Daily Archives: February 13, 2004

The Cult of Personality Revisited (Supporting Material)

Starting around the end of November, I wrote a series demonstrating that an essential piece of the radcon strategy for taking and keeping power in the US was the formation of a cult around the personality of the leader, in this case, W. 

In today’s NYT, Paul Krugman backs up that contention.

By my count, this year’s budget contains 27 glossy photos of Mr. Bush. We see the president in front of a giant American flag, in front of the Washington Monument, comforting an elderly woman in a wheelchair, helping a small child with his reading assignment, building a trail through the wilderness and, of course, eating turkey with the troops in Iraq. Somehow the art director neglected to include a photo of the president swimming across the Yangtze River.It was not ever thus. Bill Clinton’s budgets were illustrated with tables and charts, not with worshipful photos of the president being presidential.

The issue here goes beyond using the Government Printing Office to publish campaign brochures. In this budget, as in almost everything it does, the Bush administration tries to blur the line between reverence for the office of president and reverence for the person who currently holds that office.

While Krugman doesn’t go on to explain how this Cult tactic fits into the larger strategic framework, he does make explicit the connection between the it and the current controversy over Junior’s military record:

But when administration officials are challenged about the blatant deceptions in their budgets — or, for that matter, about the use of prewar intelligence — their response, almost always, is to fall back on the president’s character. How dare you question Mr. Bush’s honesty, they ask, when he is a man of such unimpeachable integrity? And that leaves critics with no choice: they must point out that the man inside the flight suit bears little resemblance to the official image.

The radcons, perhaps mistaking Poppy’s son for Ronnie’s, may have put their eggs in the wrong basket. Superficial and tunnel-visioned as they are, it must have seemed natural to them to count on charm to blind us to a lack of substance and a folksy manner to distract us from a power-elite, silver-spoon background. Besides, there was always PuppetMaster Karl to crack the whip and keep the spineless press in line.

But they underestimated both the revulsion in which many of their wealthy-first policies would be held by the ordinary folk who suffered from them, and the backlash from their own conservative supporters. It appears to have been that backlash that let loose a tiger press we haven’t seen zeroed in on a conservative in twenty years. Michael Moore may have touched off a firestorm with his satirical comment about Bush being a “deserter”, but it wasn’t until high-powered conservative voices like the NRO Corner’s Kool Kids and columnist George Will started making comments critical of Junior that the mainstream press really started to bear down. And when even the heavily-partisan attack-dog O’Reilly was forced into saying on national tv that he had been wrong about the WMD’s and was now much more “skeptical” of Bush and his Admin, the flood gates opened. The much-repeated exchange between a hapless, robotic Scott McClellan and reporters actually doing their jobs at a daily briefing followed almost instantly on the heels of O’Reilly’s climb-down.

This was not co-incidental. It was cause-and-effect. Even Rove’s vaunted machine can’t keep the tigers caged if his trusted lieutenants are unlocking the doors. The Cult is beginning to fall apart because the kid the radcons picked to be at the center of it is a spoiled, badly-educated frat brat who can’t, as the Russert interview forced even Peggy Noonan to admit, put an intelligible answer together to even the simplest of questions, falling back time and again on empty rehetoric and meaningless cliches. They wanted an empty suit, someone who would look good on tv but wouldn’t question their questionable policies, and they got one. But there’s a downside they forgot about: you always run the risk that somebody’s going to notice the suit’s empty, and once they do, you’re finished.

The conservative faithful, angry and disappointed, particularly about the runaway budget, are running away from the radical neocons’ major public prop. They’re afraid he will lose, even to Kerry. Unfortunately, they’re stuck. It’s too late to find a new Puppet and they’ll have to go with what they’ve got.

Democracy as we know it may have just gotten a reprieve, and if it has we will owe it all, ironically enough, to the unlikely duo of Moore and O’Reilly. Who woulda thunk it?