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Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Did It All Myself

The September 2007 issue of The Atlantic has two stories that further cement what will surely become the over-arching diagnosis of the psychosis of the Bush Administration and the problems and divisions they created for the country. Reading the stories doesn't produce any sense of surprise, just a disturbing sense of familiarity with both the arrogance and ignorance of key members of the Administration and with the long term damage produced as a result.

The cover story on Karl Rove, The Rove Presidency by Joshua Green, garnered most of the attention, partly because it hit the newsstands the day Rove announced his decision to leave the Administration but also for its synopsis of the complete 180 degree reversal in the legend of Karl Rove in a mere eighteen months. Days after the 2004 elections, a parade of political watchers were virtually proclaiming the beginning of a "pax Republicana", a period of Republican invincibility in government that would yield all of the things Republicans have been promising from government since the Nixon era, despite controlling the White House for twenty four of thirty six years from 1968 and controlling the House and Senate since 1994.

Leading the post-2004 election parade, of course was Karl Rove himself, patting himself on the back for his ingenious approach to elections and government, an approach one could term the 50.0000000001 percent solution. In Rove's warped view of the world, as long as policies and positions could be forged (both in the created or fabricated sense) that could secure 50.0000000001 percent of the vote, any citizens in the other 49.9999999999 percent were immaterial. We won, we're in control, SCREW YOU.

The article describes meetings and public appearances with reporters after the 2004 elections in which Rove not only touted the brilliance of this approach, but also used the election victory as a reminder to political friends and foes alike that the strategy would continue and even friends better play the Rove way or else. It then goes on to describe how Rove focused the political agenda of the entire Administration on policies believed to be crucial to the Republican fanatical faithful but of yawning interest to an electorate increasingly puzzled and annoyed over an Administration making zero progress on terrorism or even delivering water to hurricane ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi.

In a nutshell, the 50.0000000001 percent solution summarizes exactly what is wrong with the Rove strategy for winning friends and influencing people. It involves neither winning friends or influencing people. It amounts to political exclusion of your enemies and political terrorism of your "friends" to keep them in line with the party line dictated by a very isolated and dogmatic few. In essence, the story of Rove is the story of how the Republican Party became a hostage of a single political strategy and a single political mind who thought he could win elections by himself without alternative strategic input and thought he could subsequently fashion policy in the same vacuum chamber of thought.

The second story, Present at the Creation by Matthew Scully, was perhaps even more interesting, in the psychological train wreck sense. Scully was one of three principle speechwriters for Bush and "served" from April 1999 during the early days of the campaign through August 2004. His story reads like a psychotic, delusional version of Forrest Gump, with fellow Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson in the starring role. If you Google "speechwriter Gerson", you come across dozens of stories written in the past seven years which recount the tale of a strong Christian faith and unparalleled command of language and metaphor combining to allow our hero, Michael Gerson, to craft the development of nearly every notable turn of phrase uttered by Bush in his Administration.

Singlehandedly.

There's only one small problem with the stories.

They're not true. Not remotely true.

In a polite tone but in withering detail, Scully describes a variety of famous Bush appearances and speeches, describes the glowing accolades showered upon Gerson by the press, describes how Gerson himself fed the sound bytes to the reporters writing the bon mots, then describes what ACTAULLY happened within the team of Matthew Scully, John McConnell and Michael Gerson to craft those speeches. The essence of Scully's piece boils down to the following paragraph from the story:

Without fear of contradiction -- because it's all in the presidential records -- I can report here that Michael Gerson never wrote a single speech by himself for President Bush. From beginning to end, every notable speech, and a huge proportion of the rest, was written by a team of speechwriters, working in the same office and on the same computer. Few lines of note were written by Mike, and none at all that come to mind from the post-9/11 addresses -- not even "axis of evil."

After reading Scully's piece, one comes to at least one inescapable conclusion --- Michael Gerson has some serious psychological issues. He is not only a compulsive liar but possibly a megalomaniac suffering from delusions of his own genius. One also gets the impression his supposed Christian faith has done little to temper these behaviors, even when they directly or indirectly take credit from those he worked with every day. A real team player. So much for the "shalt not bear false witness" clause of the Ten Commandments.

If this were just one story about one actor in an otherwise average American Administration producing the average set of mistakes and problems, the Scully piece would just be an interesting political read with shades of schadenfreude. In the Administration of George W. Bush, the Gerson fabrications are just one chapter in an entire book where the exact same combination of ignorance, arrogance and religious self-righteousness combined to produce long-lasting damage to the country.

One gets the feeling when all of the major players of the Bush Administration reach the end of their road, they'll all request the same epitaph on their tombstone:

I DID IT ALL MYSELF

The only problem is they did it to us.