Saturday, January 08, 2005


This Fine Man, This Weak Leader, This Affable Dimbulb

We learned yesterday that the Bush administration paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer's money to buy a journalist. The Education Department paid "conservative commentator" Armstrong Williams $240,000 to back the Bush administration's agendas in print and on TV while posing as an independent journalist. This is no real surprise to traditional Americans, who are losing their capacity to be shocked, even though it's the kind of immoral villainy that might have brought down entire administrations if it had happened in the past. If nothing else, Bush has greatly furthered the transition of America to what I call "SSA"--Soviet Style Americanism--perhaps most prominently in its remorseless, conscienceless utilization of all kinds of propaganda.

This makes me think back to what happened after Ronald Reagan died. Watching the corporate media, anyone would have thought that there was a huge, spontaneous outpouring of public grief and adulation at the time. Actually, there wasn't. Past the normal respect and decency we would accord to any President at his passing, only a small minority participated in staging the illusion of the kind of public response that legitimately accompanied the deaths of public figures like Princess Diana and Franklin Roosevelt.

An even smaller minority have been tirelessly working ever since then to transmogrify Reagan into a saint. I fear for younger Americans who weren't alive at the time to form their own opinions (especially conservative ones). Reagan was an assured, good-looking, and poised performer; and why wouldn't he be? He was an actor! He was also, by all accounts, an upright, affable, and personable human being. He mouthed a lot of the same platitudes we've been hearing ever since, evidently perfectly sincerely.

He was also a rotten president, if one looks any deeper than the celebrity-style adulation that he inspired in hardcore Neocons. He instigated the loony "Star Wars" pork barrel, which has continued to drain the U.S. Treasury of huge sums of money perfectly uselessly ever since. He saddled the economy with unprecedented additions to the national debt, greatly adding to the dangers posed by the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower so presciently warned us against. He bequeathed to the nation his daffy, delusional "Reaganomics," by which he managed to bamboozle the people into believing that everyone would get richer if only we gave a lot more money to the very rich (if you look at a pie chart of the percentage of the population controlling half the nation's wealth, it's a thin sliver that gradually becomes bigger and bigger throughout the 20th century--until Reagan, when it abruptly narrowed to a thin sliver again). He expanded the scope and reach of government more than any other President outside of Calvin Coolidge and FDR (although Bush II is outdoing all of them). He reversed the long tradition of the Federal Government's stewardship of the land, air, and water, castrating Federal oversight agencies and aligning government with industry and polluters.

And his biggest "accomplishments" were phantom ones: he had little to do with the "end of the Cold War,"which was an historical circumstance occasioned far more by the USSR's failing economy, Mikhail Gorbachev, and thousands of geuinely courageous Polish workers, than by him; and his economic expansion after 1982 can be explained by the perfect funk the economy was in during the preceding two years. The economy can, after all, go further when it has further to go. Finally, and perhaps fatally, he demonstrated to America's ruling powers the bright idea that all they needed was an appealing figurehead as a leader manqué and they could do whatever they pleased behind the scenes. This was shocking in Reagan's case, but only at the time; no longer, because George Bush II is a so much more blatant and cynical embodiment of the same principle at work.

Yet we have to endure the apotheosizing of this fine man, this weak leader, this affable dimbulb, with all his missteps and bad precedents, because he made people feel good with a singleminded, simple vision and highflown Patriotic language.

For his part, Armstrong Williams says he will not return his ill-gotten gains, because he "worked hard for it." Which is like a jewel thief saying he won't return the jewels because he worked hard to steal them, but so it goes these days.

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