Daily Archives: May 8, 2004

How The Cult of Personality Works

Though he doesn’t seem to realize that Propaganda Minister Karl Rove is behind it all, the NY Times‘ Bush Campaign reporter, Jim Rutenberg, does a pretty good job of describing how Karl manipulates and maintains the Bush Personality Cult.

First, you book your man only into places already friendly to him, places where tv cameras are guaranteed a welcome of streaming, screaming crowds lined up for blocks in every direction to photograph for the evening news, places like military bases–although Karl has been doing less of that than formerly since the Iraq war turned nasty. The military isn’t quite the friendly place it used to be, so Karl sent Junior instead to Dubuque, Iowa, the Reddest city in one of the Reddest of states.

Second, you book him into those of the already-friendly venues that haven’t had a visit of such magnitude in some time.

News directors and editors said they were wise to what the campaign was trying to accomplish, drawing positive press in a market likely to be wowed by the rare presence of a president. But, several said in interviews, that they had few choices but to cover his visit as an event.”How often do you get a president of the United States not only in your state but in your backyard?” said Becky Lutgen Gardner, news director of KCRG-TV.

Brian Cooper, the executive editor of the Telegraph Herald, the major newspaper in town, said of Mr. Bush, “There are a lot of people who disagree with his policies and still think it’s pretty neat we’ve got him coming to town.”

Third, you “facilitate” the visuals.

Tears were flowing on “Live With Regis & Kelly” on Friday as a woman was introduced to the man whose life her dead son’s heart had saved.But the emotional moment was abruptly halted on Channel 9 here by breaking news. It was not for Donald H. Rumsfeld’s Congressional appearance (that would come later) or the severe storms brewing to the southwest.

It was, rather, for Air Force One’s approach, which the news camera followed as if it was that of the space shuttle.

“You can see a smooth landing at the Dubuque Regional Airport,” the anchorman, Scott Sanborn, said in a slightly hushed tone. “There is a lot of anticipation in Dubuque for the president’s visit today.”

That was putting it mildly. On local television and radio and in the main newspaper here, Mr. Bush’s stop in this Mississippi River town, part of his three-day bus tour, has scored blanket coverage for days, much of it downright giddy.

Karl releases the President’s flight plan to the local media (just as NASA does with the Shuttle; how else would they know where to put their cameras?), probably suggesting the best angles for the lenses, angles where the plane will appear most impressively majestic and otherworldly. Why shoot pictures of the President’s plane? In the movies you do it to provide context; it’s the same here. Karl is looking to awaken a sense of “Our Great Leader is coming! Coming to us! Look! There’s his awesome personal flight vehicle! Isn’t it a miracle? And he has used all that marvelous power and technology just to visit li’l ole us! Wonderful!” It works, too. People are ridiculously easy to flatter, a cinch to awe, because they refuse to guard against it. Those most easily manipulated are those who reject the notion that anybody could manipulate them.

Of course, letting the press know when and from what direction the president’s plane will be approaching does break security rules by making the information potentially available to a McVey-style madman with a rocket launcher, but hey, it’s a campaign. The visuals of the visit are more important.

And so you keep them coming. Fourth:

Provide plenty of pictures of adoring crowds in the thrall of His Presence, jamming forward in the hope that they might be able to touch the hem of The Beloved Leader’s closest garment. This shows all the doubters the multitudes who don’t doubt, not even a little, and effectively marginalizes them by surrounding Our Great Leader with an aura of reverence.

But, you will object, every candidate has his picture taken with adoring crowds–that’s part of the game–and there’s no suggestion of ‘reverence’ when they do it.

And there you’ve put your finger on Rove’s genius: the reverence proceeds directly from those shots of Our Great Leader’s plane arriving, a visual context the other candidate can never have and that other presidents rarely use (because of the breach of “national security” involved in releasing the flight plan), a visual designed to provoke that sense of reverence for the Superior Being Who Approaches. To some degree (much smaller, since they are real heroes as opposed to the image of a ‘hero’), visuals of the Shuttle returning from space have contributed to the movie-star-like reverence in which astronauts are held. Karl realized this and co-opted them for political use. He loves having Junior sweep in on AF1 or, better yet, fly a military jet and land it on a carrier. That is ‘awe’ for you. That is ‘reverential’. Karl would NEVER NEVER NEVER allow Junior to arrive in a *gasp* common, plebian bus.

No, that was Karen Hughes’ idea for showcasing Junior’s ‘common touch’. Karen, you see, is from the Old School; she doesn’t really get the idea behind The Cult. Neither does Junior, come to that. He accepts it, of course, silver-spoon in hand, as his right and just due as God’s Messenger on Earth, but he doesn’t understand that this image has had to be created–he thinks it’s genuine, he thinks people really do love him that much. Like many people who’ve grown up with riches and, since we worship money in this country, been pampered and kowtowed to all their lives by everyone around them, George II takes it for granted that he’s a fine fellow beloved by all but a few dissident cranks he can safely ignore. And Karl makes sure Junior has plenty of evidence around him that that’s true.

Manipulation is rampant in Rove’s America. Even Our Great Leader has to be manipulated for his own good to grow and maintain The Cult that will keep the radcons and baby theocrats in business well after 2008–if they can just get past 2004….

In addition, the rarity of such visits in such places inevitably short-circuits skepticism and leads to the ‘giddiness’ Rutenberg alludes to.

“Historic Visit” was the large-type headline in the Telegraph Herald of Dubuque on Friday morning; “A pretty spectacular day,” proclaimed Ron Steele, the KWWL-TV anchor. Almost all of the major local stations showed Mr. Bush’s nearly hourlong campaign speech at the Grand River Center, in which he lampooned Senator John Kerry and promoted his own record, live. Even on Thursday, news of Mr. Bush’s visit overwhelmed news about the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

You can say that again.

The Telegraph Herald carried only a 50-word teaser to the Iraqi abuse story on the front page, half of which was occupied by three articles about Mr. Bush’s visit. One carried a headline that said in part, “no food will be allowed at president’s speech.” Another was about the hopes of nearby Cuba City, Wis., that the president’s motorcade would swing through.

So much for little things like US responsibility for the torture of prisoners; what’s that next to knowing that ‘no food will be allowed at the president’s speech’? Nothing, a waste of newspaper space.

And yet despite all this brilliant PR, Bush’s numbers continue to sink because there is one factor that over-rides the temporary lift of a personal appearance by Our Great Leader–reality. Once the public begins to suspect that the man behind the curtain is a fraud, the jig is all but up. Reality is the one element against which they have no defense.

Correction: In Comments, Seattle gently chides my assertion that Iowa is still a Red state; apparently it’s now a swing state (Dubuque, too?). He thinks it might have gone to Gore in ’00. If it did (and he’s probably right; he knows this stuff), I missed that little chunk of news completely. My apologies. But I’m not going to edit it to make myself look better. I goofed. Let it wave in the breeze.

Rumsfeld Will Resign

He is prepared for it, he expects it, and–most important–Karl will decide it’s in the best interests of Junior’s re-election. Look for it this summer when the brouhaha dies down. My guess is earlier rather than later to give the campaign and its Mighty Wurlitzer army of sock-puppets time to get past it, say, late May, early June. But it could be as late as August.

No Chinese Gordon in Iraq

Girl-blogger (her designation for herself) River of Baghdad Burning has written a couple of incredible posts about the situation in Iraq since the release of the Abu Ghraib photographs. Here’s some of what she wrote yesterday:

People are seething with anger- the pictures of Abu Ghraib and the Brits in Basrah are everywhere. Every newspaper you pick up in Baghdad has pictures of some American or British atrocity or another. It’s like a nightmare that has come to life.Everyone knew this was happening in Abu Ghraib and other places… seeing the pictures simply made it all more real and tangible somehow. American and British politicians have the audacity to come on television with words like, “True the people in Abu Ghraib are criminals, but…” Everyone here in Iraq knows that there are thousands of innocent people detained. Some were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, while others were detained ‘under suspicion’. In the New Iraq, it’s “guilty until proven innocent by some miracle of God”.

People are so angry. There’s no way to explain the reactions- even pro-occupation Iraqis find themselves silenced by this latest horror. I can’t explain how people feel- or even how I personally feel. Somehow, pictures of dead Iraqis are easier to bear than this grotesque show of American military technique. People would rather be dead than sexually abused and degraded by the animals running Abu Ghraib prison.

There was a time when people here felt sorry for the troops. No matter what one’s attitude was towards the occupation, there were moments of pity towards the troops, regardless of their nationality. We would see them suffering the Iraqi sun, obviously wishing they were somewhere else and somehow, that vulnerability made them seem less monstrous and more human. That time has passed. People look at troops now and see the pictures of Abu Ghraib… and we burn with shame and anger and frustration at not being able to do something. Now that the world knows that the torture has been going on since the very beginning, do people finally understand what happened in Falloojeh? (emphasis added by me–M)

Do we? River’s question cuts to the heart of the Abu Ghraib issue in a way that no pundit’s analyzing has. Are we finally willing, on the stength of incontrovertible, undeniable evidence, to admit that Fallujah (note her Persian spelling) was a native insurrection fueled by anger at what our troops have been ordered to do to them?

The Sharon-style tactics of the past year–bulldozing the houses of Iraqis “suspected” of knowing where or who the insurgents are; midnight raids when troops break down doors without warning, throw the inhabitants to the floor and handcuff them, male and female, put bags over their heads, and hustle them off to prison; strip searches; the arbitrary arrest and detention of civilians guilty of no bigger crime than trying to pass through a checkpoint; and on and on–have produced exactly the response from Iraqis that Israelis get from the Palestinians: fear, suspicion, hatred, and, finally, insurrection. What did we expect was going to happen? Did we think the Iraqis were somehow different, weaker, more subservient than the Palestinians? Is that what we thought?

Randi reported the other day on an incident in Baghdad when US soldiers at a checkpoint began searching a man’s wife as the two of them tried to pass through. The husband became agitated, not unnaturally, and protested. The soldiers hit him, handcuffed him, and arrested him. When another man attempted to intervene, they threw him to the ground on his stomach, hand-cuffed his hands behind his back, and one of the soldiers held the man’s face to the tarmac with his boot–a horrendous insult in Arabic cultures (and not much appreciated in any others).

What we MUST understand about this is that these are tactics that were deliberately and carefully developed by the Israeli military to humliate a subject population. THESE SOLDIERS WERE UNDER ORDERS TO DO WHAT THEY DID, just as Israeli soldiers are under orders when they do them. NONE OF THIS IS ACCIDENTAL, these are NOT “isolated incidents”: THEY ARE US POLICY, a policy stolen whole from the Israeli Army Occupation Playbook, a policy that will produce in Iraq exactly what it produces in Israel–fear, suspicion, hatred, and insurrection. It has backfired in Israel, it will backfire in Iraq. As it has made Israelis less safe, it will make us less safe. THERE CAN BE NO OTHER OUTCOME.

The uprising in Fallujah is not some bastard child unwanted and unbidden, it is the direct offspring of Sharon’s (and Likud’s) utterly failed hard-line strategies, the step-brother of the intifadehs, and a promise of things to come. “Quagmire” doesn’t begin to describe it any more. If these people aren’t stopped–and stopped SOON–we are going to make bin Laden’s crazy dream come true: we are going to create a massive jihad–the Great Jihad that the Mahdi tried to raise against the British in the 1880’s, a jihad prosecuted by the entire Arab world. This isn’t a “quagmire”; it’s a religious war.

The British Army may have broken the back of the Mahdi’s rebellion militarily, but it could only do so because Gordon’s unswerving devotion to the Sudanese and his martyred death in their name broke its spirit. To put it bluntly, Bremer is no Chinese Gordon. We have not a single figure in Iraq who represents Iraqi interests, only neocon faith-healers who represent their own grand illusions and ignorant pipe-dreams, greedy corporations draining the country as dry as they can as fast as they can, and crooked wanna-be kings like Chalabi who are maneuvering to have their US masters leave them on the throne to rape whatever’s left when they bolt.

Kerry has to stop all this horseshit about how “we have to stay and make the best of it” and GET US OUT.