Was George Bush a good, decent person: Was President George W. Bush “more than a composite of swagger and smirk?” Was he “also a kind man with a gentle heart who should be remembered as such?”
We don’t know, although we certainly think that is possible. That said, we can’t say it hugely matters. The decisions and conduct of a president are more important than the question of what he was “really like.”
At any rate, Kathleen Parker is saying those things about Bush in this morning’s Washington Post. She draws upon this methodology:
PARKER (4/28/13): Everyone is familiar with Bush’s history and performance. What I offer is an anecdote or two that I think reveal what the cameras and critics could not. These recollections are simply recorded for the sake of biography in the interest of providing a more complete picture of a two-term, transformational president who changed our world in ways that won’t be fully understood or judged in our lifetimes.Parker agrees that the “history and performance” come first. But she offers anecdotes about this president's conduct when no one was looking.
There’s nothing wrong with offering those anecdotes; Parker’s personal judgments about Bush may even be right. But those anecdotes made us recall a few of our own. They also tweaked our growing sense that our American public discourse is, and will continue to be, manufactured consent—manufactured consent all the way down!
Parker offers a few anecdotes about Bush’s behind the scenes conduct. We thought of a few glimpses we had of Candidate Gore during his run for the White House.
As you know, we never discuss our conversations with possible future American presidents. For that reason, we haven’t shared these anecdotes and we won’t do so today, although we have often wanted to.
We’ve wanted to share them because we thought it would be good to give the public a fuller picture of this particular candidate. In the last few years—in the past few weeks!—we’ve moved toward a different view.
We’ve come to see that nothing will change the way we Americans see the world. We’ve come to see that our understandings are the result of manufactured consent, pretty much all the way down—including the manufactured consent created within the liberal base by our own liberal leaders.
In truth, we think we may have discussed a few lesser anecdotes before, although these anecdotes don’t involve the good stuff. Examples:
At a cattle call Christmas party in December 1999, the candidate explained a puzzling news report by Katharine “Kit” Seelye. In this puzzling news report, Seelye seemed to have Tipper Gore aiming a snarky public shot right at Candidate Bush.
The story didn’t seem to make sense in the way Seelye told it, but the point of the story was clear—the Gores were nasty attack dogs. At the time, this was a principal talking-point of the Bradley campaign. People like Seelye were working quite hard to advance this line, even if they had to drop key facts from their “news reports.”
At that cattle call Christmas party, the candidate told us what Seelye had dropped from her news report. Through the miracle of electronic search engines, we were able to verify what he told us. Suddenly, the story made sense—but it no longer advanced the negative view of Gore which Seelye was trying to generate.
We may have discussed an anecdote from a second cattle call Christmas party, this time from December 2000. This party took place on the very night when the candidate formally dropped his challenge to the Florida vote count, thereby conceding defeat.
Earlier that evening, we had performed at the Washington Improv as part of the Funniest Celebrity in Washington contest. At that show, we had told a certain joke about this candidate. Presumably, the joke can be still be seen on C-Span, since that event at the Improv was taped and televised.
The joke went something like this: “In my view, Candidate Gore got the best of both worlds. Everyone knows that he won the election. Plus he doesn’t have to serve!”
We were glad that the joke got a laugh; this told us that people were actually starting to know that Gore had won the popular vote. We repeated the joke to Gore that night, and, if memory serves, he said something like this:
“There’s a great deal of truth to that joke.”
Later that evening, the candidate spoke telephonically to President Clinton, who was returning from Europe on Air Force One. He repeated the joke to Clinton—and yes, we have three sources to verify that claim:
First source: One week later, we were at a cattle call Christmas party right there at the White House. A lady who had accompanied us wanted to go through the receiving line. And so, we graciously did.
When we approached the president and the first lady, the president repeated our deathless joke to the entire line. “Y’all! Have you heard Bob’s joke?” Clinton incomparably cried. “How does it go, Bob? Everyone knows Al won the election, plus he doesn’t have to serve?”
There was a great deal of truth to that joke, Clinton told us, much as Gore had done.
Second and third sources: In his book about the 2000 campaign, Roger Simon describes Clinton emerging from his private cabin on Air Force One and repeating that joke after hearing it from Gore on the phone. Years later, in his own memoir, Clinton describes Gore telling him the joke that night. For maximum impact, he saved the story for page 934.
That joke seemed to ring a bell with both Clinton and Gore. The fun part was winning an election. Especially by the 1990s, the crappy part came after that.
Please note: To our mind, there is a much more revealing anecdote from that cattle call Christmas party in December 2000. But as you may know, we never discuss our conversations with possible or once-possible future American presidents.
From March 1999 through December 2000, we saw Candidate Gore, or spoke telephonically, on at least four occasions, which isn't very many. For years, we thought there were several anecdotes from those occasions the public would benefit from hearing.
Parker acts on that general notion today, but we have stopped believing such things. It all comes back to the basic idea of manufactured consent.
In recent years—in recent weeks—we have come to see that the public’s consent is manufactured pretty much all way down. Nothing can or will change the ways we the people get conned into seeing the world in certain preconceived ways.
Two recent events have heightened our sense of this problem. One such event was Jal Mehta’s recent column in the New York Times. The other was the reaction of some “liberal journalists” to the Boston bombing.
When Noam Chomsky speaks of “manufactured consent,” he is talking about the ways the power elite gets us the people to adopt their preferred views of the world. The public is allowed to hear certain facts; we the people are widely exposed to certain preferred story lines.
We are widely denied other facts. We don’t hear other viewpoints. (For the past several years, Paul Krugman has discussed the way this process works with respect to “austerity” policies.)
In 1999 and 2000, we the people were mercilessly exposed to certain tales about Candidate Gore. Seelye was one of the largest dissemblers. But she still has her job at the Times, and the liberal world hasn’t said boo about her disgraceful conduct. Nor do our liberal leaders plan to do so, even after years of work in which we gave them the information about her ridiculous conduct.
They simply weren’t going to talk about that! They’ve helped manufacture your consent in this historical area. This works extremely well for them and for their career plans.
Similarly, the public has been told selective stories for years about the state of our public schools. Mehta’s disgraceful New York Times column extended this cherry-picked view of the world.
Over and over, again and again, we’ve presented the fuller information about the test scores Mehta discussed. But the mainstream press, and your liberal leaders, are never going to give you those facts. Your consent in this area has been manufactured. This process will continue.
We’ll have to say we had a similar reaction to David Sirota’s column about the Boston bombing, and to the follow-up columns by Joan Walsh and Peter Beinart. In this case, though, consent is being manufactured among the nation’s liberals.
Average voters don’t read this crap. In this particular area, we liberals are given a manufactured view of the world by our own tribal leaders.
Sadly, we feel we know something now which we didn’t know in the past: None of this is going to change! We liberals love manufactured tales in which we are told that we are The Very Good People and the other tribe isn’t. (One example from last weekend: We're told that our leaders say the right things after terroristic attacks while their leaders don’t.) We don’t push back when our liberal leaders hand us these cherry-picked, misleading tales. Nor do we show any sign of caring when they refuse to challenge the bullshit which comes from the top, whether it was the manufactured consent about Gore or the ongoing manufactured consent about the public schools.
Our liberal leaders don’t seem to care about matters like that. Neither do we the liberal people. This seems to be the best we can do at this stage of human development.
In short, it isn’t simply the power elite which manufactures our consent. Our liberal leaders play very active roles in this process too. As Chomsky has endlessly said, the process is going on all around us, and the process is very powerful. As part of this powerful process, Chomsky’s discussions of this process are cut from the national discourse.
Your liberal leaders haven’t old you the truth and they never will! A few years ago, we began to understand a fact which Parker may not:
The Standard Stories will prevail, whatever the actual truth may be. Your discourse is novels all the way down, a bit like Lord Russell once said.
What were Bush and Gore actually like? In the end, that doesn’t hugely matter. But our society’s gods are its novels. Quite often, those novels are bogus.
Jal Mehta’s facts about the schools were heavily cherry-picked. But society’a adepts are sworn not to tell, and that includes the liberal leaders who manufacture your consent about the greatness of your tribe and the ugliness of those who don’t who don’t belong.
In truth, its novels all the way down. Those novels manufacture our consent and nothing is going to change them.
We used to think the public should know what a certain candidate said on Memorial Day Weekend, 2000. Now we don’t think it matters.
About our candidates, about our schools, it’s fairy tales all the way down! At this stage of human moral development, we can't seem to escape this system.
Concerning that joke: Concerning the joke we told to Gore and Gore then relayed to Clinton, on the night he conceded defeat:
In mid-December 2000, these fellows were swapping jokes on the phone. Soon, though, the press corps was telling a preferred story about an alleged shouting match, a shouting match which helped us see how much they hated each other.
That story has been told to this day. Mainstream journalists love that story, which they have memorized.
Who knows? Some part of that shat story may even be true! But whenever we hear it, we remember this additional fact: They were also swapping jokes on the phone! And yes, we have three sources, two of them published, for this additional fact.