George Bush’s embarrassing, bumbling performance during the first debate in Coral Gables—his reaching for words, his long silences, the flustered demeanor and inappropriate comments—fueled some interesting speculations, augmented by photos of a strange rectangular lump on his back under his jacket. Rumors spread like wildfire on the Internet that the president was wired up with a receiver and a miniature earpiece through which someone fed him answers to the debate questions and appropriate responses to Sen. Kerry’s comments.
In an Oct. 8 Salon story, Dave Lindorff makes a compelling case that the rumors were indeed true. The reporter eliminated the possibility that the photo —the closest thing to a smoking gun—could have been faked using computer software by watching a C-SPAN video feed replay; sure enough, the same outline could be seen clearly on the videotape. Lindorff also confirms reports that one of the Bush camp’s many pre-debate conditions was that the candidates not be photographed from behind. The media, however, were not obliged to adhere to the demands the Bushies made of the Kerry camp, like the “no reaction shots” condition. In the aftermath of the debate, one can certainly see why the Republicans tried like hell to prohibit reaction shots and, in light of the rumors that Bush was wired, it makes sense that they didn’t want him photographed from behind, either.
Lest this sound like a paranoid spy fantasy straight out of a James Bond flick, you should know that the technology in question is already widely used in the news broadcast industry. Lindorff also writes of an incident earlier in Bush’s term, when CNN accidentally picked up and aired what sounded like someone feeding the president his lines during a speech. At the very least, the radio-transmitter theory is delicious to those who can find no other explanation for what seems to be a presidency held hostage by an inept, inadequate, overgrown and out-of-control frat boy who is surrounded and controlled by dangerous and delusional ideologues.
Maureen Dowd’s Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk is a funny, scary book that certainly does nothing to dispel the notion that the Bush presidency is indeed a unique pathology in the annals of American politics. Dowd is a New York Times columnist who has been professionally entangled with the Bush dynasty for 20 years, ever since the elder Bush’s rise to executive power began in earnest. The book is a collection of Dowd’s Times columns beginning in November 1992, when a defeated George H.W. Bush was packing it up in D.C. Dowd had an uneasy but semi-cordial relationship with “41,” as she calls the elder Bush, and in a stroke of stunning prescience, she kept her trained eye on his politician sons George W. and Jeb in the years between 41’s retirement and W.’s bullying power-grab in 2000.
Dowd’s observations about dynasty are wry and on target, and this collection, which is arranged in chronological order, really takes off after George W. ascends to presidential office. She chronicles the upside-down Bizarro world of the second Bush presidency, casting the whole rotten mess as part Oedipal drama, part Shakespearean intrigue and part Godfather saga—with a little Keystone Kops thrown in for good measure—and she makes her case convincingly. In her post-9/11 columns, Dowd comes down hard on those of her compadres in the press who were drooling all over themselves to glorify the Bush gang. Dowd wasn’t having any of it, and she would be proven right in the months that followed, as the W. gang’s delusions were writ large across the global landscape and all the good will gathered in the wake of 9/11 was squandered by an administration hell-bent on giving the finger to the rest of the world by invading Iraq for an ever shifting litany of shifty reasons.
In Bushworld, Dowd advances the increasingly credible theory that our president is merely a compliant meat-puppet for some mighty dark forces. As Dowd sees it, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and Rice (sounds like one of those vanilla—yet strangely sinister—downtown law firms) make up an axis of neoconservative evil implementing a dangerously out-of-touch worldview, intent on lining their pockets as they ineptly go about trying to build an empire at the expense of the rest of us. More than once in Bushworld, Dowd trains her withering glance on take-no-prisoners puppet-master Karl Rove. Bush’s White House strategist, she maintains, is exactly the kind of win-at-all-costs player capable of devising the brilliant and insane idea of planting a transmitter and ear chip on a notoriously uninformed and inarticulate George W. Bush in order to ensure a decent performance by an inept and outclassed incumbent.
What distinguishes Bushworld from the current crop of political books is that Dowd’s book does not have the luxury of hindsight. Her pieces were written about the Bush presidency as it was unfolding; it’s breathtaking how precisely on-target many of her observations were at the time, and how accurate they remain. Dowd won a Pulitzer for her coverage of the Clinton impeachment proceedings, and for good reason. She is an astute, quick-witted observer of presidential politics with a huge arsenal of intellectual resources available to her. The dry, wry humor she uses to illuminate her subject, and the outrage she so obviously feels at the absurdities she sees, make Bushworld, at 500-plus pages, a worthy addition to this election year’s presidential library.