Deleting the Bush Personality Cult from history

The personalized veneration of George Bush was systematic and engulfing. The Right wants to forget that.


Glenn Greenwald
September 2, 2009 9:03PM (UTC)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV)

National Review's Jay Nordlinger -- and others at that magazine -- are upset that a school is showing a year-old video in which various celebrities spout feel-good platitudes about public service, and -- for a fleeting second -- Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher vow to "be of service to the President."  This sentiment -- a desire to serve the President -- is something conservatives would never adopt, apparently:

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When I read about that celebrity video where they say, “I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama,” I thought that the people do not deserve to be American citizens, because they have no idea what America or a liberal republic is. . . . Also, it strikes me that "I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama" is the product of a thoroughly secular mind, which is another marker of contemporary America. . . . Did conservatives ever say “I pledge to be of service to Ronald Reagan”? I never heard it -- and the notion is preposterous.

I'm always amazed -- even though I know I shouldn't be -- at people's capacity simply to block out events, literally refuse to acknowledge them, when they are inconsistent with their desire to believe things.  Do Nordlinger and the other National Review political experts really not know about this episode, obviously much more consequential than some admittedly creepy though entirely trivial moment in a celebrity "pledge" video:

According to the [Justice Department] OIG report released today, Angela Williamson, a deputy to Monica Goodling at the [Bush] DOJ, was intimately involved in her bosses' scurrilous hiring practices, attending interviews and often conducting interviews herself.  Here's a sampling of the same questions that Goodling:

After Goodling resigned, Williamson typed from memory the list of questions Goodling asked as a guide for future interviews. Among other questions, the list included the following:

Tell us about your political philosophy. There are different groups of conservatives, by way of example: Social Conservative, Fiscal Conservative, Law & Order Republican.

[W]hat is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?

Aside from the President, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire.

Prior to Goodling herself testifying before the House Judiciary Committee about her screening of prospective DOJ hires to make certain they were sufficiently devoted to serving George Bush, she shared with a Justice Department official this vow:  "All I ever wanted to do was serve this president."  And she didn't have a "secular mind."  Even as Attorney General, Alberto Gonazles actually thought his "client" was the President.  The entire DOJ was structured to ensure that its employees, including prosecutors required to act with apolitical independence, were what they called "loyal Bushies."  Pledging "to be of service to George W. Bush" was the prime mandate of the Justice Department, which is why it was headed for his second term by Bush's most loyal servant.

Beyond the DOJ, huge swaths of the right-wing movement were devoted to an unprecedented veneration of George Bush.  A whole industry on the Right was created to convert him into a warrior-deity, including truly creepy reverence books by National Review writers (see here for various illustrations).  Some on the Right actually speculated that God intervened in our elections because he had hand-picked Bush to be our leader.  Even Bill Kristol admitted that the GOP had turned into little more than a Bush-centered personality cult, telling the New York Times:  "Bush was the movement and the cause."  More than any single, discrete issue, what motivated me to begin writing about political issues was the warped climate of hero worship constructed -- by the Right and the media -- around George Bush as a "War President."

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If you search long enough on the Internet, can you find examples of random people or vapid celebrities guilty of excessive Obama worship?  Obviously.  One can find virtually anything using those methods.  But the personalized veneration of George Bush, particularly during his first term, was systematic and engulfing.  It was the fuel that drove most of the abuses and transgressions of that era.  The New York Times' Elizabeth Bumiller infamously confessed that asking hard questions of Bush was "frightening" due to the prevailing political climate.  To read right-wing pundits proclaiming that such a sentiment would never be embraced by a conservative is really remarkable -- only because it's such a powerful testament to the ability of people to just forget and/or completely whitewash even the most recent history.

 

UPDATE: Indeed, this was a prime example.  And the reference there to the newly-named ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer -- former Nixon White House staffer -- recalls this ugly though revealing spectacle.

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UPDATE II: So inebriating was the Bush personality cult that DOJ aide Sara Taylor actually said this while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

"I took an oath to the president, and I take that oath very seriously," Sara Taylor said in answer to a question early in the hearing.

And right after a break, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked her if she was sure about that. "Did you mean, perhaps, you took an oath to the Constitution?" Leahy asked. It was a telling exchange.

That, of course, was a distinction without a difference during the Bush years.  Then there were the creepy loyalty oaths to George W. Bush which anyone wanting to attend his speeches were required to sign in order to be admitted.  There were also those who were ejected from such events because of ideas they expressed that were critical of the Leader.  And for those at National Review who seem to think things are only sufficiently significant to notice when it involves celebrities rather than high government officials, there's this

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More notable than the history-erasing practices of National Review -- that's too commonplace to care much about -- is remembering just how extreme this climate was.

 

UPDATE III:   In his memoirs, Reagan Attorney General William French Smith wrote:  "I felt it an honor to have served Ronald Reagan as his first attorney general."  He added:  "Those of us who served President Reagan by working for Bill Smith in the Department of Justice shared an extraordinary experience" (h/t sysprog).

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As for stomach-turning inculcation of American school children with unhealthy leader worship, nothing has surpassed -- or likely ever will surpass -- this.

 

UPDATE IV: Nordlinger replies reasonably enough but, fascinatingly, says he never heard about these DOJ incidents and has never even heard of Monica Goodling.  I believe him.  Think about that:  all those major Bush DOJ scandals about illegally using political considerations in DOJ hirings and the potentially illegal firing of U.S. attorneys -- scandals which centrally involved Goodling, prompted numerous Congressional hearings, and were continuously the subject of major news coverage -- were ones about which the Senior Editor of National Review remained blissfully ignorant.  Apparently, he simply never heard of the key figures, and never bothered to learn any of the facts giving rise to those scandals.  Stories of corruption, wrongdoing and even lawbreaking at high levels of the Bush administration just never peneterated Fox News, Drudge and/or National Review, and thus to the Right -- even to someone who makes his living writing about politics -- these events did not really exist.  That's what "right-wing cocoon means" -- creating your own pleasant version of "reality" and eliminating anything unpleasant.

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Glenn Greenwald

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