Our political landscape is littered with shameless poseurs – – candidates and elected officials who have the temerity to portray themselves as protectors of our institutions and virtual saviors of all that is holy in our society. And time after time American voters are lulled into complacent acceptance of unlikely and unworthy heroes.
Real Issues don’t seem to matter unless they can be broken down into simple declarative sentences, preferably just one, or better yet a photo op that beguiles observers into accepting image over substance. How else did we end up with a president many people supported because they’d feel comfortable having a beer with him, a man who dressed up in a flight suit to land on an aircraft carrier a few miles from shore with a banner heralding “mission accomplished” in the background – – a man with neither the experience nor the intellect to assume the mantel of leadership – – a man whose military background amounted to a tour in the Texas Air National Guard where he avoided combat during the Vietnam war and eventually lost his flight status after failing to show up for his physical.
Still, the American people saw fit to elect this man, twice, well sort of. The first time is still the source of some consternation and debate, the second time because the nation was scared into believing that George Bush would keep us safe and save the world at the same time. Now with the Middle East in flames and our national image in tatters it is left to Republican apologists to reconfigure the Bush heritage – – that is if enough of them can be found to redeem a failed presidency by rewriting history in the huge, Bush presidential Library.
The reality is it will take years to mitigate the legacy of this administration and cleanse our political framework. Recently, Lt. General Martin Dempsey described the problems afflicting Iraq’s paramilitary police force: “In some cases it is very clear that certain leaders are put in place because the government believes that it needs to have someone loyal to it above all.” Ironically the general could have been describing this country where every department has been sullied by appointees who often lack the appropriate credentials for the jobs they undertake but as Bush loyalists create a protective shield around the White House – – for a president who seems to forget that he serves “we the people”, lapsing instead into his habit of referring to our national construct as “my government”.
As the election season gets into high gear the same mindless games are already being played. Voters are told that tax cuts are always good even if the middle class rarely benefits from them while the very rich soak up capital, monopolize access to higher education and make sure the cycle continues by super-funding their offspring. What Republicans, for example, like to call the “Death Tax” affects very few of us, and does not cause the loss of “the family farm” (huge agri-business concerns do this quite effectively) but doing away with the estate tax would only further consolidate wealth in the hands of a few.
Not yet formally announced, Republican Fred Thompson, nonetheless looks and sounds like a candidate as he reinvigorates the tax-cutting gambit that has worked so well in the past. To the general public he is the taciturn, no-nonsense D.A. on TV’s “Law and Order” a fact that may endear him to those who continue to be enthralled by simplistic images and fictionalized standard bearers. For the part he plays in real life Thompson has often tried to depict himself as a man of the people, riding around in a red pickup truck to further that image when he ran for the Senate in Tennessee.
In realityThompson has maintained an association with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, served as a paid lobbyist and contributed to the Scooter Libby defense fund – – a distinctly right-of-center Republican operative whose agenda would probably not differ substantially from that of the current administration. As for the little red truck, Kevin Drum in Washington Monthly (5/7/07) describes how that went: “Basically he just drove the thing the final few hundred feet before each campaign event, and then ditched it for something nicer as soon as he was out of sight of the yokels.” Of course Thompson isn’t the only such dissembler. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert departed Congress in a high-mileage hybrid on one occasion, driving it just long enough to reach his more commodious SUV.
In another area of possible concern Supreme Court Judge Alito in recent remarks strongly defended the right to “free speech” saying he was unwilling to limit the exercise of that right by the media or entertainers with excessive regulation. It can only be hoped that, when the Court takes up the case of campaign finance restrictions in the McCain-Feingold legislation this summer, business-friendly jurors like Alito and Roberts will not define “free speech” as granting those with the most money the loudest voice.
The point is voters will always be subjected to the manipulative techniques of politicians who want to hide their true persona behind superficial imaging. Those who claim to be our defenders must be closely watched. We can’t afford to be fooled again.

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