What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005
With thoughts on some ancient speeches that I did hear

We had friends over for dinner last night, so I wasn’t able to watch the President’s speech. I doubt that I would have watched it anyway - and I have to confess that apart from glancing at the headlines, I haven’t read what he said either. I have reached a point where watching Mr. Bush perform and listening to him talk nonsense has become such a painful experience that I would rather avoid it altogether than risk a neck strain from shaking my head from side to side in utter incredulity. I think I reached a point of no return just a few days ago when I watched him laugh like a drunken idiot while a reporter was asking him a serious question. All through the question. From beginning to end. And when I watched him grin like an imbecile as he said over and over that he "thinks about Iraq every day. Every day." It was really an astonishing performance, almost as though he was recording a skit for John Stewart’s Daily Show, where indeed it made an appearance.

I gather that last night’s speech to the nation was to reassure us that our mission in Iraq was an important one, undertaken for the most important of reasons and that any sacrifice our military is called upon to make is unquestionably worth while. Pretty somber stuff. The kind of stuff that President after President in modern times has talked to us about in somber tones and from a somber setting - behind the Presidential desk in the Oval Office. His father spoke to us in that way on somber occasions. As did Ronald Reagan. And Lyndon Johnson. And Richard Nixon., And John Kennedy. But not George W Bush.

In a manner no different from his staged, Hollywood type appearance on the USS Abraham Lincoln two years ago to announce - with the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner as a backdrop, that major combat operations in Iraq were over, he again decided to use the military as a backdrop in a campaign style appearance to deliver last night’s speech.

This wasn’t a President bringing the citizens of this country up to date on a conflict of his making that has taken over 1700 lives and left thousands of our young men and women seriously injured. This was a campaign rally. This was window dressing for Mr. Bush to repeat the fabrications that were used as the basis for attacking Iraq in the first place - that it was part of our "war on terrorism" - and that there was some connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks on our nation.

You might ask how I could comment in such a fashion if I didn’t watch the speech and haven’t yet read what he said. It’s simple. I’ve watched this President for four and a half years and for over two years I’ve watched and listened to him explain why we had to invade and why we have to " stay the course" in Iraq. It’s the same old song, repeated again and again. The lyrics may change to adjust to changing revelations - from "WMD" to "freeing the Iraqi people" to the most inane line of all - "fighting terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them here." But the music stays the same. He’s predictable. The underlying (no pun intended) theme doesn’t change, whether it’s being told from the Oval Office or from this President’s preferred setting - a staged event, audience by invitation only. I didn’t expect him to say anything new or different last night, and when I do get around to skimming through what he said, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that my appraisal is right on.

One more thought. It’s painful for me to mention the "wartime" speeches of George W Bush in the same sentence as the speeches of another wartime leader, but as I was writing this piece, I couldn’t help thinking of the way Winston Churchill spoke to British citizens as he rallied them for the long struggle against the Axis powers in World War ll. There were no Hollywood style trappings. The British army, navy and R.A.F. weren’t ever used as backdrops. Mostly just the House of Commons. The speeches that were broadcast were on the radio only. No television. And there was no criticism of what Churchill said because he was speaking of a war against real enemies - nations that had engaged the entire world in mortal combat. There was no press secretary the day after, trying to justify and explain some of the things that the Prime Minister had said. Everything was crystal clear and there was never an attempt to tie the legitimate war effort to anything else for political purposes. The nation wouldn’t have stood for it.

I lived through that era just as I am living through this one. But what a difference. I look back at those rallying speeches of World War ll with a sense of pride and gratitude. It’s difficult to look at the so called rallying "wartime" speeches of George W Bush at all, because my vision is either blocked by my forefinger and thumb holding my nose or blurred from shaking my head from side to side in disbelief.