Suppressing an overwhelming urge to kick him in the face, even if only through the proxy of a cathode ray tube, I watched a Bush speech in its entirety for the first time today.
It was both eerie and pathetic.
Everything about the man spoke of vanity, from his initial imperious "please be seated" to the carefully memorized content; from the calculated, empty smiles at the audience to the oddly fleeting eyebrow furrow of concern, the lofty height of his head and slow, regular body turns.
The personal conviction, the emotional investment, was incongruently missing; it was glaringly obvious the man operates on vanity and blinkered ideology; there was no sincere passion, no real empathy. Most telling was his irritated, dismissive shoulder twitch at the mention of his policy's critics.
Overall, the content of Bush's speech seems completely at odds with his facial expressions as he happily talks about death; this isn't a man delivering sobering news; look at his face -- it's the face of a man having fun at his job.
He began speaking to Fort Bragg 's airborne and special forces by referring to himself in the third person as their "Commander in Chief" with a marked sense of entitlement untouched by irony (considering his Viet Nam-era absenteeism). Nor did he seem to appreciate the hypocrisy in his appeal to "those considering a military career". From there, his sales pitch sank into television-commercial hyperbole when he lathered on the "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces" and "freedom and greatness" rhetoric.
I even felt a wash of embarrassment for Bush as he plunged into his "We'll fight them..." patter; to his immediate audience members, who face a 1 in 100 chance of violent death within days in Iraq, it must have been surprising news indeed that he intended to participate in combat for the first time in his life -- of the sort that doesn't involve sucker-punching opponents in a game or drunkenly mowing down shrubbery.
But say what you will about their career choice, most American soldiers are pretty damned savvy and have sharp instincts. His speech was met with an eerie, dead silence, and it began to unnerve him, as you could see from the display of the whites of his eyes and the rise in his shoulders as the talk progressed. Bush isn't used to his calculated "Yankee Doodle Dandy" song-and-dance routine not eliciting thunderous applause, and it rattled him. I couldn't help but wonder how many in the audience were thinking resentfully about his campaign's smear of real war heroes like John Kerry, Max Cleland and John McCain.
But as ABC chief White House correspondent Terry Moran reported, White House staffers rescued his ego yet again, playing the part of clappeurs, finally goading the soldiers into the first smattering of applause 20 minutes into Bush's speech.
Right wing talking heads dutifully interpreted the lack of enthusiasm as soldiers simply obeying prior orders to show restraint, but such an explanation presumes a rather insulting lack of even elementary judgement on the part of the audience.
Bush's emotional disconnect became most glaringly, scarily obvious when he used such words as "the war on terror" or "our enemies are brutal" with a happy grin. It was what poker experts call a "tell", a visual signal (like a protruding tongue after a lie), that reveals an opponent's inner reality. This war, indeed this OFFICE, is like a game of cowboys and indians to a boy who never grew up. Tragically and fittingly, the day he must grow up is rapidly approaching.
Throughout the speech, you can see Bush's belief in his superiority, his sense of entitlement. It underscores how, centuries past the inception of the Magna Carta, British common law and the Constitution, we still haven't evolved significantly in the arena of social enlightenment: as always, there are those born believing -- or being told to believe -- it is their role to serve their "betters" by tending the lawns, cleaning the bed linens, mopping the floors and dying in agony and fear in strange, hostile lands, while others are born believing it is their God-given destiny to live lives of leisure and ease while sending members of the underclass to their deaths.
But there was desperation too:
"We are prevailing," he lied baldly. And: "the best way to honor the lives that have been given in this struggle is to complete the mission", which of course is just the simple utilitarian rationalization that "since we've already killed so many, it would be a waste if we didn't win."
This was followed up with "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces." Which is, of course why so MANY in his cabinet served.
"The liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq will be remembered as great turning points in the story of freedom," he continued. At this point, such an outcome looks delusionally unlikely; odds are this period will be remembered as the dark time when America lost its course.
There was, however, one pitiful, damning glimpse of humanity at the very end of his speech, when Bush finally broke down, declaring that, "dammit, they CAIN'T beat our team". His face crumpled and he held back tears, but was rescued at last by glorious, redemptive applause. This is a man who desperately needs America to prevail in Iraq. The consequences of defeat would be horrible for him -- an eternal, unremitting destruction of pride that would follow him to his grave.
For a man like Bush, the Christian vision of roasting in Hell would be a comparative picnic.
Quote of the Day: The surest cure for vanity is loneliness. ~Thomas Wolfe