#57 - Dubya's Desperation Theater
"We are invited to contemplate the evolution of George W. Bush's physiognomy over time -- or rather the persistence of certain traits which become odder the longer one looks at them: the cracked, side-of-the-mouth smile, the withdrawn gaze, the equal capacity to express haplessness and guile. Eventually Bush becomes a kind of punctuation mark, his remarks seeming increasingly off-key or unfeeling when placed against scenes of gathering horror and grief." - Geoffrey O'Brien, "Is It All Just a Dream?," New York Review of Books, 12 August 2004, review of Michael Moore's film, Fahrenheit 9/11
George W. Bush is an effective politician because he expresses and symbolizes our bafflement at the complexity of the post-Cold War world. He instills fear in others because he himself so effectively expresses a fearfulness -- the fear of anarchy, chaos, senselessness, fragmentation, incomprehension. The waver in his voice, the stumbles and hesitations of speech, the insolence at the challenge posed by difficult questions, the discomfort, the awkward jokes, the goofy nicknames, the extended disappearances into the heavily guarded Crawford compound, the narrow in-breeding of cabinet members and officials in the executive branch, the maximum-security press and media management, the arrogant insistence on faith, over-simplicity, and unilateralism.
It all powerfully conveys a sense of the world not making sense anymore. There is a desperation embodied in Bush's public performances as president that, I think, resonates with many Americans' view of themselves and their world. An uncertainty and insecurity masked by a projection of confidence and bravado.
Bush merely dramatizes a deeper bafflement that many Americans feel. He is a symbolic embodiment of the contradictions in which Americans find themselves: caught between utopian dreams of national unity, prosperity, and togetherness and the ongoing failures of the country to come to terms with its collective problems.
There is much more to Bush than this, of course: there is political savvy and the pursuit of policy interests. But on the mass-mediated stage of American political culture and spectacle, has a figure ever wielded desperation so disturbingly, so effectively?
29 March 2005