So George W. is coming to town. On Wednesday, the U.S. President’s jet is expected to touch down — if ever so gently and even more briefly — at the Halifax International Airport, so His Georgeness can helicopter and/or motorcade over to perimeter-secured, protester-free Pier 21. There, he will speak over the heads of a cowed crowd of carefully selected but irrelevant local grandees directly into the TV cameras of the world.
They like me, they really like me. Look, seeâe¦
The point of this now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t visit is not really so Bush can say a three-year belated thank you to Nova Scotians for taking in thousands of displaced air travelers after 9/11. The point is for George Bush not to have to spend any more time in our nation’s capital than is absolutely necessary. While that may be a sentiment most of us would echo, especially at this time of year, it isn’t Ottawa’s chancy late fall weather that is causing the Most Powerful Man on the Planet to flee. It is instead the remote possibility that the he might be heckled, perhaps even booed by a few Canadian members of parliament if he accepted Prime Minister Paul Martin’s invitation to address a joint session of our Parliament.
Yes, well, Paul, I’d love to, I really would but, see, I’ve got to be in âe¦ what’s the name of that town, Condi?… Hell?âe¦ Hell-ifax, that’s itâe¦ in Hell-ifax so I can tell the TV cameras just how much I want to thank all those fine Hell-ifaxians I’ll never actually meet for being so damn hospitable after the evildoers attacked, and the world changed forever, and you were either for us or you were aâe¦ Canadianâe¦ andâe¦Well, may God bless Americaâe¦
It has often struck me that one of the reasons George W. Bush is so mindlessly mindless and arrogant aboutâe¦ well, just about everything, is that he so rarely subjects himself to anyone who might have the temerity to question or disagree with him.
An American president may indeed be the Most Powerful Man on the Planet but he is also the most isolated. This one lives cocooned inside a White House bubble, protected and directed by the puppet master Cheney and surrounded by a gaggle of bobble-headed, like-minded, yes-sir aides and acquiescers who are paid not to question or to doubt. And to make sure no one else does.
Don’t like what the professional intelligence community is telling you on Iraq? Create your own anti-intelligence group inside the Pentagon to tell you the truth as you’d prefer it to be.
Marginalize, then eliminate the rare naysayer. During the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, you may recall, Colin Powell was one of very few administration insiders to suggest, albeit privately and timidly, that the war in Iraq would ultimately prove to be unwinnable. For his troubles, Bush dispatched Powell, ever the good soldier, to make the administration’s case for war to the world, using trumped up statistics and distorted, even bogus intelligence.
With Bush safely re-elected, Powell’s calming presence on the world stage is no longer required, so he will soon be gone.
You might have imagined that this fall’s election campaign was the ideal vehicle for Americans to have a real debate on critical issues like the war on terror. But the reality is that elections in general, American elections in particular, have also become so scripted and stage-managed you often have to be vetted in advance just to attend a presidential campaign rally. Doubters need not apply.
The closest Americans came to a public discussion of the war on terror — and that wasn’t very close, given that John Kerry was trying to out-Bush Bush’s “destroy the evil-doers” with his own promises to “hunt down and kill the terrorists” — occurred during the three presidential debates.
We all know how well George Bush did in those encounters.
In a democracy, the media’s role, in part, should be to publicly hold political leaders to account. But even on those rare occasions when Bush holds a carefully orchestrated press conference, American reporters have proved to be more deferential — read obsequious — than the worst old Pravda hacks.
After watching a smiling, good-old-boy president call on “Bob,” or “John,” or “Wolf,” and hearing the reporters respond with a reverential, curtseyed, “thank you, Mr. President,” it is a relief to tune in a Canadian newscast and see Paul Martin trying, usually unsuccessfully, to navigate his way between his office and the House of Commons past the scrum of waiting reporters, or facing the rough and tumble of a raucous Question Period.
Which brings us back to Ottawa. And, of course, to Halifax, where the White House has decided George Bush should speak what passes for his mind, largely because it thinks it will be easier to control the audience and its response if the president’s men, and not Canadian voters, choose who gets to do the applauding.
And so it goes.