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Late Winter 2004

Mr. Bush Brings the Good News

(Titled "On Your Discomfort" in "Fodder")

by Henry William Brownejohns

When last we spoke, gentle readers, Saddam Hussein was still gleefully at large, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was still lingering below 10,000 points, and your holiday shopping was woefully incomplete. And then, like a quadruple paroxysm of hawkish holiday cheer, came the capture, Christmas, quintuple-digits, and a very Happy New Year. Mr. Bush retired to Crawford and made a point of seeing and being seen by no-one: his work, we were to infer, was done.

But if you don’t remember having a very happy, carefree holiday – as Federal instructions dictated - that is because you are an American citizen like the rest of us, and are therefore subject to the Great Dis-connect, that very capitalized barrier which exists between the daily reality of the People, and the adolescent fantasy-world governed by Mr. Bush and his overstuffed club-mates. In fact, this has been a terrifying month, and the misery and malaise transmitted across the land has not dissipated a lick.

Airports, packed with reluctant holiday travellers, were being evacuated more frequently by rifle-toting SWAT teams than by air-traffic controllers; the new, Saddam-less Iraq proved to be as lethal and unwelcoming as ever, and an invisible stream of American coffins made their way home, to a continued absence of acknowledgement; and Americans, generally, spent money on their loved ones that they didn’t really have, deepening the private debt of our population to record-setting levels, even as, with the close of December, it became apparent that job growth had stopped outright, and the much-vaunted Recovery was still stored away with WMDs, White House security leaks, and Mr. Bin Laden.

The Disconnect needs to be dissected, or else the simpletons among us will only grow distraught when they fail to feel as happy as the government tells them they have reason to. For starters, let it be known that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is meaningless to the daily existence of you and I and the paper-boy, but it is reported to us, by our government and our media, as if it were a thermometer in our very arse. The fact is that whether the Dow Jones is reading 15,000 or 5, has no impact on whether you have a paycheck to look forward to or health insurance to fall back on, say, when terrorists attack, and your hyperbaric chamber bills are piling up. (The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a chart, compiled by gnomes in the basement of the Wall St. Journal, measuring the fates and falls of thirty American companies, chosen by those same gnomes. Not only is it a paltry representation of American commerce, but it is subject to editorial review - a company fails to perform, and it is removed from the list. This is our economic indicator: a barometer with its numbers erased every time the pressure drops. I contend that until we elect the editors of the Journal on the first Tuesday in Novemeber, we should stop using their play graph to measure our morale and gauge our prosperity.)

The Disconnect is equally apparent on the embattled banks of the Euphrates River: the trumpets blare when Mr. Hussein is finally captured – Mission Accomplished, you might say. But a week later, still another dozen Americans are dead, our sexed-up helicopters can’t seem to stay in the air, a few dozen more Iraqi civilians have been shot and trampled in food and water riots, and even the Pentagon admits that the shortest occupation of that country will now extend well past Mr. Bush’s most optimistic term in office. But the military, and its supporters, largely stand behind the President, because the Disconnect between he and they, like the elephant in the parlor, is just too large and too horrible to be believed. Not a stir, you might recall, when Mr. Bush made his ‘secret, surprise’ trip to Baghdad over Thanksgiving, and amid all the well-publicized secrecy managed to have his picture snapped by an AP photog, while he held up a fake turkey on a platter. This editorialist is still startled at how many of the administration’s most rabid and radical critics haven’t even heard about the prop-turkey, though it was broken by the mainstream media (Washington Post) and not any Marxist ‘zine. But we want to believe the best about people, and the present disparity between our executive and his legions is quite possibly too grievous for many of us to accept. (It was a fake turkey!) The military, for example, continues to be a bastion of happy, hawkish Bush-Republicanism, even as the President has slashed Veteran’s benefits by record levels, and even reduced military medical care and benefits (Gulf War Syndrome patients, made ill in the service of W’s dear old Pa, have been forced to rescind the awards granted them by the courts, and receive no special consideration for their medical expenses). But naturally, if there were an elephant in here with us we’d see it, wouldn’t we?

The Disconnect shows up all over, but most broadly, it shows up in Mr. Bush’s complete absence of understanding, in regards to the immense anger felt towards his person and his administration, in America and elsewhere. Mr. Clinton may have been reviled by his political enemies, for his looseness and his laxity and certainly his confidence; but no president has been the focus of such intense and popular loathing across the world, for his policy and his perceived inhumanity, as Mr. Bush is today. We must fairly take the reading of the mood of the world, and of ourselves, whom we have been particularly deceptive to lately. We must ask ourselves honestly if we are better off than we were when Mr. Bush snapped up his office. Or even, if we are better off than we were a year ago, when we were hearing similar boasts about how well we were doing. Are we safer? Are we happier? Are we healthier? Are we even richer? And isn’t this last one - wealth and comfort - the fundamental promise, the base temptation that made nearly half of the electorate throw their lot in with Compassionate Conservatism? Didn’t George Bush promise you’d get richer? And what of the world – is it more secure? Is Afghanistan a stable, prosperous land (have we even fulfilled our promise there?); is the Middle East a more friendly place to visit; do five and a half billion people look toward America with admiration, respect, and awe? Regardless of our conclusions when we ask ourselves these question, from individual to individual, we must all recognize that we, Mr. Bush’s citizens and Americans, are the caretakers of our government, and if we have any desire to mend the gaping gory wound which separates us from our leaders, then we must take responsibility for our Presidency and give it a dose of real life.

When the candidate Mr. Dean said, on the very day it happened, that “the capture of Saddam Hussein does not make us any safer,” he was stating the embarrassingly obvious, in the context of an American discourse where the obvious is almost never stated. But it only scratches the surface of the great Disconnect; it only hints at the miles of sky between all our own daily lives and the comfortable, oblivious existence of Mr. Bush in his castle in the clouds - where the number of ‘the Dow’ means something more than that of your bank account balance, where a completed collection of a deck of cards is more real than hundreds of soldier’s coffins, and where a vast database of fingerprints and photographs is less a violation of human dignity than a hedge against the government’s responsibility to say they are protecting their assets. If you feel like you are in a parallel universe, as you watch your governors smile and wave and tell you how well everything is going, you are there with all the rest of us, hearing good news and still feeling bad, and waiting for something to drop from the sky.

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