I rarely watch Bush-speeches; listening to them is hard enough. The patently sly and by now infamous smirk that never seems to leave him these days; the air of pious self-righteousness while mouthing the most inane platitudes known to man; the thick layer of arrogance that drips like bad plastic surgery melting under a heat lamp; the pugnacious how-dare-you of privilege that’s never known a blocked desire or an unfulfilled wish and expects it to go on that way forever as if it were a right; the fierce mediocrity in the shifting gaze which never seems to be looking in the direction his head is pointing, as if there were some fundamental schizophrenia embedded in his very limbs; and of course the preening air of accomplishment shining from those narrow eyes whenever he tells what he thinks is a particularly persuasive lie. It’s all just too depressing.
But I watched the UN speech, can’t say why exactly. Maybe I was feeling masochistic, maybe I forgot for one short moment what watching him is like. I don’t know what it was, but I watched it. I watched it and even though I thought I knew what to expect, I was appalled by the reality. It was a new low, even for him, the man who invented “low”.
Others have mentioned the total absence of anything relating to an apology or an admission that even one small mistake was made; that didn’t bother me. I wasn’t expecting one. George doesn’t admit mistakes. He never has and he never will and anybody who thinks he might someday when it’s really really really obvious, maybe, hasn’t been paying attention. This is a man who believes that God talks to him (some of us may have other names for the voices in his head) and that therefore he CANNOT make a mistake because whatever he does, God told him to do it and of course God is never wrong. Many of us still think that George is a Methodist. Poppy is; the rest of the family is; Junior goes to a Methodist church for show. He’s really a born-again fundamentalist with delusions of moderation. I mean, come on, the man goes to Pat “Homosexuals cause hurricanes” Robertson for advice and counsel whenever somebody picks on him.
Likewise others have mentioned that nothing new was said, that he was regurgitating speeches from last year when he was trying to bully the world into backing the first pre-emptive war by a modern democratic state; that didn’t bother me either. I wasn’t expecting anything new. George hasn’t had a new thought since the 1890’s.
And when they mentioned his rather odd focus on sex in almost a third of the speech–and the last third at that–I can’t say it surprised me. I expected a red-herring-attempt to lead the Assembly away from the direction of remembering that he’d been thumbing his nose at them for years. I didn’t think it would work, and it didn’t–he’s nowhere near as good a manipulator as he thinks he is. Not surprising: he’s been surrounded by a dedicated series of yes-men since he was a kid, a cadre of dutifully gullible minions whose main occupation was following his whims right off the edge of the cliff if that’s where they led, a circumstance that’s bound to skew your view of your own effectiveness.
No, what appalled me was the tone of the speech; that I didn’t expect.
Only one writer that I’ve read appears to have noticed it at all; maybe everybody’s gotten used to it, I don’t know. The writer who noticed is Slate‘s Fred Kaplan:
Has an American president ever delivered such a bafflingly impertinent speech before the General Assembly as the one George W. Bush gave this morning? Here were the world’s foreign ministers and heads of state, anxiously awaiting some sign of an American concession to realism — even the sketchiest outline of a plan to share not just the burden but the power of postwar occupation in Iraq. And Bush gave them nothing, in some ways less than nothing.
Indeed. And even Fred didn’t get it, not all of it. “Bafflingly impertinent” it was, but it was also crude, arch, and threatening.
Here he was, walking hat-in-hand into a Chamber he has derided since his Ranger days, openly scorned when he was Governor of Texas and spurned as President, to ask them for help. One would expect–even I, whose expectations are criminally low–that he would drag out a bit of his “compassionate-conservative” act from the campaign closet, and some of that charm he’s so famous for, and wow them with his personality. Isn’t that the least they had a right to expect given that he’d come begging?
But no. He berated them.
That’s what got me. His tone was much more harsh than anyone I’ve read has had the courage to say. It was whipsaw brutal, chainsaw sharp. His disdain for them was barely contained, his disregard for their opinions pounded from every syllable. He came on like a CEO delivering a “shape up or ship out” warning to his sloppy employees. The part that was supposed, I think, to be the closest to a unifying we’re-all-in-this-together moment, the part that ended:
Yet every young democracy needs the help of friends. Now the nation of Iraq needs and deserves our aid — and all nations of good will should step forward and provide that support.
–wasn’t a plea for Iraq or anyone else. It was an order. It was spoken abruptly and coldly with a clear if unspoken “or else” at the end of it. It was the most imperial I’ve ever seen him, and it was ugly as gangrene.
My president–our president–was demanding like the spoiled brat he has always been that the nations of the world band together to pull his cookies from the fire, and pretty damn quick or he couldn’t be responsible for the consequences. It was less a moment of unity than a moment of petulant threat: he wanted the delegates to know without question or doubt that he sees the UN as an obstacle and that he removes obstacles when they don’t behave the way he wants them to. Got the message, guys?
In that single sentence, George W. Bush proclaimed himself Emperor and warned his satraps that his wrath could turn as easily on them as it had on Saddam.
And I am very much afraid he meant it.