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Image, truth and the Bush Administration

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According to Indianapolis’ WISH-TV, when President Bush stopped in town to give a speech on just how his tax cuts were going to help the “ordinary” American, VIP’s sitting behind him were asked to remove their ties so that they would look more “ordinary”.

When it comes to Bush’s public appearances, it seems very little is left to chance. The president has been criticized for the effort and expense that it took to create photo opportunities when he flew onto the USS Abraham Lincoln earlier this month. The same sort of image-making was a part of his Indianapolis speech.

George W. Bush came to Indianapolis for the picture. And in that picture, the White House wanted ordinary people.

“These are V.I.P.’s right, ordinary people aren’t up on stage behind the president of the United States when he’s speaking but the trick is to make V.I.P.’s look like they’re ordinary people,” said Bill Bloomquist, political scientist.

That’s why everyone sitting behind the president wearing a necktie was instructed to take it off.

This site even offers a picture of Representative Brian Bosma in his coat, tie and pocket square prior to Bush’s speech, and a second picture of Rep. Bosma when he went to greet President Bush, sans tie and pocket square.

As one audience member noted:

Bush fan Ann McDaniel was told not to flash her camera. Her companion, Wilma Hart, had this to say to the White House staffer: “I said, ‘Do we look like we just crawled out from under a rock someplace?’”

“When you see somebody who is in coat an tie, then not in coat and tie, then in coat and tie, it sort of reveals that this is about stagecraft rather than statecraft,” said Bloomquist.

You know, when President Clinton was still in office, much was made of his obsession with what kind of a legacy he would leave. I have to admit, I found his pre-occupation with that to be a bit amusing myself. But this administration is completely obsessed with the images they present.

The New York Times, today, also has an article on the stage-management behind Bush’s appearances.

The White House efforts have been ambitious — and costly. For the prime-time television address that Mr. Bush delivered to the nation on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used to illuminate sports stadiums and rock concerts, sent them across New York Harbor, tethered them in the water around the base of the Statue of Liberty and then blasted them upward to illuminate all 305 feet of America’s symbol of freedom. It was the ultimate patriotic backdrop for Mr. Bush, who spoke from Ellis Island.

For a speech that Mr. Bush delivered last summer at Mount Rushmore, the White House positioned the best platform for television crews off to one side, not head on as other White Houses have done, so that the cameras caught Mr. Bush in profile, his face perfectly aligned with the four presidents carved in stone.

And on Monday, for remarks the president made promoting his tax cut plan near Albuquerque, the White House unfurled a backdrop that proclaimed its message of the day, “Helping Small Business,” over and over. The type was too small to be read by most in the audience, but just the right size for television viewers at home.

As these articles shohw, every speech is carefully stage-managed, every appearance a photo-op. Even when he ostensibly is going to cheer on the troops, Bush’s handlers make sure to get him into a “sexy” flight suit and even release a picture highlighting the Presidental package, reportedly making many women swoon (though for the love of the Gods, I can’t figure out why!)

The problem, of course, is that image is surface only. It means absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, most Americans seem to be completely unaware of this fact. It’s possible to make anything look the way you want it to, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve actually changed the substance in any way. The manipulation of imagry is nothing more than a visual lie. The people on that stage were not “ordinary” Americans, they were the VIPs they appeared to be (before they took their ties off). The President is not a fighter pilot (he was grounded when he failed to take his required physical during the time he was AWOL from the Texas National Guard), he only looked the part in his borrowed flight suit. At an earlier press conference, boxes with the label “Made in China” were papered over so that the labels weren’t visible. The boxes still contained items that were made in China, but it was no longer obvious.

As has been noted many other times in this blog, this administration seems to have no idea what the “truth” is, or why its important. If the truth is inconvenient, they spin stories intended to mislead people into believing what fits their plans better – for example, their constant implications that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. There was no proof for this contention, and in fact, President Bush himself admitted in January that no such proof exists, yet it was inconvenient for them to have to have this truth widely believed, so they just kept making vague assertions that Saddam was involved somehow, until people began to believe it.

Their other favourite tactic when truth is inconvenient is to simply hide it from view. From President Bush’s changing of the policy that guides when a President’s papers are released, to Dick Cheney’s refusal to release information on who he met with as part of his energy task force, to the Congressional Report on the 9/11 attacks, the administration works on the premise that the American people don’t have a right to know anything they don’t want us to.

In other situations, the truth may just not be prosaic enough. When that happens, we end up with stage-managed speeches, photo-ops and other “image building” events, where what is real and what is perceived have little to no relation to each other. In addition to the examples cited above, we were given a preview of this strategy with the “crowd” of “angry voters” who intimidated the Miami-Dade county election commission into halting their recount of votes during the 200 election. Shortly after the riot succeeded in stopping the recount, we learned that these were not Florida citizens who were staging a grass-roots protest, but rather Republican Congressional Staffers flown in by the Bush campaign to disrupt the recount process.

And, of course, when all else fails, the Bush administration will resort to distortion, prevarication, “hedging”, misdirection and outright lies. There are a number of sites that have been keeping chronicles of Bush’s lies, including BushLies.net and BushWatch.com – though keep in mind that these sites are highly partisan, and, while I’ve found them to be generally reliable, it’s usually best to check things like this out for yourself. Sadly, there are far too many examples of this to pick out a few representative examples, but suffice it to say that, at this point, I simply don’t believe anything the Bush administration says unless I can find other ways to confirm it.

As many columnists and bloggers have noted, it’s ironic that, following the extreme outrage and breast-beating that occured every time President Clinton told a lie (and he certainly told his fair share), staged an event or otherwise tried to obfuscate the truth, that there is virtually no outcry at all when Bush does the same. While I would never want the Democrats, liberals, progressives and others who want to see Bush out of office sink to the level of pettiness and vindictiveness that we see so often from Republicans and conservatives, there needs to be a way to wake up the rest of the public and make them see just how shallow the image Bush presents is, and how little truth there is in anything he – or his administration – says or does.

Any suggestions?

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  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent post Kriselda, very imporant information and powerful evidence about image-mongering. I don’t agree with all conclusions, but that isn’t the point – thanks!

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    I understand and agree with much of what’s presented here, because there really is a tremendous amount of prepping going on to ensure the President is presented in a very specific light. I’m glad to see you point out the obvious partisan nature of the two Bush-related sites, but you really weaken other portions of your argument by using as your “information” source the blogs of non-news personnel (differentstrings.info and uggabugga.blogspot.com.)

    General Blogcritics comment: If you really want people to believe and care about your story, you need to find legitimate news sources for this information and use them, otherwise the credibility of your piece goes down the drain – opinion piece or not. This is my biggest problem with what’s posted on Blogcritics – that much of it is based in opinion-derived rhetoric without a shred of evidence behind it, yet it is presented as fact.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Holy crap, the president is image conscious! Stop the frickin’ presses.

    This stuff about Bush lying is mostly nonsense. Now, any politician at his level will be spinning and shading. That’s politics. But I’ve yet to see a real outright lie. Bush couldn’t get away with it even if he wanted to.

    You might accuse the administration of overemphasizing links between Hussein and al-Qaeda, for example, but they clearly had some rudimentary co-operation and common interests. That’s not lying. Saddam clearly supported Arab terrorists directly and openly, which are all interwoven.

    Lots of people have gone on about the “lose the tie” thing, as if it were somehow disreputable or scandalous. How? In what way is this bad?

  • http://www.american_as_applepie.blogspot.com Randy M

    I may be wrong but isn’t self image one of the big things in politics. Clinton had his youth and a strange appeal to women, President Bush doesn’t have either youth or misplaced sex appeal so he takes other avenues. He does have a strong foreign policy that actually persues issues that are vital to national interest instead of closing his eyes and praying that nothing bad happens during his term. I don’t think the links between OBL and Hussein are direct but look at it this way….if your house was robbed, would you hunt only after the thief that robbed you and let all the other thieves go since they aren’t the one that stole from you? Of course not, and just because Hussein wasn’t directly behind the Twin Towers attacks didn’t make him any less of an international threat. If the war on terror incidentally creates a few photo ops to aid in his re-elction(and God, I hope he does) then so be it. Rock on with your bad self MR President!