administration look incompetent, confirming the suspicions of many. And beware the wimp factor that hounded George Sr. We certainly wouldn’t want our President looking wimpish with an election less than a year and a half away. Karl Rove and Karen Hughes worked hard to cultivate that media-ready Texas cowboy look. Besides, there are higher reasons than avoiding the wimp moniker for miring ourselves deeper into Iraq: the perpetuation of the myth that republicans are more trustworthy in affairs of war and security. 

So this last week the White House response began to emerge. Misdirection was the main tactic—blame Saddam’s loyal forces who are still resisting. How much is producing a bogeyman worth to the White House? Try $25 million. Now I know what you’re thinking (besides how generous U.S. taxpayers are)—the White House has been bullshitting its way through this for months, if not years, was caught red-handed manipulating the intelligence findings to support its agenda, and now we’re supposed to trust these people that 1) Saddam Hussein is alive and well; 2) he is somehow orchestrating the resistance, despite the fact we’re spending $100 million a day (excluding reconstruction contracts to Corporate Friends of the White House) to support 150,000 plus troops on the ground, and; 3) his capture will unleash a wave of gratitude not seen since that dramatic statue-toppling scene in Baghdad. Not to mention a wave of news stories diverting attention from a multi-front policy meltdown, held up by Daliesque crutches. I’m sure that if Saddam is found, the president will offer to pay the funds from his re-election campaign. It wouldn’t take more than a few days of $2,000-a-plate dinners with regular Americans to raise that kind of money, and it’s not entirely clear at this point whether producing Saddam does anything but increase donations to the Committee to Re-elect BushCo anyway.

Then later in the week, the President’s handlers momentarily dropped their guard, and another colorful quote emerged. What did he say about Iraqi resistance? ‘My answer is bring ‘em on.’ ‘Bring ‘em on?’ soldiers and their families were heard asking. In the press we’ve seen a few apologists rationalize his adolescent taunt on the world stage. He’s not inciting the Iraqis to attack U.S. troops, ‘He’s expressing confidence in the U.S. military,’ or ‘he got a little carried away,’ or ‘that’s his shoot from the hip straight-talkin’ style.’ Some democrats equated the comment with trash talking gang members (with which I’m sure they’re intimately familiar). That leaves out the teenage factor, though. Perhaps it’s a carefully crafted campaign strategy to appeal to those white males who will be voting age by early November 2004. Or maybe some subtle product placement for the new Terminator movie. But what to do for an encore? Start a street brawl in Old Europe?

Yet with all the explanations and condemnations of his behavior, one was rare: That ‘bring ‘em on’ was a brief glimpse of the real George W. Bush talking, without a script, without the practiced podium poses (Others have pushed this logic further). That was the inner teenager talking. Before the 20 lost years. Our president, leader of the free world, giving an entire culture a high school taunt, either because the White House polls say it plays well in the red states, or because our president spent his formative work years—which most of us took advantage of to learn about life, love, work, humility, compassion, civility, hardship, and yes, intoxicants—getting bailed out of one misadventure after another—the DUI, the miraculous draft deferral, AWOL from the air national guard, cocaine and alcohol addiction, failed businesses, unloading his stock at Harken Oil, etc. While he wasn’t studying geopolitics or welfare policy, or apparently preparing for a life of public service, he did manage to emerge largely unsullied from various quagmires, any one of which could have pulled down a man of lesser privilege.

As for why his latest appalling quote isn’t news in the U.S., the corporate news media have reached the point where they can’t even collectively recognize Bush’s immaturity, much less report it as news. In the aggregate they work against perspective-seeking. To paraphrase writer Ben Hecht, ‘Trying to determine what is going on in the world by watching the news is like trying to tell time by watching the second hand of a clock.’ Corporate news media serve shareholders, not the public. They produce commodities, and can’t make a decent living pandering to the intellectual snobs, who expect something more than bring ‘em on from the leader o’ the free world. There’s apparently more money in ranting against them.

It’s not hard to figure out why the president gives no prime time news conferences, controlled even as those are. Yet in their absence how do we know which represents the real George Bush—the unscripted comments or his apologists’ excuses for them? What if he got in front of the press corps, during prime time, say an hour per month, and fielded reporters’ questions (they could all wear identical grey coveralls if it would make him feel better, even Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity masks) from a wide variety of media outlets on a rotating basis, and had to answer them before moving on? BushCo Unplugged.

What do you say, Mr. President? Bring ‘em on?

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