Friday, January 2

Bush Farewell Tour: We Made It To 2009 Edition

Godammit, just what th' fuck do people require in an ill-omen, anyway?

ALL but lost in the corpse-strewn wreckage of the real-life disastrous mistakes this administration has made, and existing now mostly as a faint mist and whiff of soured corn-based beer, the early PR days of the Worst President By A Factor Of Twenty were a clear signal that the Press, the rest of the Beltway insiders, and the Real Government (the one, that is, that can munch the cud about the Impending Social Security Doom a mere fifty years down the track, but find $4 trillion dollars in less than a fortnight when it needs an advance on its own trust fund) had every intention of hiding the Incompetence of George II from the public, and every belief that they could do so with impunity.

On the day after the Inauguration That Paused Mysteriously At One Point, a blind item appears in Lloyd Grove's WaPo gossip column, suggesting that outgoing Clinton staffers had removed the Ws from computer keyboards. Grove had reported it as a prank, but the next day it was picked up by Matt Drudge--Matt Drudge!--and burnished by former Dan Quayle--Dan Quayle!-- mouthpiece Rich Galen, into a tale of massive vandalism of The Nation's House: severed communications lines, obscene graffiti on walls, trashed furniture. By Thursday morning it's a front-page story in the WaPo, with Mike Allen's imprimatur, NBC's eminence grease Andrea Mitchell is pushing the story hard, with all the weight of her considerable reputation for fact-finding, non-partisan equanimity, and profound seriousness behind it, and it's all the White House gaggle want to ask Ari Fleischer about. Fleischer, who would later become the first White House Press Secretary to Reportedly Crap His Pants when faced with a possible indictment, promises a full report.

Now, let's just pause here for a moment, first to give credit to Mr. Sam Clemens, who noted that small boys who were afraid to confront a bully would often resort to tying tin cans to his dog's tail, and consider that the Press had so much egg on its face from the Clinton years--except it wasn't egg--that it could not have seen clearly even if it felt some obligation to do so, which it did not. We might also note--thank goodness the intervening years turned out so well, and we can take our leisure by this pleasant stream--that even the professional agitator would have been given pause by a pair of unattributed items whose slime trails led to a pair of fat slugs of the Drudge and Galen Out of Quayle variety. But not the Press.

Fleischer's "full report" turned out to be a piece of cardboard he fanned the flames with for as long as he could. In a sennight it had turned into the pet project of a single, unnamed staffer who was keeping the info in his head, presumably because all keyboards in DC were still inoperative. At one point photographic evidence appeared:

And it's not as if no one saw this crap for what it was, or that no one reported it; it's as if Andrea Mitchell and Tim Russert and Cokie Roberts had simply been struck dumb to the possibility, and kept the story alive because Clinton's dog was suddenly unprotected, and, besides, it would be a shame if all those cans just wound up in a landfill.

The Acting President, by the way, was permitted enough air time to downplay the matter as "a few pranks" that first Friday, to say essentially the same thing a couple weeks later--none of which seemed to have any effect on the coverage--and finally to declare the matter "over" in March--which seemed to have no effect on the coverage, or his administration's continued pursuit of the matter and anonymous tips to the Press--at a point when it was clear the stories were bullshit (including the trashing of Air Force One he must have personally known were untrue). The coverage of those comments not only failed to raise the question of why, if the matter was "over", his administration was still pursuing it so vigorously, or why it was doing so at the same time it vigorously denied doing so, but treated Bush as doleful but magnanimous, and not a double-dealing unelected weasel trying to stoke the fires of Clinton Hatred, Inc. so the smoke would cover his own incompetence.

By May the General Services Administration would announce that the transition had resulted in no more damage than was to be expected from eight years of use. As a result Fleischer's office--we'd been "over it" for four months at this point, remember--would produce a list in June that included 10 sliced telephone lines and "obscene" graffiti in a men's room--plus those "inoperable" keyboards. More than a year later, having been ridden all that time by oleaginous Representative Bob "Giving Weasels A Bad Name Since 1995" Barr, the GAO would put the total of vandalism damage at $13,000 give or take a bottle of carpet shampoo; more than one-third of that amount would go to "replacing keyboards" though, of course, a keyboard missing a key is not exactly trash, and the actual cost of cleaning obscene graffiti on a bathroom wall as opposed to, say, regularly cleaning the same bathroom, might be disputed. At any rate, by June 2002 the Over It Administration was displeased that the GAO report was so lacking in effervescence that it sought further details, especially "the full text of graffiti and other messages that were 'especially offensive or vulgar'." The administration put a young go-getter named Alberto Gonzales on the case. Neither was ever heard from again.

It's time, now, to be fair about all of this: the worst claims of Clinton-staff vandalism, multiplied four hundred times and accompanied by a robust turd laid on Barbara Bush's first State Dinner dessert plate, would not have begun to express the righteous utter contempt the Bush administration would earn, over and over, for eight long years.

And while we sit today, enjoying the chirp of the last crickets of the Glorious Summer of Bush, it may be difficult to remember that, compared to what else the Press was up to in those days this qualified as hard news. His Charm Offensive was the most commented on military action since Tet, and the most egregiously reported one since Major George Fielding Eliot assured Americans that the Polish cavalry would handle the German blitzkrieg with ease. Newsweek called him "the nicknamer-in-chief". He winked his way into our hearts, made staff wear suits and ties (Thank God!) and quickly established himself as a leader, however we'd arrived at him. David Broder, one month in: "The Democrats I have interviewed say Bush has done three things in these sessions that impress them. First, he has been direct and firm in asserting that he is uninhibited by the closeness of the election results and will put forward the policies that he promoted in his campaign. Second, he immediately adds that he understands -- and respects -- the difference between his responsibilities as president and theirs as legislators, and he expects them to put their own imprint on the measures. Finally, he communicates that he likes people in general -- and politicians in particular -- and is not going to personalize policy disagreements in ways that poison the atmosphere." Peggy "Loon" Noonan, one week in: "He became president, established himself as the new top dog. It's always surprising how quickly new presidents seem to look comfortable signing orders and holding meetings with the congressional leadership. An important Democratic senator (Georgia's Zell Miller, who took the late great Paul Coverdell's place and seems to be showing Coverdellian courage) surprised everyone by deciding to join Texas' Phil Gramm in sponsoring Mr. Bush's tax cut. The new president put forth comprehensive, moderate and apparently fully thought-through legislation on education, and rescinded a presidential order on abortion. By doing so seemed to put a big fat headline on week one: Extremism Is Over, Normality Is Back." He was the President Who Never Looked At Polls! The one who God was willing to talk to, and Thank God for that. He spent more time on an exercise bike than reading position papers. Just what was needed!

Peggy Noonan gasped at how much better a speaker George W. had become between his acceptance speech and his inaugural. Chris Matthews marveled at how much better he'd become when he delivered a shaky, Bush-like drone of a speech before a Joint Session of Congress in February. That speech was interrupted so often by uproarious Republican applause designed, apparently, to help prevent his having to finish more than one sentence apace that it started to sound like he'd brought his own laugh track. There is no way you or I would have called it halfway to competence. A Leader!

When the Chinese seized a Navy reconnaissance plane in April, after it collided with a Chinese Navy jet, Dana Milbank and Dan Balz wrote transcribed a front-page story in the Washington Post entitled "Behind Scenes, Bush Played Vigorous Role" which was entirely sourced by unnamed aides, and featured the memorable lines which ought to be someone's epitaph, and maybe more than one:
Mostly, the details of Bush’s involvement are consistent with his past management style: He set broad parameters and then dispatched his underlings to do the job, checking in regularly on points that particularly interested him. He also placed strong emphasis on public perceptions and demanded discipline from the small group of advisers he trusted to handle the matter.

It's where they both still work.

And through any and all of this there was no question, not to any adult, that this was pure horseshit, that Bush's mediocre intellect, preternatural arrogance, and an inarticulateness so profound that it raised questions about his mental capacity, was being aggressively countered, even in places where that sort of behavior was supposed to be precluded. It was desperate, and it sounded desperate; it reeked then of the sad enabling of the battered spouse. And it got us all exactly what always comes of that.


ignobility said...

Another great post. I, too, was amazed at the Bush and the press reactions to the missing "W's." If he were the gentleman the press portrayed him as, he would have come out with a strong denial and told the truth. Instead, like you point out, he made those cursory hedges that anyone with a brain could see through. Like an idiot, I kept waiting for the MSM to call him on it. I mean, after all they'd put Clinton through, I just couldn't see them giving Bush a free pass. Boy, was I naive.

Anonymous said...

"It was desperate, and it sounded desperate; it reeked then of the sad enabling of the battered spouse."

Exactly, precisely so. How they hoped and hoped that saying all that stuff about Bush would make it true - because that would, among other things, let them think that what they'd done during the Clinton years was correct.

Li'l Innocent

yellojkt said...

Now we are hearing all about how Dubya reads two books a week and is a genius we just don't appreciate.

Kathy said...

The Press is no longer "The Press". It is "The Media" intended to amuse, not inform. To paraphrase Doghouse "All the News needs now is a laugh-track".

James Stripes said...

except it wasn't egg

Pray tell, what was it?

vandalism damage at $13,000 give or take a bottle of carpet shampoo; more than one-third of that amount would go to "replacing keyboards" though

If they'd ever hiked down to Office Depot and priced the damn things for themselves, they would have really raised a stink about some four grand going for something that costs $20 for one that functions well, and $50 for the Cadillac. Even Microsoft imports them from China where they cost pennies to make, and you'd think an office as big as the White House ought to be able to get 'em wholesale.

But's that's just one of the least significant unasked questions about the spewing from Bush and his minions of semi-solids far worse than anything Clinton ejaculated on anyone's face during his eight years.

established himself as the new top dog

Do you think Noonan will ever get around to reading Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, Bats Left, Throws Right, or any other of the hundreds of obscure texts that offer more insight in any random paragraph than she's managed in dozens of stellar years?

Anonymous said...

"...Extremism Is Over, Normality Is Back." I've never read that whore at any length. Just hearing her speak revealed how delusional she was/is. The above quote is a revelation to me as well. Confirmation that they do indeed create their own reality.

George Tirebiter