Web Only / Features » October 8, 2004
A Milli Vanilli President
President George W. Bush has claimed that that God speaks to him. More worldly voices, it now appears, may also be speaking to him at key moments.
Viewers and journalists watching Bush in his first debate with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry have commented on his odd behavior in Miami. To some he seemed peevish and antsy-almost wired.
Now there is evidence that he may have been—in an electronic way—by having cues and lines fed to him through a hidden high-tech earpiece.
Several things about the first debate have led to this speculation.
Many people who watched the debate remarked on Bush’s sometimes-bizarre comments and behavior during the evening. At one point he angrily blurted “Now, let me finish!” midway through a long, timed answer and well before he would have received a warning light to wrap up his comments. Compounding the strangeness was that he didn’t seem to be addressing his remark to either moderator Jim Lehrer or Kerry and no one had spoken or even hinted at interrupting him.
A voice coming through a hidden hearing device also would explain several long silences occurring at odd points in the president’s answers and his odd expressions and eye movements.
Alert viewers also raised questions about the square object situated between President Bush’s shoulder blades, clearly visible pressing through his jacket during rear-view camera shots as he was leaning over the lectern. According to the debate rules, the Democrats and the Republicans agreed that neither candidate would be shot from behind. According to a source familiar with the debate negotiations who refused to speak on the record, it was Republicans, lead by debate negotiator Jim Baker, the former secretary of state, who insisted on this odd condition.
Experts familiar with spyware suggest this bulge in the jacket could have been an “inductor” for receiving signals sent from someone offstage feeding the president answers through a hidden, wireless earpiece. The advantage of using such a device, rather than simply a micro-radio receiver in the president’s ear canal, is that an inductor can broadcast any scrambled or unscrambled message to an ear receiver at extremely low power-so low that the signal would be undetectable beyond a few feet.
Speculation that the president may have been getting help with his answers is supported by evidence that he has been using an earpiece for some time. According to a number of viewers, news reports on CNN, Fox and MSNBC of Bush’s D-Day commemoration speech in France, for instance, picked up a voice feeding the president his lines just before he spoke them and broadcast them. A clip of a CNN broadcast of the president’s D-day address in France clearly includes the sound of another voice leading the president through his lines.
This technique is familiar to television correspondents, some of who tape their remote reports and play them back through earpieces to broadcast their remarks smoothly on camera.
Repeated calls to the White House and the Bush campaign for comment on whether Bush uses an earpiece and for an explanation of the obvious bulge under his tailored jacket have been ignored.
The Kerry camp also refuses to comment.
Americans ought not be surprised should it turn out their president is having lines fed to him. Ronald Reagan was provided cue cards for every occasion by his staff and sometimes his wife, even one reminding him to say “Good Afternoon” when meeting heads of state. And most presidents give speeches written and honed by professional speechwriters. But receiving answers during a presidential debate clearly violates established rules.
In 1990, Milli Vanilli was forced to return their award for Best Vocal Group after it was revealed that the pop duo hadn’t sung the songs on their album and that they routinely lip-synched performances.
It remains to be seen how Americans will react should they discover they have a Milli Vanilli president.
Meanwhile, if the Kerry campaign is smart, they’ll either ask that the candidates agree to be frisked before tonight’s St. Louis debate, or Kerry himself, instead of shaking hands with the president, should give him a manly pat on the back. Another possibility: in this less formal, town-hall setting, Kerry could begin by doffing his jacket, leaving Bush the choice of exposing his wire of looking like a stuffed shirt all evening.
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Dave Lindorff, an In These Times contributing editor, is the author of This Can't Be Happening: Resisting the Disintegration of American Democracy. His work can be found at This Can't Be Happening.