The two faces of our president

Digby has written one of his best posts yet on what I see as the oddest phenomenon in American political history, i.e., the fact that the george bush many Americans believe they know has literally no relation to the man bush really is.

The piece is inspired by this ghoulish image that seems to have instantaneously become ubiquitous throughout the blogosphere.


This image is disconcerting and it evokes strong reactions because it symbolizes the cognitive dissonance so many of us have been living with for the last four years as we’ve watched the man who lost the election but won the office drive us to distraction with the contradictions of his character. And nothing has been more frustrating than the fact that so many in the media and in the public at large seemed to see something entirely different than we did.

I believe that this happened because after 9/11, the media cast Bush in the role of strong, resolute leader, perhaps because the nation needed him to be that, at least for a little while. And the people gratefully laid that mantle on him and he took it because the office demanded no less. The narrative of the nation at war required a warrior leader and George W. Bush was all we had. Karl Rove and others understood that they could use this veil to soothe the American people and flatter the president to take actions that no prudent, thoughtful leader would have taken after our initial successes in Afghanistan. This “man with the bullhorn” image of Bush crystallized in the minds of many Americans and has not been revisited until now.

Digby walks us step by step through the glaring contradictions between our president’s persona and his reality, and also how he has managed to keep the mask glued to his face for so long. And, most importantly, on how last Thursday that mask finally dropped, to the horror of bush’s handlers, and to anyone else who was watching objectively.

There is no doubt that whether it’s a cowboy hat or a crotch hugging flightsuit, George W. Bush enjoys wearing the mantle of American archetypal warriors. But when he goes behind the curtain and sheds the costume, a flinty, thin-skinned, immature man who has never taken responsibility for his mistakes emerges. The strong compassionate leader is revealed as a flimsy paper tiger.

On Thursday night, the president forgot himself. After years of being protected from anyone who doesn’t flatter and cajole, he let his mask slip when confronted with someone who didn’t fear his childish retribution or need anything from him. Many members of the public got a good sharp look at him for the first time in two years and they were stunned. Like that black and white image, the dichotomy of the real Bush vs. the phony Bush is profoundly discomfiting.

Luckily for America and the world, a fully synthesized, mature man stood on the other side of that stage ready to assume the mantle of leadership, not as a theatrical costume but as an adult responsibility for which he is prepared by a lifetime of service, study and dedication. I would imagine that many voters felt a strong sense of relief that he was there.

Obviously, this is a post you should read in its entirety. Digby is fast becoming my favorite political blogger.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

Stirring, eloquent writing which restores faith that there are (many)Americans not misled to believe that the war in Iraq is to maintain US national integrity and security.

How can the world be safe, when the leader of its most powerful country arrogates to himself that right to wage war on anyone merely suspected to be a threat?

The American election is not just a local event, but a defining moment in global history, because the choice between Bush and Kerry will affect the rest of us.

In this case, better the unknown angel than the existing false one.

October 4, 2004 @ 9:41 pm | Comment

“After years of being protected from anyone who doesn’t flatter and cajole, he let his mask slip when confronted with someone who didn’t fear his childish retribution or need anything from him.”

I’m wondering why Gore couldn’t quite pull this off. Or was W more or less considered a harmless governor back then?

October 5, 2004 @ 5:53 pm | Comment

Davi, the point to remember is that back in 2000 at least bush was camoaigning for real, not being protected against questioners and not arresting anyone who protested. But over the past few years he’s been in a glass bubble, shielded from criticism and protected from embarrassing questions. So the mask he was wearing this time wasn’t glued on him the last time. Kerry achieved a major coup, showing us all that the emperor not only has no clothes, but he’s got a bad body to boot.

October 5, 2004 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

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