Wednesday, August 23, 2006

At precisely the same moment when we were learning that the president loves fart jokes, we were also being told -- by the same magazine, U.S. News -- that he's becoming an intellectual heavyweight, a veritable Olympic athlete of the mind:

... President Bush now wants it known that he is a man of letters. In fact, Bush has entered a book-reading competition with Karl Rove, his political adviser. White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year (while the brainy Rove, to Bush's competitive delight, has racked up only 50). The commander in chief delved into three volumes in August alone -- two on Abraham Lincoln and, more surprising for a man of unambiguous convictions, The Stranger, Albert Camus's existential tale of murder and alienation....

More than a book a week? As Steve Benen says, "For a guy who likes to get to bed early, who devotes a couple of hours a day to exercise, and who ostensibly oversees the executive branch of government during a war, let's just say this is more than a little 'ambitious.'" And credulity-straining.

So we have this, we have the fart story (which, as I said yesterday, was probably a planned leak from the White House, not an embarrassing revelation), and we have a couple of recent stories arguing that Bush's Crawford vacation was a time of punishing athleticism in 100-degree weather.

You know what this reminds me of? The Saddam murals in pre-overthrow Iraq.

Think of those murals, each of which focused on a unique aspect of Saddam's alleged greatness: Saddam the giver of life. Saddam the war strategist. Saddam the devout and powerful Muslim leader. Saddam, beloved of the people. Saddam the rifleman in a bowler hat. Saddam the who-the-hell-knows (a gaucho?). Now think about what's being said of our president: that he's an almost supernaturally fit 60-year-old; that he outreads even eggheads; and that, despite all this, he's the most regular of regular guys -- same propaganda technique, same desire to make the Leader larger than life. We just don't use murals.

Portraying leaders as larger-than-life athletes is a time-honored GOP propaganda tradition, of course. Recall this from a couple of decades ago:

...In this week's issue of the Sunday newspaper supplement Parade (circ. 24 million), Reagan is both photo subject and author of the 1,800-word cover story, "How to Stay Fit." (The President talked out the basics to a White House speechwriter, then rewrote the article himself.) In the first paragraph he throws down the gauntlet: "So, move over, Jane Fonda, here comes the Ronald Reagan workout plan."

...with its Charles Atlas photos of a fit, firm Reagan, the Parade piece had a clear political payoff: if a President pumps iron, his age seems moot....

That was in December 1983 -- just as the '84 election campaign was about to start. Some things never change.

No comments: