by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
May 8, 2003
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- What does it mean when, in the same week, New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain crumbles to the ground, a horse named Funny Cide beats horses named Empire Maker and Peace Rules in the Kentucky Derby, and, more to the point, President George W. Bush steps off a plane onto an aircraft carrier with what looks like a banana stuffed into his pants?
It means the Big Kahuna is sending us warning signs - shape up or give it up, America.
Americans won't wake up, though, until they learn to deconstruct the images they see on television.
For example, when the U.S. started bombing Iraq, I felt certain that once decent people saw the bodies piling up, they would understand how wrong this adventure was and rise up in favor of right, not might.
I never dreamed that they wouldn't see the bodies, that the war would be so sanitized on American television (but nowhere else in the world) that all the Americans saw was an extremely questionable triumph.
Bush's carrier speech is another prime example of how the White House is manipulating television while television is manipulating the public.
As Bush's plane landed on the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln, monumental sycophant Tom Brokaw whispered, "You know this president was a pilot in the National Guard during the Vietnam War. They say he handled the controls of this plane on the way out."
He didn't say, "You know, Bush was MIA from his National Guard unit for the entire Vietnam War, which is a slap in the face of all the armed forces gathered here today - and he couldn't possibly fly this plane now."
In the days before the speech, the White House kept saying that the carrier was too far out at sea for the president to take a helicopter. That is why we were treated to the dramatic tailhook landing - something new to television viewers unless they watch "JAG" every week.
Yet in truth, the aircraft carrier was only 30 miles from shore, and had been specifically angled in the sea so the nearby San Diego skyline was not visible to the cameras. Why didn't Brokaw mention that? Or the fact that the men and women on board hadn't seen their families in 10 months, but were kept out at sea an extra day so Bush could have his photo op.
The White House is now denying that the footage - paid for by the American people, as Sen. Robert Byrd has pointed out - will be used in the upcoming campaign. Want to bet, Bill Bennett, want to bet?
In his speech, Bush obliquely referred to "that fallen statue" - the unforgettable image of Saddam's huge statue being pulled down. He didn't say, as he often used to, "When the Iraqi people toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein." That's because it's been fairly well reported by now that the Americans pulled it down themselves - for another photo op.
When Bush congratulated the cheering men and women on fighting bravely for their country, which they did, I couldn't help thinking about new reports in the French and Arab newspapers about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cutting a deal with the commanders of the Iraqi Republican Guard.
Supposedly, the Iraqi generals were offered money - lots of it, plus escape from Iraq and American citizenship for themselves and their families if they chose to leave, or a role in rebuilding the country if they stayed. In exchange, they called off the forces defending Baghdad.
After the city's easy capture, one Iraqi military commander, Maj. Salah Abdullah Mahdi, told reporters with tears in his eyes that his own general ordered him to send his troops home.
If American money bought off the Iraqi generals then it saved American lives. That's a good thing. But it also taints the American victory, and it may serve to make our armed forces overconfident during our next foray into empire-building.
Also in his speech, Bush referred to American soldiers being greeted with cheers by Iraqi citizens. He didn't talk about the large anti-American demonstrations now taking place - or the fact that American forces are shooting the demonstrators.
In the end, I'm not sorry that the evil Saddam and his two disgusting sons have lost their power, although they seem to have escaped with $1 billion in U.S. bills and Eurodollars. Maybe they also cut a deal with Rumsfeld?
But I do grieve for the dead Americans, the many more dead Iraqis, the lost museum treasures, the lost books, the lost history and the lost culture.
Mostly, however, I grieve for the lost truth. The weapons of mass destruction, the links with al-Qaeda, the imminent danger to the U.S. - all lies. So was the goal of bringing democracy to Iraq. For all the talk of liberty and freedom, the majority Shiites are being shunted aside and the Americans seem bent on installing the convicted swindler and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi as a puppet ruler. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
It might be better for my health if I stopped watching television. Last week, during the first Democratic presidential candidates debate, a smirking Sen. Joseph Lieberman said, "I know I can beat Bush because Al Gore and I did it in 2000."
I actually found myself shouting at the television set, "Yes, you self-satisfied imbecile, you won, but you let the victory slip through your fingers.
"And as a result, our Constitutional rights are being gutted, our schools are being destroyed, our remaining safety nets - social security, Medicaid and Medicare - are under fierce attack and could disappear, thousands of Americans, Afghanis and Iraqis have died, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are still free and wealthy beyond our wildest dreams, American corporations are carving up Iraq, and our country is hated across the world. How dare you ask for another chance?"
I scared the cat right out of the room.
As Spider Man always says, with great power comes great responsibility.
For an American president, that means the responsibility to tell the truth, to protect the Constitution, to use our great military power wisely and not just for private profit, and to care for all the people, not just the ones who agree with you while your minions demonize the rest.
If we don't take back the power in the next election then we deserve nothing but a pair of padded pants. And woe to the world.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.