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As you know, many of us are more outraged over this presidency than perhaps any other (which is saying something). We’re also exasperated with the Democratic Party which, our dreams of Green aside, is currently the only lot that can possibly get these theocrats out of office. But as we’re learning from the mainstream media, whose latest negative news peg about Howard Dean is that he’s too “angry” to be president, we’re not supposed to display our fury over Team Bush’s multiple crimes. Angry just doesn’t go with the PR-driven, entertainment-oriented nature of modern campaigning. At the same time, as “The Daily Show” reminds us every night, Team Bush does provide America with many laughable moments. I mean, really, that Baghdad photo op of Dubya with the roasted turkey looked exactly like something you’d see in The Onion. (“The turkey has landed,” quipped the front-page headline in the London Independent.) So, if “angry” is out, then let’s get happy and start making a lot more fun of our Emperor wannabe.
As I understand the hint Dean and others are being given by the pundits, the various candidates hoping to run against Bush need to lighten up and be not so, well, serious. While most of us feel that fury is exactly what is called for at this moment, ridicule and condescension often can be more powerful than indignant attacks. Recall how well they worked for Reagan when he kept chiding Walter Mondale, as if he were an adolescent, with his dismissive mantra “There you go again.” The more Bush struts around with queens and dons flight jackets and other military apparel, the more mockery he invites — and needs.
Here’s my proposal. Inspired by Nicholas D. Kristof’s “Name That War” contest in the New York Times, which produced fabulous nominees such as “Operation Bushwack Iraq” and “Bushkrieg,” I’m putting forward a similar contest to rename a host of Bush policies and, indeed, to offer some new nicknames for that lover of nicknames, Bush himself.
The idea is to get the Democrats to stop attacking each other, to stop being so lethally humorless, and instead to bandy about and debate the merits of the various titles and sound bites you all propose. In the process, maybe we can elevate Bush’s derision quotient to its proper level.
Here are some categories to consider.
Name that electorate: Team Bush thinks that most Americans are morons. Any decent candidate will remind voters over and over that Bush thinks they’re too dumb (projection, perhaps?) to notice the difference between image and reality. Bush thinks that if he just jets into Baghdad for two hours and serves up some yams, that people won’t notice that he killed a congressional proposal to increase the benefits to families whose relatives die in combat, that he proposes closing seven VA hospitals, and that some veterans have to wait two years for a doctor’s appointment. (See Dave Lindorff’’s “Dishonorable Discharge” in the November 26 issue of In These Times and Graydon Carter’s scathing editorial on Bush’s record in the December issue of Vanity Fair.) He also thinks they won’t notice that November saw the highest casualty rate since Bush invaded Iraq. His little cameo appearance is supposed to obliterate the fact that he won’t attend the funerals of those killed in Iraq. So, behind closed doors, at his “beloved ranch” in Crawford, what do you think he calls us dumb stumps? We need something that conveys his true contempt for those he refers to in public as “the American people.”
Nickname that president: Bush is like the proverbial used-car salesman, and certainly like the fraud posing as the Great and Mighty Oz, but both are way too hackneyed. Alfred E. Neuman already is overdone (though so apt). Molly Ivins has given us “Shrub” and “Dubya,” which convey the gaping mismatch between the man and his station, but neither captures his inveterate duplicity. So, next competition: What is a really great, derisive moniker for this PR poser, whose various photo ops seek to mask the fact that he’s, well, a liar and a fool.
A subset of this category: Can we please have a nickname for him every time he dares to wear military gear and pretends he knows anything about serving in the armed forces?
Rename those “initiatives”: Let’s start with, for example, “Healthy Forests,” “Leave No Child Behind” and the entire Iraq fiasco with its various “Operations.” Team Bush has raised the rhetoric of inversion to a shameless new level, not of “doublespeak,” but “opposite speak.” So, pick those initiatives, like PRIDE (Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone), e.g., the new welfare “reform” proposal that increases the number of hours recipients — including single mothers with kids under the age of 6 — have to work to get assistance. Or take a crack at the “Medicare Modernization Bill.”
Rename those backdrops: You know the ones I mean, designed by former TV producers that say things like “better care, more choices” and cover the wall behind Bush as he announces some program (like the new Medicare) that does just the opposite of what the backdrop says. The name should capture the “subliminal seduction” efforts here.
While I believe that Howard Dean — and anyone else labeled as too “angry” — should say “Yes, I am angry” and explain why, given millions of Americans are, in fact, “angry” too. This deluded, self-important, arrogant administration requires vigorous deflation. Not only are they trying to steal our foreign policy, the courts, the environment and the constitution, they are actually trying to steal our language and its meanings. So dip those pens in acid, and get to work.
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Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and a senior editor at In These Times. She is the author of In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead.