Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Honor and Dignity

Lately a number of standup comedians have lamented that President-elect Barack Obama does not appear to promise much fodder for ridicule—no funny mannerisms, no scandals, no serious known breaches in integrity. Plus, he’s our first black President—and that fact in itself poses problems of decorum in a nation still sensitive about race and racism.

By comparison, President George W. Bush has provided a goldmine for satirists and impressionists—only recently upstaged by Sarah Palin.

Today, though, Bush is being credited with preserving “the honor and the dignity of his office” as U.S. President … by the Bush White House.

“Titled ‘Speech Topper on the Bush Record,’ the talking points [in a two-page memo sent to Bush Cabinet members] state that Bush ‘kept the American people safe’ after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained ‘the honor and the dignity of his office.’" (1)

I wonder whether the Orwellian war-is-peace newspeak will stop here or whether Bush will copyright the words “honor and dignity” the way Fox News once claimed “fair and balanced” as its own (and then tried to sue Al Franken for using the phrase in the subtitle of a book in 2003—subsequently it dropped the suit).

After all, Bush is all about “ownership”—though that’s a tune he’s been playing seldom in these past 60 days of foreclosures, buyouts, and bailouts. Ditto “bring it on”—in fact, Bush preserves a great amount of the Presidency’s dignity by simply asserting obviously fallacious recollections as true history and trusting in the American people’s short memory.

Don’t you love the bit about lifting the economy? Clever people must realize that “lift” means “revoke” and “pilfer,” among other things. I, for one, have totally forgotten that Bush entered office with a surplus—which he spent in part on $300 and $600 handouts to the American people, purportedly because the money was theirs, but more likely because he wanted to shut down talk about the dubious facts of his 2000 election.

One might further suppose curbing AIDS means, in part, letting lots of people in Africa die … of famine, genocide, and AIDS … thus, in fact, setting definite limits to the numbers of Africans suffering with AIDS. But, in truth, Bush may have done some good here. The White House reports that $148 billion has gone to AIDS relief worldwide since Bush assumed office in 2001, and, to be fair, his plan for providing emergency AIDS relief to sub-Saharan Africa, while greatly benefiting Big Pharma, has also expanded care to the sick apparently by 40 times over the past five years. (2)

As for keeping Americans safe, it’s easy to say that there were some 3,000 Americans not kept safe on September 11, 2001, under his watch. Of course, it’s unacceptable to lay the blame entirely on Bush for those horrific events, but I’m not sure he’s to be credited for the fact that a highly unusual and unprecedented event has not yet repeated itself. Perhaps he can take credit for no new attacks on Pearl Harbor as well. Or perhaps we can thank Bush and Cheney that a major earthquake has not leveled San Francisco lately.

In my lifetime, the honor and the dignity of the Presidency have suffered horribly—the most honorable and dignified being Eisenhower, under whose aegis I was born (though I would say that the prize goes to Carter for establishing the honor and dignity of the post-Presidency).

In my memory, no President has been worse than or as bad as Bush. Whether writing his own valedictory blurbs will affect the public’s memory of his two terms in office remains to be seen. I suspect that Americans will (as Americans tend to) forget, if not forgive. Perhaps he will write his memoirs (though I’ve heard that publishers aren’t really interested in them at the moment). A bestseller followed by a film adaptation could substantially erase memory of the last eight years. Perhaps he will reinvent himself as a spokesman for a cause. Or retire to a secluded compound as Nixon did, back when disgrace was not yet synonymous with honor and dignity.

Or perhaps he’ll do standup.


(1) Nicholas, Peter. “For Bush’s staff, upbeat talking points on his tenure.” Los Angeles Times 9 Dec. 2008 http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/washingtondc/la-na-bush9-2008dec09,0,4145069.story

(2) United States. White House. Office of National AIDS Policy. President’s HIV/AIDS Initiatives. http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/hivaids/

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