Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
At the behest of their charismatic leader, the cult members gathered in Waco, a hot, dusty town on the flat, featureless central Texas plain. They had been summoned to hear an endless series of droning sermons from the leader himself and his fellow fanatics.
Thunderously denouncing all doubters, all those who didn’t believe as the cult members did, the speakers put forward a bizarre religious vision, one that no sane person could accept. As the hours passed, the group became more and more isolated from the real world until it was incapable of dealing with it.
The only thing missing was Janet Reno and her flamethrower.
George W. Bush’s economic forum ended with the steady whoosh of departing corporate jets instead of a fiery apocalypse. This time the conflagration wasn’t in Waco but on Wall Street where one airline declared bankruptcy, another threatened to if it didn’t get what it wanted, and a third announced a massive restructuring with 7,000 lost jobs. In Washington, meanwhile, Alan Greenspan declined to embarrass his boss by lowering interest rates — although the Fed did assess the current economic outlook in unusually gloomy terms.
But none of these inconvenient facts intruded on the president’s revival meeting in the Lone Star State where discouraging words from non-believers were kept to the barest minimum. And while the president may have acknowledged that our economy is “challenged,” an understatement akin to saying that David Koresh was “a tad kooky”, the hallelujah chorus that was determined to drown out facts with blind faith clearly won the day.
Like the Branch Davidians, the Brunch Bushians found comfort by withdrawing from a world that was confusing, complicated, and just a little too unfriendly of late. Appropriately convened at the Old Time Christian Religion venue of Baylor University, the administration orchestrated a full-blown extravaganza complete with stirring words, a parade of icons, and even marching music by John Philip Sousa, designed to dazzle the gullible and win new converts. Reason was banished.
No one mentioned, for example, the expanding budget deficit or the exploding trade deficit and no one dared bring up the heresy of reconsidering the Brunch Bushians’ disastrous tax cut. Au contraire.
“We heard a lot of really challenging ideas today,” Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill intoned after the forum. And his idea of a challenging idea? “We had several people in my session tell us that not only should we make the tax cuts permanent, but we ought to accelerate the ones that are delayed.” And there was no need to pass the hat at this gathering of the faithful. The CEO congregants crowding the front pews had already given, and given, and given.
The economic forum gained added significance from the fact that the president took precious time away from his month-long vacation – though it’s not like he had to travel very far. No, this time the mountain of true believers came to Mohammed.
The president registered his concern (Seven cabinet members! Hearing from ordinary people! Taking a whole half-day off from his vacation! Recovery must be just around the bend!) but the message that came through was more one of faith, increasingly desperate faith, that powerful and mysterious forces, the gods of the free market, will eventually pull the Dow out of its nosedive.
But while the Burning Bush preached to the choir at Baylor, an ominous rumbling was coming from outside. This time, it was not ATF sharpshooters and tanks, it’s those ordinary citizens the Brunch Bushians pretended to include in Waco. They keep losing jobs and losing their savings while their president keeps telling them that, despite the increasingly grim realities of their daily lives, they still gotta believe in the Bushians’ Holy Trinity: more tax cuts, less regulation, and more domestic energy exploration.
Pass the Kool-Aid, pardner.
Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America." More Arianna Huffington.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)