the simulacrum of commander in chief

illonph illonph at
Wed May 7 23:24:54 MDT 2003

Apropos of Bush's spectacle, West Virginia Senator Byrd gave no quarter:

Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd
"A Troubling Speech"

Tuesday 06 May 2003

In my 50 years as a member of Congress, I have had the privilege to witness
the defining rhetorical moments of a number of American presidents. I have
listened spellbound to the soaring oratory of John Kennedy and Ronald
Reagan. I have listened grimly to the painful soul-searching of Lyndon
Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Presidential speeches are an important marker of any President's legacy.
These are the tangible moments that history seizes upon and records for
posterity. For this reason, I was deeply troubled by both the content and
the context of President Bush's remarks to the American people last week
marking the end of the combat phase of the war in Iraq. As I watched the
President's fighter jet swoop down onto the deck of the aircraft carrier
Abraham Lincoln, I could not help but contrast the reported simple dignity
of President Lincoln at Gettysburg with the flamboyant showmanship of
President Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

President Bush's address to the American people announcing combat victory in
Iraq deserved to be marked with solemnity, not extravagance; with gratitude
to God, not self-congratulatory gestures. American blood has been shed on
foreign soil in defense of the President's policies. This is not some
made-for-TV backdrop for a campaign commercial. This is real life, and real
lives have been lost. To me, it is an affront to the Americans killed or
injured in Iraq for the President to exploit the trappings of war for the
momentary spectacle of a speech. I do not begrudge his salute to America's
warriors aboard the carrier Lincoln, for they have performed bravely and
skillfully, as have their countrymen still in Iraq, but I do question the
motives of a desk bound President who assumes the garb of a warrior for the
purposes of a speech.

As I watched the President's speech, before the great banner proclaiming
"Mission Accomplished," I could not help but be reminded of the tobacco
barns of my youth, which served as country road advertising backdrops for
the slogans of chewing tobacco purveyors. I am loath to think of an aircraft
carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political
slogan, and yet that is what I saw.

What I heard the President say also disturbed me. It may make for grand
theater to describe Saddam Hussein as an ally of al Qaeda or to characterize
the fall of Baghdad as a victory in the war on terror, but stirring rhetoric
does not necessarily reflect sobering reality. Not one of the 19 September
11th hijackers was an Iraqi. In fact, there is not a shred of evidence to
link the September 11 attack on the United States to Iraq. There is no doubt
in my mind that Saddam Hussein was an evil despot who brought great
suffering to the Iraqi people, and there is no doubt in my mind that he
encouraged and rewarded acts of terrorism against Israel. But his crimes are
not those of Osama bin Laden, and bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will
not bring justice to the victims of 9-11. The United States has made great
progress in its efforts to disrupt and destroy the al Qaeda terror network.
We can take solace and satisfaction in that fact. We should not risk
tarnishing those very real accomplishments by trumpeting victory in Iraq as
a victory over Osama bin Laden.

We are reminded in the gospel of Saint Luke, "For unto whomsoever much is
given, of him shall be much required." Surely the same can be said of any
American president. We expect, nay demand, that our leaders be scrupulous in
the truth and faithful to the facts. We do not seek theatrics or hyperbole.
We do not require the stage management of our victories. The men and women
of the United States military are to be saluted for their valor and
sacrifice in Iraq. Their heroics and quiet resolve speak for themselves. The
prowess and professionalism of America's military forces do not need to be
embellished by the gaudy excesses of a political campaign.

War is not theater, and victory is not a campaign slogan. I join with the
President and all Americans in expressing heartfelt thanks and gratitude to
our men and women in uniform for their service to our country, and for the
sacrifices that they have made on our behalf. But on this point I differ
with the President: I believe that our military forces deserve to be treated
with respect and dignity, and not used as stage props to embellish a
presidential speech.

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public
servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is
warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency
in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a
whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full
liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly
as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does
right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.
To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are
to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and
servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the
truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more
important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about
any one else." ---Teddy Roosevelt
Paul H. Dillon

"Don't confuse a totalitarian society with a dictatorship," Kellman said
dryly. "A totalitarian state reaches into every sphere of its citizens'
lives, forms their opinions on every subject. The government can be a
dictatorship, or a parliament, or an elected president, or a council of
priests. That doesn't matter."

"orture chambers and extermination camps were needed only when persuasion
failed. And persuasion was working perfectly. A police state, rule by
terror, came about when the totalitarian apparatus began to break down. The
earlier totalitarian societies had been incomplete; the authorities hadn't
really gotten into every sphere of life. But techniques of communication had

from Philip K. Dick "In the Mold of Yancy

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