If Only This Were a Dictatorship

by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice (etc.) 5/31/07

Nobody has ever accused George W. Bush of not being good for a few laughs. Unfortunately his humor is inadvertent, with W spewing what have become known as “Bushisms.” It’s when he tries to be funny that our jaws drop in horror. Like when he was the Governator of Texas and he mocked death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker as she pleaded for clemency: “Please don’t kill me,” he whined in a falsetto voice festooned with an ersatz Texas drawl.

Then there was his performance in front of the national press corps in Washington in March 2004 after his invented rationale for the invasion of Iraq—those supposed weapons of mass destruction—was debunked by reality. Tens of thousands of deaths into the war, he bumbled about his podium, joking, “Those weapons of mass destruction must be somewhere.” The invertebrate press for the most part roared in laughter, reporting the next day on W’s good humor.

Bush’s sick sense of White House humor certainly isn’t unique. Probably the most dangerous blooper came from Ronald Reagan in 1984 when he “inadvertently” told a national radio audience, “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” The Soviets responded by lighting the fuse on nuclear Armageddon, dousing it only after the KGB reminded the Kremlin that Reagan was daft and prone to occasional moronic outbursts and that there was no indication that the US launched the first strike it always boasted it was capable of.

George W’s most alarming “joke” came in 2000, before he was inaugurated but right after Al Gore spinelessly conceded the presidency following (as we know now) winning the popular vote nationally as well as in the contested state of Florida. At the time Bush joked that “If this was a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I was the dictator.” Given the context, one could only assume that “it” refers to stealing elections, though Bush supporters assured me at the time that “it” just meant “it.” You know, like “Gotta have ‘it,’” or “Did you get ‘it’?”

George W wasn’t joking, however, spending his first six years squatting at the White House with a rubber-stamp Congress and a corrupted judiciary supporting—or at least ignoring—his every move. Whatever laws were passed he exempted himself from with signing statements and the self-assurance that he could break any law with impunity.

Now, with a nominally opposing party theoretically controlling the House and Senate, and with his popularity falling to an all-time low (though still alarmingly high at 30 percent) the threads of dictatorship seem to be unraveling. Hence, on May 9, he unilaterally issued a National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive (National Security Presidential Directive NSPD 51; Homeland Security Presidential Directive HSPD-20).

Previous presidents issued similar directives aimed at maintaining governmental continuity in the event of a major catastrophe such as a nuclear attack on Washington or all-out nuclear warfare with the folks we were supposed to “begin bombing in five minutes.” This directive is different, however, in that it is being issued by a White House that has already shown its disdain for our constitutionally protected rights and way of government. And it’s a White House, which, if democracy were left alone to function properly, could find most of its cabinet and leadership under criminal indictment in the not too distant future.

The directive allows George W. Bush to appoint a National Continuity Coordinator whose office would direct National Emergency Functions (NEFs) of the federal government while providing “guidance” for all federal, state, local, territorial and tribal governments in the event of a catastrophic emergency. The directive defines “catastrophic emergency” as “Any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”

Get it? A stock market crash or a severe burst in the housing bubble could constitute a catastrophic emergency and the appointment of a “coordinator” with power to oversee the maintenance of “continuity,” or whatever they perceive the status quo to be. A hurricane, wildfire, or election day civic unrest could be cause to trigger a Code Paisley new order.

Bush’s National Continuity Plan specifically revokes “Presidential Decision Directive 67 of October 21, 1998 (Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations) issued by the Clinton White House. It’s impossible to say exactly what the differences are, since the Clinton-era plan is classified. What is public knowledge, however, is that the previous plans put the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and not the President, in charge of implementing the emergency plan. And I would suspect that the previous plan didn’t have such a wide open definition of what constitutes a “catastrophic emergency.”

Of course, in our post-Katrina world, we don’t have much respect or trust in FEMA. Yet it’s the White House that ultimately destroyed FEMA by packing it with incompetent political cronies and using the Gulf Coast disaster as an excuse to bust public employee unions and privatize public services, giving contracts to politically connected corporations. Where FEMA is incompetent and corrupted, the White House has proven itself incompetent and corrupting.

The White House plan pays plenty of lip service to the Constitution, referring to it 10 times while promising to protect our constitutional form of government. Hence, the document itself is not all that alarming on a first read. It’s when you put it into context that things change. The Bush administration callously throws around words like “liberation” when their intent is just the opposite. They promise to protect things like our national security and economy when their actions undermine both our economic well being and our security. They claim to want peace when they’re planning for war, and announce “mission accomplished” as their wars are just getting under way. They claim to oppose torture when they’re spreading it across the globe. They claim to oppose weapons of mass destruction when they’re expanding our useless nuclear arsenal. They claim to oppose Iran when their actions politically support Iran and they claim to support democracy when their actions undermine it around the world.

The junta occupying the White House has a proven track record of undermining or destroying that which they rhetorically claim to support. That’s because the American people value things like peace, human rights, fair play, democracy and freedom, while opposing things like torture and the pillage of other people’s resources. And we also value our constitution. Following the Bush administration’s formula, it’s no surprise that a bill to consolidate “emergency powers” in the White House would be draped in language paying lip service to the constitution. Everyone knows to pack toilet paper in their emergency kit.

Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous Artvoice columns are available at www.artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com and distributed globally through syndication.

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