White House Speeches
I was going to do this blog as another movie review considering how well the last one went. The movie was going to be Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. That was the plan except I got bored and stopped watching the movie about halfway through. The first part seemed good with all the interviews about being a serial killer and the media involvement in the killer’s machinations, but when the killing started, I got bored and, like I said, stopped watching. So, consider this the review of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Since it appears that the little rats are leaving the sinking ship, I guess I want to wade into the small-minded little fuckers who have been running this country for the last seven years. I was drawn to one particularly vicious bailout, former White House speechwriter Matthew Scully’s slice-‘em-up of former boss Mike Gerson appearing in this month’s Atlantic. Scully left the White House in 2004 but this knifing couldn’t have been scripted for a better time.
I’m not sure you’ll remember back to 2000 when there was a Clinton/Bush transition White House. As one staff moved in and the other moved out, news media across the nation reported the theft of all “W” keys from all the keyboards on all the computers in the White House. Seemed the Clinton staff was so childishly enraged by the Gore “loss” they felt compelled to vent their infantile anger by stealing all the “dubyas” they could find. An amazing story with amazing insight into Clinton’s staff. Except it never happened. Somebody on the Bush staff thought it sounded so good it should be true and treated it thusly ever after until the entire country cluck-clucked at those big baby Clintonians stealing all those little “W”s from that nice Mr. Bush. Should be ashamed. Except, of course, it never happened.
Back then, when the lie was discovered—“Hey, look! There’s some ‘w’s over there! And there, too!”—some people snickered but no one really stood forward to claim credit for the original idea. A while later, another similar trick with shifting realities—“Mission Accomplished!”—
What they did like to take credit for in those wonderful days of success and a shade-bright future were the pearls of wisdom eliminated by the Decider. “Axis of Evil,” a sort of Hope Diamond of Cool Things I Told the President to Say, was variously attributed to one, another, or still another speech writer though the authority in such things, Bob Woodward seems to have settled on Gerson. Scully would beg to differ.
So, now these same brainiacs are starting to worry about their futures, I guess, and are disassociating themselves from each other and from the words they’ve left sprinkled behind them unless those were the good, effective, and memorable (if untrue) words and then for sure everyone wants credit for those. Even if it was totally untrue, a whole lot of people thought “Mission Accomplished!” was just as cool as shit. They didn’t care if it was true. It looked too good not to be. Scully wades through memory like warm shit as he paints his word pictures of the day they wrote that speech…”rhetorical disaster,” “overreach,” and “blustery outbursts.”
“Axis of Evil,” even if created by the very efforts supposedly designed to fight it, is still a cool image of bad-guyness conjuring old Superman cartoons of Nazis and mad scientists. It’s cool to think about and talk about. They all seem to want to snag the glory for coming up the term; like, who really did write “Coke is It?” and was it such a good idea in the first place? Scully says “Axis of Evil” was a team effort and belongs to no single writer, which is both nice and incredibly frightening.
Nobody, Scully included, is muscling up to take credit for the “Fool me once…” sound-bite fiasco.
“My Baby Goat” or whatever the fuck that book is called Bush was reading to third-graders in Florida while planes were smashing into important buildings up and down the Eastern Seaboard isn’t cool to think about or talk about. Nobody takes credit or blame for that. But now the crumbly White House is crumbling fast like crumbs crumble and people are grabbing for those crumbs, at least they’re grabbing for the ones with icing on them.
Writing of Gerson, Scully writes, “the narrative [he] presented to the world is a story of extravagant falsehood. He has been held up for us in six years’ worth of coddling profiles as the great, inspiring, and idealistic exception of the Bush White House. In reality, [Gerson’s] conduct is just the most familiar and depressing of Washington stories—a history of self-seeking and media manipulation that is only more distasteful for being cast in such lofty terms.” Ouch.
This from one political speechwriter about another. Forget “self-seeking.” Nobody knows what that means, especially in this context. But to feign chagrin that a political speechwriter actually attempted to manipulate the media is a little much to take from a guy who was just jostling elbows and claiming a piece of “Axis of Evil.”
Scully deflects at least some of the credit for Bush bon mots when he writes that “if the [speech] is graceful, judicious, and understated, and makes you think about the subject at hand instead craftsmanship or religiosity—there’s a better-than-even chance that it is by John McConnell.” And remember, we’re talking about George W. Bush’s speeches. Thanks, Scully.
After Harriet Miers admonished the staff for its use of contractions, Gerson, according to Scully, circulated a memo changing 9/11 passenger Todd Beamer’s last known words to “Let us roll.” Meow.
Still, Scully seems most disgusted that Gerson would describe the president as “stiff and small” in the days following 9/11 (and if you remember the speech Bush gave that night on 9/11, “stiff” and “small” don’t come close to the “pale” and “panic-striken” president we saw). Twice, Scully returns to the phrase to ridicule Gerson for using it and countering that description with words like “manful.”
Oh, sure, Gerson was an ass. So is Scully. He almost admits it. “…[W]e overdid things a bit, with occasionally grandiose rhetoric and a tendency to preen.” All I’m saying is that it’s interesting to watch what happens when the porcelain veneers get ripped away and the awful yellow rat incisors get revealed. As the Bush White House falls apart, as appointees resign in disgrace, as Republicans get increasingly caught with their pants down, as the presidential race big guns start really blazing, the deconstruction of this administration is the kind of collapse we can almost pity—there the fuddled man standing in the smoking debris still just what wondering what happened, apparently one of the few who actually believed the words.
We await Gerson’s reply. At least I do. More entertaining, even, then the movies.