Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Power of Audacity and Canada's First Five Years of George Bush

It was always there. We saw it. A strong connection with George Bush that was often dismissed as hyperbole when mentioned, and playing the Bush card became akin to playing the Hitler card.

And yet as we scrambled to figure out who Stephen Harper was, and what he wanted with us; what we may not have realized was that south of the border, others experienced the same confusion when G.W. first hit the scene.

I picked up The Book on Bush, by Eric Alterman and Mark Green, at a library sale and started reading it last night, and I had such a lightbulb moment, it almost blinded me.

It was written during Bush's first term, as both an exposé and a warning. But had I read it then, I wouldn't have appreciated the relevance to Canada.

I certainly do now.

Alterman and Green start out by saying that during the 2000 campaign, most Americans, including many Democrats, saw Bush as non-threatening, and while they preferred Gore, would not have been too upset if Bush beat him.

When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 he was presented to the nation by his campaign handlers and a sympathetic media as a nice-enough fellow who didn't take himself or much of anything else—save perhaps his family and religion—too seriously. Though polls consistently showed that a majority of voters held views closer to those of Democratic candidate Al Gore—and, indeed, a 52 percent majority did end up voting for Al Gore or Ralph Nader—even most of Bush's opponents did not see his presidency as much of a threat to their beliefs. (1)
With Stephen Harper it was a little different. During the 2004 election campaign, Canadians were a little frightened of him. He looked mad all the time and had emerged from those Reform Party nuts. So Harper's challenge was to re-invent himself into something less intimidating. And he did. And Canadians fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Polls even showed that he was the most trusted of the political leaders. Quite an accomplishment for a man that few really knew anything about.

The authors of the Book on Bush stated that after elected, G.W. pulled the old bait and switch. With Harper is wasn't quite as obvious, because he wasn't guaranteed four years. With only a minority, he wasn't even guaranteed four months.

But the similarities are still striking.

A "belief that America's forty-third president would govern from the happy middle of the partisan divide." "Bush is an incrementalist." And yet he "proceeded to embark on the most radical presidency in modern times."

All of this has a familiar ring. But hold on to your hat. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

How George Bush Governs Canada

In Allan Gregg's review of Lawrence Martin's book Harperland, he says:

Even though it has become a cliché to refer to Stephen Harper as a control freak, the power of Martin’s argument hits you like a jackhammer. Those of us who follow these things quite closely remember a number of occasions when the Conservatives have found themselves in hot water because of allegations of abuse of power, but we tend to forget just how frequently this has occurred and the myriad forms this malfeasance has taken over the last four and a half years.
Similarly, we remember the early Bush-Harper connections, but "tend to forget" the frequency, or perhaps more importantly, fail to understand, just how fundamental the similarities actually are. Alterman and Green write of Bush:
... his hard-right agenda strikes out in so many directions simultaneously that it's nearly impossible for the average citizen to keep up. In his first term as president, Bush has sought to explode precedents in almost every area of governance, whether the policy in question be foreign or domestic, popular or unpopular, old or new, effective or not. He has done so in contempt of the opinions of not only his opponents but also many of the corps of professional experts who are charged with nonpartisan evaluation of government programs purely from a standpoint of efficacy. (1)
A paragraph like that is one written often now, when referring to the Harper government. They act contra to the wishes of Canadians or the advice of experts. "Conclusions produce "facts" rather that "facts' helping to draw conclusions" (1)

And while their "hard-right agenda strikes out in so many directions simultaneously", that is not an accident. I see it as order hidden behind a cloak of disorder. It appears scattered but is not.

Neoconservatism is a political theology. Nothing is random. Nothing organic.

A Few Compelling Revelations from the Book on Bush

All of these are only from the introduction, which I read over a few times, I found them so shocking. These are my top ten:

1. Bush reduced press conferences by 75% and only answered questions presented in advance. "By the fall of his third year, the father Bush had held sixty-one press conferences; his son by the same time, nine."

2. Bushed ignored the polls and editorials that expressed the wishes of Americans, and instead began "...any policy consideration with three fundamental questions: What does the religious right want? What does big business want? What do the neocons want?"

3. "Karl Rove [suggested] that the way to a second term is to "activate the base"... to satisfy his core conservative constituencies. And if facts clash with the established orthodoxy, he'll stick with his base, not the facts."

4. "... it's traditional for presidents to be observant, to regularly invoke God and attend church. Difficulties can arise, however, if either a public official appears indebted to religious zealots or bases policy significantly on his particular religious beliefs ... Karl Rove would likely rather risk an international holy war than a drop in Bush's support among Christian conservatives."

5. "... the marriage of big business and politics isn't just the world that Bush grew up in; from oil to the Texas Rangers to fund-raising, it's all he's ever known. Ralph Nader teased in 2000 that "George Bush is a corporation running for president disguised as a person" ... "Mr. Bush is a business school graduate who has stuffed his administration with multimillionaire chief executives. There can be no doubt where his sympathies lie." "

6. "By the time the two authors of this work set down to examine Bush policies in major areas of domestic and foreign policy, it was everywhere evident that they were not simply ad hoc reactions to problems as they arose. Rather, they were conscious attempts to reorder the priorities of the U.S. government both at home and abroad and permanently alter Americans' relationship with their government, with one another, and with the rest of the world ... Others have noted that his foreign policies have caused the United States to be reviled across the world as never before, without in any way appreciably increasing our security."

7. "Still others focus on Bush's favoring of the wealthy over the poor, and the contempt, rhetoric notwithstanding, with which his administration treats average Americans."

8. "Sometimes the president seems to think that vagueness, non sequiturs, and tautology are enough to explain away his political problems ... Another frequent maneuver is to talk left/govern right to the point that Bush seems to think he can get away with anything if he declares its opposite.

9. "... of Bush's program of tax cuts for the wealthiest few. Almost no one with even a college degree in economics really expects them to offer a cure for the myriad problems that ail the economy, and in many respects they are the problem itself. But all of this is hard to prove in the face of Bush's repeated assertions about his "jobs and growth" package. Bush, meanwhile, speaks as if the future will fall into line with his beliefs once it recognizes his personal resolve."

10. "President Bush is actively seeking "to roll back the twentieth century." The draining of the public treasury to benefit the very rich is just the start of an effort designed to reduce government to a size where, as close Bush ally and conservative political organizer Grover Norquist has so memorably said, you can finally "drown it in the bathtub." "

The way in which Eric Alterman and Mark Green, sum up George W. Bush, they could have easily been writing about Stephen Harper.

We aim to demonstrate, based on the evidence presented by expert analyses, the likely consequences of an environmental policy run for the benefit of the energy industry; an economic policy that beggars the poor, comforts the rich, and destroys the basis of fiscal solvency for the nation; an education policy that "leaves behind" those most in need; a science policy that flatters the prejudices of theological fundamentalists; and a foreign policy that creates hatred and terror where none existed before, undermining our alliances and threatening our security.
In each of these cases, the Bush modus operandi has been to say one thing and do another, whether promising tax saving for everyone but giving the lion's share to the wealthy few or vowing to protect America from threats while inflating nonexistent ones and ignoring those against which we can be defended.

How does he do it? There are a variety of methods that add up to what playwright Arthur Miller terms Bush's "power of audacity." (1)

The "power of audacity". How succinct.


George Bush and Stephen Harper Share Rhetoric on Environment


1. The Book on Bush: How George W. (mis) Leads America, By Eric Alterman and Mark Green, Penguin Books, 2004, ISBN: 0-670-03273-5, Pg. 1-11

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