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Our Bold, Fearless Leader

(This essay was written during the Bush administration. It is about the attitude of ARI writers toward Bush, obviously colored by their agreement with his foreign policy.)

“What’s that smell in this room?  Didn’t you notice it, Brick?  Didn’t you notice the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?”
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,  Tennessee Williams.

For a moment let’s forget about the details of President Bush’s fascist agenda and focus on the man himself, his character and personality. The graceless strut and swagger, the smirk, the confused and vacant stare. The frat-boy who accomplished nothing, either publicly or privately, until his thirties, and then only by using his family’s connections to go into businesses whose financial practices won’t bear close inspection. For example Arbusto, later Harken Energy, and its investment in the Bahrain dictatorship of the Middle East, with help from the BCCI bank. [1]

The grown man who as governor of Texas mocked a death row inmate after she had been asked, “[Before your execution] what would you say to Governor Bush?” (Talk Magazine, September 1999): “Please,” Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, “don’t kill me.”

The man who appointed John Ashcroft as his first Attorney General, which Attorney General then refused to investigate any crimes of the previous crime-ridden Clinton administration.

The man who appointed Robert Mueller to head the FBI, after Mueller had successfully covered up the CIA’s connection to such criminals and criminal activities as: General Manuel Noriega of Panama, who helped the CIA smuggle cocaine into the U.S.; John Gotti, head of the Gambino Mafia family; the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103; the BCCI bank scandal.

The man who awarded the new position of Director of National Intelligence to John Negroponte, who when ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s had collaborated with the Honduran military in murder and torture. And rewarded Negroponte’s opposite number in the U.S. at that time, Elliot Abrams, who was later convicted of lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra scandal but was pardoned by the elder Bush as a “patriot,” with the post of senior adviser for the Middle East.

The man who appointed Michael Chertoff, who had helped cover-up the Vince Foster murder during the Clinton administration and later helped cover up the torture of Walker Lindh, to head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and then to Secretary of Homeland Security.

The man who appointed Robert Gates, formerly of the CIA and a participant in the October Surprise and Iran-Contra scandals, to head the Defense Department. [2]

The man who had said during his campaign that the government budget would be balanced unless there were a war, recession, or emargency, then joked a few days after 9-11:  “I hit the trifecta.” [3]

The man who signed an executive order authorizing the CIA to set up torture prisons outside the United States. The same man who later appointed the lawyer who had assured him he could get away with it, Alberto Gonzalez, to the office of Attorney General.

The man who pretended to help fly a fighter-plane onto the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier off San Diego harbor, May 2003, emerging from the cockpit in combat gear and mussed-up hair, carrying his helmet, with a banner for backdrop reading “Mission Accomplished.” As if a press conference could not have been held with less expense and trouble, and possibly less deceit, at the White House.

The man capable of the farce at the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association, March 24, 2004. At the time well over 500 Coalition soldiers had been killed in Iraq (now the number is over 4,000) and about five times that many seriously injured. It is a tradition at this dinner for the President to “roast” – poke fun at – his own administration. He might have addressed his inability to think and speak coherently, but instead he narrated a photo slideshow about ... but let’s watch. He displays a slide showing him in the Oval Office looking under a piece of furniture, and he narrates:

“Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere.”
Click to the next slide. It shows him searching a corner of the Oval Office. He narrates (ellipsis indicating a thoughtful pause):
“No ... no weapons over there.”
Click. Now he’s bending over another piece of furniture:
“Maybe under here?”
The narrator, Bush, grinning all the while. [4]

The same man whose administration lied and lied and lied about so many things. I started by suggesting that we forget about President Bush’s fascist agenda for a moment and focus on his character, but of course they are inseparable.

Cut to Robert Tracinski’s feature article for TIA Daily, November 4, 2004 entitled “The Message of the President’s Press Conference.” That very morning Bush had given his first press conference since being re-elected. Mr. Tracinski says that he will be quoting from the transcript of Bush’s remarks, and continues – and note Mr. Tracinski’s attitude towards Bush, his choice of words, the tone of his writing:

“The most remarkable thing about the press conference, however, is something that you cannot get just from the transcript: the president’s mood. Bush was relaxed – with all of the charm and good-natured humor that is natural to him when he feels comfortable – and he gave the sense of being totally confident and in charge. This is a George Bush I don’t think we’ve seen in four years, and I really suggest watching some of the video of the press conference, which is available right now ... at www.c-span.org.”
Let’s forego the pleasure. Mr. Tracinski continues fawning all over Bush:
“Bush names his sense of self-confidence explicitly in what seemed like a moment of spontaneous, introspective candor about halfway through the press conference:
I feel – I feel – I feel it is necessary to move an agenda that I told the American people I would move. Something refreshing about coming off an election ... . But there’s – you – you – you go out and you make your case and you tell the people, ‘This is what I intend to do.’ And after hundreds of speeches and three debates and interviews and the whole process, ... that when – when that – when you win, there is a – a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view. And that’s what I intend to tell the Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the president; now let’s work – and the people made it clear what they wanted – now let’s work together. And it’s one of the wonderful – it’s one of the – it’s like earning capital.

You ask, do I feel free [to pursue my agenda]? Let me put it to you this way. I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That’s what happened in – after the 2000 election. I earned some capital. I’ve earned capital in this election, and I’m going to spend it for – for what – what I told the people I’d spend it on.”

This little speech is a good reason for a voter to choose a third party candidate he really likes regardless of that candidate’s chance of winning, or to simply not vote at all, instead of choosing “the lesser of two evils” from the Democrat-Republican pair. The winner thinks you voted for him because he is good, not that the other fellow is worse. [5]

Mr. Tracinski himself approves of what this self-confident and charming and good-natured man said during his moment of spontaneous and introspective candor:

“This is a man who knows that he has a mandate and intends to use it.”
What a man! But let’s examine the validity of his “mandate.” Those who voted for Bush, or what amounts to the same thing, voted against his opponent Kerry, did so for all sorts of reasons, yet Bush – and Mr. Tracinski – cannot conceive of any reason but one: they loved most everything about Bush. Compounding this error, Bush – and Mr.
Tracinski – think that now, after the election is over, most everyone in America loves Bush.

Set aside the creep whom Bush had the good fortune to run against. Set aside that the Debate Commission never allows third party candidates in the debates and that the mainstream media ignores these candidates. Set aside that the mainstream media did little to expose Bush’s duplicity regarding countless events. Set aside that Bush received only 2.5% more of the popular vote than Kerry, the smallest margin of victory for an incumbent president in U.S. history. Set aside that many people abstained from voting because they wanted neither Bush nor Kerry, that only 30% of those who could have voted, voted for Bush. Set all that aside. Bush now has a mandate for what he wants to do. Indeed, considering his remarks at the press conference, a mandate for whatever he wants to do. That is the ominous aspect of his “political capital” metaphor – money buys anything on the market.

Mr. Tracinski humbly inquires, about Bush’s popular mandate, “For what does he intend to use it?” Mr. Tracinski answers by observing that the most important issue today is the war, and quotes Bush’s opening remarks:

This week the voters of America set the direction of our nation for the next four years. I’m honored by the support of my fellow citizens and I’m ready for the job.

We are fighting a continuing war on terror and every American has a stake in the outcome of this war – Republicans, Democrats, Independents, all of our country. And together we’ll protect the American people. We will preserve – we’ll persevere until the enemy is defeated. We’ll stay strong and resolute. We have a duty, a solemn duty to protect the American people, and we will.

Every civilized country also has a stake in the outcome of this war. Whatever our past disagreements, we share a common enemy, and we have common duties to protect our peoples, to confront disease and hunger and poverty in troubled regions of the world. I’ll continue to reach out to our friends and allies, our partners in the EU and NATO to promote development and progress, to defeat the terrorists, and to encourage freedom and democracy as alternatives to tyranny and terror.
Mr. Tracinski agrees:
“It was clear that for Bush the war is a settled issue. He has interpreted the election result correctly. This election has settled the question of whether Americans support the war, so there is no more need for extended argument and discussion.”
And that’s that. Mr. Tracinski continues:
“When it comes to Iraq, expect action, not talk, in Bush’s second term.”

Mr. Tracinski then quotes Bush explaining his domestic agenda, and he approves of it as well. Especially what Bush had to say about religion:

“There it is: ‘No president should ever try to impose religion on our society.’ If he really believes that, then George W. Bush is no theocrat. Let’s remember that quote, and let’s hold him to it.”
Yet obviously Bush does not really believe it. All through his first term he helped impose religion on society, and the government on religion, through federal funding of religious charities and the subsequent federal control of them, calling it “Faith-Based Initiatives.” And in any case, how on earth do you hold the president to anything after he is elected – especially this president, who boasts that he doesn’t read a newspaper?

Mr. Tracinski goes on to praise Bush’s call to privatize Social Security, but in fact Bush’s plan (which was less clear then than now) is not private at all. This must be emphasized: Not even fractionally private; indeed it raises fascism to a new level. However we are getting away from our subject. Forget politics and focus on Mr. Tracinski’s attitude towards Bush’s character:

“I said that Social Security and tax simplification ... were Bush’s main legislative goals, but Social Security seems to be by far the most important. When he spoke of it, he gave off the same sense he projects when he talks about the ‘forward strategy of freedom’: the sense of a man with a vision willing to exercise bold leadership in pursuit of his mission. He began with a remark that was a theme throughout the press conference: that he really meant the things he has been saying over and over again ... throughout the campaign.”

Mr. Tracinski concludes his analysis of Bush’s perceived popular mandate:

“... the overall direction is exactly what I had hoped for: a confident prosecution of the war in Iraq, an unmistakable soft-pedaling of religion, and a push forward on privatization [sic] of Social Security.”

The American journalist H. L. Mencken once wrote, and we quote:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.  On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
If Mr. Tracinski were correct in his claim that all, or even most, Americans support what Bush is doing, Mencken might be right. But in fact our inner soul is not so bad. As for Mr. Tracinski: Do you notice the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity at ARI?

A typical aspect of fascism is the deification of the bold leader, a real man with a mission, a man loved, his handlers claim, by everyone. This only somewhat exaggerates Mr. Tracinski’s – and ARI’s – attitude towards Bush. Oh, they do criticize Bush on occasion: for not invading Iran quickly enough, for being what they call philosophically pragmatic in foreign affairs, but neither Mr. Tracinski nor anyone else at ARI has a problem with Bush’s character.

Here is Robert Tracinski again in the ARI op-ed “Who is George Bush?” (March 18, 2002):

“At his best, Bush seems to have a basic, emotional-level  pro-American outlook, a belief that this country is good and deserves to be defended. Part of this attitude is an element of self-assertiveness, the conviction that we should stand up for ourselves when attacked and have the moral confidence to brand our enemies as ‘evil.’ ...

“Bush also has a kind of basic honesty ... .”
Someone open a window! President Bush is more dishonest than any American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Bush is not standing up for America, quite the contrary, and he hasn’t a clue about what, even today, makes America worth standing up for. Worse than Bush, perhaps, is Mr. Tracinski: he hasn’t a clue what we ought to be standing up against.

Andrew Bernstein, in his article “In Defense of the Cowboy” (ARI op-ed, Feb. 26, 2003 and repeated in TIA March 2003) compares Bush favorably with those heroes of our childhood, the Texas Rangers. The people at ARI will grab any cherished cultural value and twist it to prop up their crazy structure of sophistries.

Harry Binswanger repeats the cowboy theme in “Vote for President Bush” (Capitalism Magazine, October 21, 2004):

“On a symbolic or sense-of-life level, Bush evokes the cowboy. The cowboy ethos is something that anti-Americans hate and fear. As Andrew Bernstein stated ... ‘What we honor about the cowboy of the Old West is his willingness to stand up to evil and to do it alone, if necessary. The cowboy is a symbol of the crucial virtues of courage and independence.’ ”
Mr. Binswanger goes on to quote something Bush said during his first acceptance speech:
“ ‘Some people say I swagger, but in Texas we call it walking.’ [Mr. Binswanger continues:] This was a wry way of saying, ‘I’m not going to apologize for the firm, decisive attitude that people call my “arrogance” but which is something natural to me, and I’m proud of it.’ ”
Yeah, what a man!

Implicit in all ARI’s political commentary is that Bush and the neocons were not lying, power-lusting men milking 9-11 for all it’s worth. No, they were basically honest men, really decent at core. Their problem is that they made errors of judgement is all. The philosophical errors of gentlemen, not the dishonesty of gangsters.

1  See “Hillary’s Bush Connection” by Russ Baker & Adam Federman, October 18, 2007 at

2  See the book Defrauding America by Rodney Stich and “The Secret World of Robert Gates” at

3  The term “trifecta” comes from horseracing, where it means correctly selecting, in order, the first three finishers.  In general, a triple win.

Here is Mitch Daniels, Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, at the annual board meeting of October 16, 2001 in New York:
“The President favors conditions of budgetary balance ... . [¶] He had always listed, throughout his campaign and since, the reasons why the nation might depart from this policy, reasons he had given as acceptable for running fiscal deficits:  for war, recession, or emergency. As he said to me in mid-September,  ‘Lucky me. I hit the trifecta.’ ”
See also Daniels at the National Press Club, November 28, 2001

Here is President Bush at a Republican Party luncheon, Charlotte, North Carolina, February 27, 2002:
“... I was campaigning in Chicago and somebody asked me, is there ever any time where the budget might have to go into deficit? I said only if we were at war or had a national emergency or were in recession. [Laughter.] Little did I realize we’d get the trifecta.  [Laughter.]”
The laughter is indicated in the White House press release. You have to wonder how widespread it was. (Bush must have liked this joke, for he used it at least a dozen times that year.  See White House press releases from February through June 2002.)

4  See the video  “Bush Jokes about WMD”  at

5  Here is some little known history behind the making of the “political capital” Bush would later spend.

In 1999, during the first presidential campaign, Bush’s campaign committee asked ghostwriter Mickey Herskowitz to write Bush’s autobiography for him. Mr. Herskowitz met with Bush twenty times or so gathering material. After he had written most of the book the committee pulled him off the project for not depicting Bush in a sufficiently positive light. Despite this, in 2002 he was asked to write the authorized biography of Bush’s grandfather, which was evidently sufficiently glowing because it got published. The following is by Russ Baker, based on an interview of Mr. Herskowitz. I leave off my quote marks:

“He [Bush] was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said ... Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” ...
According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush’s beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House – ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.”

Bush’s circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: “They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches.”

Republicans, Herskowitz said, felt that Jimmy Carter’s political downfall could be attributed largely to his failure to wage a war. He noted that President Reagan and President Bush’s father himself had (besides the narrowly-focused Gulf War I) successfully waged limited wars against tiny opponents – Grenada and Panama – and gained politically.