Wednesday, October 13, 2004


The spokesmodel presidency

When is the last time the Republicans ran a real chief executive for president?

Some time ago, the behind-the-scenes leadership of the Republican Party made an important, but little-recognized discovery that should really scare us. You can run the country through a president who is a mere figurehead, a spokesmodel.

The answer to the question at the beginning of this blog is: Richard M. Nixon. I believe Nixon is a man who wanted power for himself, who believed he was smart enough to run things, and who may have been smart enough to run things. The Nixon tapes released last year reveal a man who was hands-on to the point of micro-managing his subordinates, and who was capable of coming up with his own devious and hard-nosed political strategies and dirty tricks without having to rely exclusively on some top advisor like Karl Rove or Lee Atwater.

Let’s look at the Republican presidential nominees since Nixon.

1) Gerald Ford. Viewed as one of the dumber men in Congress when Nixon named him to fill the Vice Presidency after Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace. Nixon is reputed to have said that Ford was insurance against Nixon’s own impeachment, since the country would recognize that it could not let itself be led by someone that dumb. Big mistake, Dick.

2) Ronald Reagan. An empty-headed B-movie actor who could sell his lines. That may have qualified him to move up to an A-list actor, but President? Famous for requiring all his briefing material to be reduced to a single page. No serious person believes this man was smart enough to make decisions on complex issues (though many vigorously pretend to believe that).

3) George H.W. Bush. A genial, well-connected dim bulb who moved up through positions of increasing government responsibility because he moved in the right circles and never pissed off the wrong people. Evidence of his lack of backbone is the fact that in 1980, he ran in the primaries as a pro-choice moderate to Reagan’s conservative, but in 1988 and 1992 he ran hard right, fully embracing Reaganomics despite having (rightly) denounced it as "voodoo economics" in 1980.

4) Bob Dole. Kind of a nice guy, despite a crusty, nasty streak, who tended to refer to himself in the third person. In 1976, he was picked as Gerald Ford’s running mate, in part because it was believed that he would not outshine the dim-witted Ford. Now he’s selling Viagra, or something?

5) George w. Bush.

Funny how many of these guys went to Yale, isn’t it? (Ford, Bush and Bush.)

In the tightly-disciplined "w" Bush White House, we don’t get leaks, as we got from Reagan’s White House, about policy memos being dumbed down for the prez. This White House is careful to portray Bush as the smart, hands-on man in charge. But we’re not fools. Well, 50% of us are not fools.

This man is simply incapable of personally understanding, thinking through and deciding complex questions of policy. Sure, he makes "decisions." I bet even Reagan made decisions. The actual people running things boil it down to something a 20-year old poli sci major with a B- average (Bush was a C, but there’s been grade inflation) can understand, make a strong recommendation and Bush adopts the recommendation. Sometimes, in larger meetings where people other than his most trusted advisors are present, there may be disagreement (Colin Powell, for instance), and Bush has to "arbitrate" the split within his cabinet. It may appear as if he’s making the call, but he’s already gotten the scoop from the in-group, whoever that is.

I’m totally speculating here, but historians will prove me right. I’m guessing that George W. Bush never said to anyone, "you know who would make a great secretary of defense? Donald Rumsfeld." Why is "w" relying on retread defense secretaries from the administrations of Ford (Rumsfeld) and Bush Sr. (Cheney)? Doesn’t "w" Bush have smart friends of his own, with whom, in deep conversation, he developed and honed his own sophisticated views of foreign policy?
Answer: no.

The people running George W. Bush are essentially the same group who ran Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. They might have run Bob Dole too, but possibly they didn’t get too invested, since they knew Dole would lose.

The spokesmodel President is a public face acting on behalf of powerful elites and corporate interests. Actual party operatives – Lee Atwater, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove – come and go, but the essence of the Republican party is to sell a message of fear to the many in order to get more a little more than half of the many to vote for the interests of the powerful few. The message of fear is usually referred to broadly as social issues – crime, drugs, race, guns, and the control over our childrens’ and neighbors’ behavior – together with national security. The powerful few don’t care on bit about these social issues; they know the real stakes are the economic part of the package: corporate profiteering and corporate welfare, tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, subsidies and wars for cheap oil, environmental degradation. The powerful few care about national security issues, recognizing that these directly tie in to their economic interests.

I’m not suggesting that a cabal picks one candidate from the Republican field and somehow rigs the nomination. I imagine that it’s more a situation in which Republican presidential hopefuls audition, through feelers, and "exploratory committees" and even the primary campaign, for a set of directors consisting of Republican money people and media moguls. The questions is what qualities are these honchos looking for?

The spokesmodel president is a man who identifies with the few on these economic issues, and who may or may not be predisposed toward the "fear" issues, but is willing to sell fear issues to the voters in order to get them to buy the less visible, and harder-to-understand package of economic policies on the wish list of the powerful few.

The spokesmodel president is a man who is so intellectually overmatched by the job that he will, on most important matters, follow the directions of those who put him in power.

The ideal spokesmodel president is a man who can make a broad, popular – even populist – appeal, but who does not have his own strong ideas for the direction the country should take.
Here’s strong circumstantial proof of my conspiracy theory. How in the world is George w. Bush taken seriously as a national leader? If your backing is powerful enough, and includes powerful media outlets, you will be taken seriously, even if you are a total lightweight.

Powerful corporate interests give money to both sides in American politics, and successfully lobby Democrats as well as Republicans. In theory, there is no reason why the Democrats could not nominate a spokesmodel. But for whatever reason, the Democrats seem more likely to nominate candidates who seem to have independent intellectual means and abilities to handle the presidency.

Why would this be? Democratic primary politics seem to be actually more democratic, and less subject to the cabal then Republican politics. The Democratic message is less suitable to packaging corporate interests than the Republican message. Fear-based politics is not logically incompatible with wealth-based economics; it’s harder to sell wealth-based economics (it’s done, but not as effectively) behind a facade of populist economics.

In any event, George w. Bush is almost as perfect a spokesmodel as Reagan was. He has no notion of leading the nation himself, but has sufficient folksy charm for the "fearful 50" – the 50% plus or minus who are vulnerable to fear-based political appeals – to bond with him.

Feel free to come and check it out if you get time :-)
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