Bush was Laughing at You, Not with You
That the right-wing blogosphere panned Barack Obama's attempts last night at presidential humor as "lame" and "mean-spirited" comes as no surprise. That conservatives were apoplectic when Wanda Sykes crossed the line in lampooning the Palin family's method failures and likened Rush Limbaugh to a terrorist was even less so.
But to conclude that Saturday's White House Correspondents Dinner proved "class made an exit with the Bush Administration" is to blissfully ignore President Bush's eight-years of joking at the expense of the American people. After all, when he wasn't mocking workers, giggling at the disabled and stereotyping African-Americans, George W. Bush made wisecracks about the prison sentence Scooter Libby never served and the WMD in Iraq he never found.
That humor was a window into Bush's grim soul was apparent even before he entered the Oval Office. Only in mirth did Bush seem to speak the truth. Amid the rubble that is now the American economy, it is worth looking back at how he used the October 2000 Al Smith dinner in New York to shed light on the constituency for his White House agenda:
"This is an impressive crowd - the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base."
As it turns out, Bush's use of humor provides Americans with rare, fleeting glimpses into the dark and twisted character of a man who views with disdain the citizens he was elected to serve. If Presidents Kennedy and Reagan turned to self-deprecating humor to charm the press and disarm critics, in Bush's hands the joke is both a weapon to attack enemies and a shield to fend off accountability. His March 2008 appearance at the Gridiron Club was no exception.
At the supposedly off-the-record event, President Bush turned to parody to again make light of the fiascos, scandals and duplicity that are synonymous with his tenure in the White House. Singing to the tune of "The Green Green Grass of Home," Bush laughed off many of the low-points of his presidency.
In addition to throwing Harriet Miers and Michael Brown under the bus ("like the fuss you made over Harriet and Brownie"), Bush guffawed about the crimes of Scooter Libby and the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame:
Here comes Scooter;
Finally free of the prosecutor.
Even MSNBC'S Chris Matthews, who has repeatedly referred to President Bush and his team as "good guys," was put off. "Nothing funny about a war fought for bad intelligence," he said, "and a top aide, Scooter Libby, who committed perjury and obstruction of justice to cover it up."
Of course, that performance was just the latest installment President Bush's petulance expressed as comedy. In 2006, Bush used the Gridiron Club event to poke fun at his Vice President. Bush delighted in Cheney's friendly fire quail hunting accident, declaring of Cheney's middle initial (Richard B. Cheney) that "B. stands for bulls eye." The light-hearted Bush also jokingly scolded the press "Good Lord, you'd thought he shot somebody or something."
The President's ribbing of Cheney, the supposed man behind the throne, extended to Bush's own disastrous mishandling of the Dubai ports deal and his calamitous response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush claimed that it is in fact Lynne Cheney who is the woman behind the man behind the man. Bush went on to the punchline:
"Lynne, I think you're doing a heck of a job. Although I have to say you dropped the ball big time on that Dubai deal."
Bush's presentation at the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner also showed his contempt for the truth and the suffering of the American people. His tasteless White House slideshow made light of the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Coming one year and hundreds of American dead and wounded after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush the cut-up hoped to regale the audience with his White House hijinx. As David Corn of The Nation reported:
Bush notes he spends "a lot of time on the phone listening to our European allies." Then we see a photo of him on the phone with a finger in his ear. But at one point, Bush showed a photo of himself looking for something out a window in the Oval Office, and he said, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere." The audience laughed. I grimaced. But that wasn't the end of it. After a few more slides, there was a shot of Bush looking under furniture in the Oval Office. "Nope," he said. "No weapons over there." More laughter. Then another picture of Bush searching in his office: "Maybe under here." Laughter again.
But as his dismal history shows, President Bush isn't content to try to laugh off his greatest failures and endless wrongdoing. After all, as his past teasing of the blind, the disabled, U.S. soldiers and blacks confirms, President Bush is laughing at us, not with us.
In Cleveland in 2007, President Bush offered Americans yet another example of the heartwarming leadership style that has so endeared him to about a quarter of all Americans. At his latest invitation-only event, Bush made a 13-year old girl cry. Of course, making fun of children is all in day's work for George W. Bush.
ThinkProgress tells the tale of Bush's failed outreach:
Jessica Hackerd, a "13-year old blonde-headed girl," asked Bush what his "next step with the immigration bill" will be. "Mr. Bush's sarcastic reply - a wry 'yeah, thanks' - drew laughter from the crowd of 400. But the attention caused young Jessica...to immediately tear up. 'No, it's a great question. No, I appreciate that,' Mr. Bush said, as he saw Jessica's reaction.'
That, as they say, was just Bush being Bush. In May 2006, President Bush made a bizarre remark which charmed disability advocates everywhere. Pitching his troubled Medicare prescription plan in Florida, President Bush said to a man in a wheelchair, "You look mighty comfortable." Six weeks later, Bush chided Los Angeles Times reporter Peter Wallsten, who is afflicted with Stargardt's disease and legally blind, for wearing sunglasses during the President's press conference:
THE PRESIDENT: Are you going to ask that question with shades on?
WALLSTEN: I can take them off.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm interested in the shade look, seriously.
WALLSTEN: All right, I'll keep it, then.
THE PRESIDENT: For the viewers, there's no sun.
WALLSTEN: I guess it depends on your perspective.
George W. Bush's schadenfreude streak allows him to pleasure in the plight of the guilty and innocent alike. In 1999, Governor Bush laughed off his looming execution of Karla Faye Tucker, mimicking with condemned death row inmate with his trademark smirk, "Please don't kill me!" And while pitching his Social Security privatization scheme in February 2005, President Bush told a 57 year-old woman who described working three jobs that her story was "uniquely American" and "fantastic."
It was during that same failed campaign to sell his plan to undo Social Security that President Bush displayed his great pleasure in perpetuating stereotypes of African-Americans. President Bush used his January 12, 2005 town hall meeting to sell his Social Security privatization plan to a hand-picked African-American audience:
"Another interesting idea...is a personal savings account...which can't be used to bet on the lottery, or a dice game, or the track.
"Secondly, the interesting -- there's a -- African American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people."
Even months after he left office, the American people still hold George W. Bush in contempt. Alas, the feeling was mutual. As his mean-spirited sense of humor on display from the beginning of his presidency shows, Bush didn't care much for the American people he served. And as always, the joke was on us.
Had the man you describe here been born into an average life, he may have aspired to being a sales consultant for some petroleum hardware supply chain since alcohol-inspired sarcastic wit does carry some weight toward winning friends and influencing people in certain honky tonk mentality circles.