Friday, May 16, 2003

The NYT has an article today entitled "Keepers of Bush Image Lift Stagecraft to New Heights." Ignoring, for the moment, the snide reference to Bush's "keepers," this article touches on something that annoys me and countless others about our Fearless Leader; namely, that it all seems like a trick with smoke and mirrors.

Now, I'm well aware that any president's aides have to concern themselves with minute aspects of his image. What tie to wear, what setting for a given speech, etc. That's pretty standard in the era of television. But even before the fighter-pilot stunt on the carrier, you got the feeling that his appearances had become stunts. Here are some examples:
On Tuesday, at a speech promoting his economic plan in Indianapolis, White House aides went so far as to ask people in the crowd behind Mr. Bush to take off their ties, WISH-TV in Indianapolis reported, so they would look more like the ordinary folk the president said would benefit from his tax cut.
The White House efforts have been ambitious — and costly. For the prime-time television address that Mr. Bush delivered to the nation on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used to illuminate sports stadiums and rock concerts, sent them across New York Harbor, tethered them in the water around the base of the Statue of Liberty and then blasted them upward to illuminate all 305 feet of America's symbol of freedom. It was the ultimate patriotic backdrop for Mr. Bush, who spoke from Ellis Island.

For a speech that Mr. Bush delivered last summer at Mount Rushmore, the White House positioned the best platform for television crews off to one side, not head on as other White Houses have done, so that the cameras caught Mr. Bush in profile, his face perfectly aligned with the four presidents carved in stone.

And on Monday, for remarks the president made promoting his tax cut plan near Albuquerque, the White House unfurled a backdrop that proclaimed its message of the day, "Helping Small Business," over and over. The type was too small to be read by most in the audience, but just the right size for television viewers at home.

Or how about this zinger:
But even this White House makes mistakes. One of the more notable ones occurred in January, when Mr. Bush delivered a speech about his economic plan at a St. Louis trucking company. Volunteers for the White House covered "Made in China" stamps with white stickers on boxes arrayed on either side of the president. Behind Mr. Bush was a printed backdrop of faux boxes that read "Made in U.S.A.," the message the administration wanted to convey to the television audience.

I'm showing my naivete to be shocked by all this, but it smacks of a crass manipulation unrivaled by even Clinton's stunts from the past. Clinton, however, was lauded for his natural speaking ability, charisma, and poise. I imagine his aides didn't need to resort to these extreme manipulative tactics quite so often. The more Bush's aides have to scurry to cover him up, use lighting and props and stagecraft to make him look like a leader, the more they emphasize his natural failings in all these regards.


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