Saturday, December 08, 2007

Evil Genius or Compliant Front Man?

I have a disagreement going with one of my commenters, Curtis Faville, on the nature and involvement of Pres. Bush in the doings of his administration, and after our last exchange (in the comments under Don't Relax Yet) I think I'll pull the issue out of the comments and start a discussion on it.

My position has always been that Dubya is a front man, happy to have a position of apparent power ("I'm the decider") while not actually driving the major decisions, like the invasion of Iraq or the privatization of Social Security. His position in his administration is a rough parallel to the role Leland Stanford Sr. played in California's "Big Four" - he was the affable public spokesman, while Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins actually ran the Central Pacific Railroad combine. Stanford wasn't even always aware of all the details of the inner workings.

Curtis' position is that Dubya is an intelligent, evil man who is fully engaged in what his administration has done.

It's certainly true that Dubya's business career, fully documented at

has been a success only in the sense that he personally profited immensely from every phase of it; any business enterprise he ever participated in was a disaster for the other shareholders. So this argument cuts in Curtis' direction.

I'll confess I've also read commentary that indicates that when Dubya has something he really wants, he can and does push back, even against Cheney (whom I personally regard as this administration's éminance grise). Another point for Curtis.

Here's the reason why I don't think he has been a central player, and wasn't originally intended to be a player at all. Look at the web site of the Project for the New American Century, especially at the Statement of Principles. Look at the list of people who signed that statement - in 1997
, I might add, 3 years before the 2000 election. It was signed by every significant member of the first Bush administration, plus a number of the major neoconservative intelligentsia, except for - Dubya himself. It was, however, signed by Jeb Bush. I believe the PNAC planners originally intended to run Jeb for president, but switched to George when the skeletons in Jeb's closet became too obvious to survive the blinding light of a presidential campaign. Dubya's major personal skeleton was his former lifestyle, and since he had reformed that, it could be - and was - turned into a selling point.

I believe the neoconservative team that designed and built the 2000 election campaign, headed by Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, chose Dubya as an electable figurehead who would go along with their major policy objectives as long as they allowed him to appear to be in charge. Remember that Dick Cheney was the man in charge of the team who decided on the vice presidential candidate, and came up with - himself. I believe the administration's continued insistence on executive privilege and secrecy is a deliberate attempt to conceal who actually is in charge - if possible, permanently. And I believe Dubya went along with this plan, first because he does enjoy power (even if not absolute), and second because he saw the possibility of making a lot of money out of it.

And to quote a T-shirt I saw advertised on the Internet a couple of years ago, the thing I hate most about this administration is the way it makes me sound like a nutcase conspiracy theorist!


  1. Hedera:

    You're absolutely 100% right. I don't think we had/have a disagreement at all. My point, which as I say doesn't amount to a divergence of viewpoint at all, is that Bush himself was never completely incapable of grasping large concepts and profound insights--he was just lazy, and selfish. Also, there is evidence that he has a divided nature: I.e., he feels very comfortable "playing" the Texas rube, with his irritating prairie twang, his disgusting smirk, the repeated grammatical errors and logical pratfalls. The Bushes are actually residents of New England. It was only after Bush essayed the Texas governorship that he began "playing" the Texas persona. The "religious" conversion was similarly pursued for pragmatic purposes: "Born again" was the ideal mask to wear to appeal to the Red State right-wing constituency of the Republican Party, and fit in nicely with his "reformed" frat-boy smart-ass "misguided" youth reputation.

    The Party handlers did indeed "choose" him, but he also had chosen them.

    Cheney, Rove and the other masterminds of the Bush II program needed as flat and uninflected a figure-head as possible, to deflect complex questions and challenges with ignorance and poker-faced "conviction." Reagan was a master of the homily, the ironic dismissal, and the fake commitment; Bush II's real talent is for the appearance of naive belief, of throwing out whoppers with complete opacity. Even when his audiences know he's lying through his teeth, they still "believe" this 3rd rate car salesman cares about what he pretends to. Even when he makes your skin crawl with his sleaziness, he never gives an inch. In the words of Norman Mailer, he's a man who "never was embarrassed by himself."

    My point, I guess, is that people of aptitude and discrimination and acuity are perfectly capable of falling prey to evil prerogatives. What is it that separates the educated, skeptical, liberated secular humanist from the closed-minded, devout, incurious, stubborn "believer"? It may only be a habit of mind, an inclination that begins at an age when we haven't decided whether or not an open-ended outlook towards existence is tolerable. Career criminals are said to have an attitude that places their own sense of responsibility at a remove from others, making them in effect their own "judge and jury" over the rights and privileges and interests of society. The classic reactionary neo-conservative profile has become a bastion behind which every kind of selfish, shameless, manipulative heel can hide.

    The lessons Bush II learned at his parents' knee were: Play along, figure out which side is winning, and memorize that program. Follow the money, learn to lie with perfect equanimity. Never admit a fault. Most of all, remember, right and wrong is a loser's game--whoever cheats the best, wins.

  2. Anonymous8:00 PM

    One point, Curtis: Bush the Lesser's conversion was probably real (to him, and especially to Laura, and to his right wing Texas crony Christian business moguls).

    What intrigues me is how disconnected his personal value system is from any policies of his administration. I suspect there is a serious disconnect in his own damaged mind. The Crawford ranch is environmentally responsible. But it has no bearing on Bush's policies, because as Cheney stated, and Bush accepted, conservation is a personal virtue, not a national policy.

    I think you have correctly described the Bush family, although they would not recognize your description, because they, like so many "righteous" people, cannot see themselves for who they really are. The whole lot of them are pious wealthmongers, not terribly different from the Boston Puritan wealthmongers or the televangelist wealthmongers. Little Bush is just the most ignorant, incurious, arrogant Bush (a function of his effed-up ego). I'm not completely certain he even has a fully cohesive mind. I am certain he does not have a fully adult, insightful, fully coherent mind, but he does function effectively in a bestial way wrapped in great-at-a-barbecue veneer - and his daughters apparently love him.

    Ultimately he strikes me as Dick Cheney's Mortimer Snerd.

    I am tempted to go back and see what I can make of the fact that during the first hours after the attack on the Twin Towers, Air Force One was not command central. The Vice-President was in charge, with Bush later expressing anger that communications to Air Force One were cut off. It is my understanding that wherever the President is is command central, and that Air Force One is so designed. Speaking of nutcase conspiracy theories, I strongly suspect that Cheney was not about to let Bush make any critical first-stage decisions. Pure conjecture on my part, of course, but it struck me as quite odd at the time. Can one imagine Bill Clinton being cut off on Air Force One and Al Gore's office being command central?

    Anonymous David

  3. Even more interesting is the covert protection afforded the Saudis immediately following 9/11. According to stories, despite the "universal" grounding of all commercial air traffic, the Saudi diplomats and visiting emmisaries were all hustled aboard planes and allowed to leave the country immediately--"for their own protection." Whether or not you accept the premise that their lives "were in danger" (from reprisal??), it's a very strange event.

    The Saudis have gotten carte blanche throughout the "terrorist" era, despite the fact that Al Quaeda is known to be run and financed almost completely by and from Saudi Arabia. Osama is a Saudi. Aside from a few caves in Northest Afganistan, the real "cells" of terrorist activity and planning have always been in Saudi Arabia. The Bush family, and the interests they have shilled for all along, have always been "very close" to the Saudi royal family and Saudi oil. This has consistently gone unreported in the media, even as Bush II has promulgated a phony "war on terror" against Afganistan and Iraq. The Saudis have always been willing to play ball in order to maintain relations with their best customer for petroleum, all the while fostering deep anti-American, anti-Western sentiment within their society. It's an irony apparently lost on conservatives, that our main "ally" in the Islamic world also harbors our greatest enemies. It's analogous to our relationship to China--among our most hated and detested "regimes" for 50 years--with whom we now entertain trade, investment and diplomatic arrangements, despite the fact that they regard us as enemies. China is systematically leveraging our balance of payments, devaluating our currency, and dismantling our industrial infrastructure, all the while pursuing expansionsist policies in Asia that fly right in the face of our official position with respect to Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, human rights, intellectual property, etc.

    Why we should be frittering away our resources on minor regional conflicts, when the greatest "peaceful" struggle in history (China versus the United States) is taking place, is a mystery to be solved. By mid-Century, the United States is likely to look much as Europe does to us today: An historical has-been, a debtor-nation with huge unfunded obligations, widespread unemployment, economic stagnation.

    China today is a kind of hybrid anomaly: Living proof that a rigid, autocratic regime can run a capitalist system without permitting any of the ordinary democratic institutions which we have always thought were the basis for laissez-faire competition. A nation run as efficiently and ruthlessly as China is today, makes the old Soviet system--rife with corruption and favoritism--look really old hat.

  4. I've concluded that there is a middle position here - I think Cheney (and possibly others) have HUGE power because of their skill at bureaucratic maneuvering - but I think Bush thinks of himself as the one in charge and honestly sees himself as the sole decider. I think this is part delusion, but there is the simple fact that he does, in fact, have the official power. Its just a question of how much manipulation there is going on here, and by who.

  5. Anonymous9:38 PM

    Both posts ring plausible to me.
    And both are justifiably very disturbing realities. US foreign policy ceased to make any sense whatsover to me once Cheney/Bush got rolling. It gives new meaning to F.U.B.A.R. once one at least attempts to look it directly in the eye (if that's even possible any more).

    Anonymous David

  6. I guess I pick up the argument at the bottom of the old list of comment box entries--

    I'm not very interested in what Bush is or isn't, anymore. There's little time left on his clock, and it isn't likely he will change any of the policies he's put into place before the end of his lame duck term.

    I don't think Dubya was stupid. Just lazy, and greedy, and unprincipled. Heck, Hedera, the world is full of wonderfully intelligent people who never realized their potential. However, to assert that Dubya is "dumb, naive, challenged" whatever, strikes me as wishful thinking. He lacks a number of qualities which we have tended to associate with "statesmanlike" bearing; but this has been the Republican strategy for 50 years: Who would elect and support a man who told the electorate he was going to shift the tax burden from the corporations and the rich to the middle and lower classes; who told them he was going to take away their pensions, their health care, their steady jobs, their schools, their colleges, their national parks, their environmental protections, etc.--in other words, told them the truth about his real intentions? No one. So the best way is NOT to put up an intelligent explainer who clearly understands the Faustian bargain and tries to put a good face on it; the best way IS to shove a nincompoop, filled with naive "conviction" and bumptious gumption, up to the podium and let him charm his audience with down-home "honesty" and awshucks smirks. Nixon was just a little too crafty, but Reagan fit the profile nicely. Bush I was good; Dubya is perfect.

    A stupid man fails to achieve his objectives, makes pratfalls, is impotent and ineffective; makes excuses, and is regarded as a loser. A smart man wins, gets what he wants done, and, if he is manipulating you, manages to pull the wool over your eyes while doing it.

    It's certainly true that Dubya has not been the "architect" of his agenda. That doesn't matter. Let the smart guys do the heavy lifting. Memorize your lines, don't get rattled. That was Reagan's trick. Dubya's just fine-tuned it a little. His lack of charm and grace has actually been a winning strategy. They love him in Topeka. That tells me something about Topeka. God help them.

  7. And since you brought this one back up: I was just reading this morning that the compromised ozone standards just set by EPA were apparently higher than even Stephen Johnson originally planned, due to a direct, last-minute, personal intervention by Dubya (which may actually have been illegal but who cares about that?).

    But you're right. He's almost toast. Let's just hope that some higher power can keep him from bombing Iran before he goes.