The Simpsons Explain the Bush Presidency
As The Simpsons movie opens this weekend, President Bush is under a withering assault from all sides. White House aides face contempt of Congress charges and Senate Judiciary Committee members call for a special counsel to probe Attorney General Alberto Gonzales while the President's position on the Iraq war grows more untenable..
Which is altogether fitting. As I explained back in April, a 2000 episode of The Simpsons perhaps best explains how the Bush presidency survives because of - and not despite - the cavalcade of scandals enveloping it. Call it the "Monty Burns theory"...
Surviving All Scandals: President Bush as Mr. Burns
With each passing day, the scandal-plagued Bush White House more and more resembles a 2000 episode of The Simpsons. During a check up, the nuclear power tycoon Mr. Burns is informed by his doctor that "you are the sickest man in the United States. You have everything." (See a video clip here.) But the doctor reassures Burns that the news isn't all bad and that he will survive because "all of your diseases are in perfect balance."
And so it may be with President Bush. During a speech the Brookings Institute yesterday, Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel offered an exhaustive - and damning - catalog of the scandals and ethical wrong-doing of the Bush administration and his Republican Party. And yet President Bush and his beleaguered GOP survive.
In fact, George W. Bush may be hanging on because of, and not despite, the staggering epidemic of scandals enveloping his administration.
There are many factors explaining why this scandal-ridden presidency with a 28% approval rating even has a pulse at all. One is simply the "crowding out" effect. That is, the sheer number of scandals, probes, inquiries and convictions prevents the media - and the American people - from focusing on any given one. In the absence of a smoking gun in, for example, PlameGate or the U.S. attorneys purge, the scandals compete for air time and attention. The complexities of the illegalities and misdeeds surrounding the project for a permanent Republican majority fade, disappearing into the haze. While terminally-ill, the Bush presidency has yet to suffer a death blow.
Its surprising resilience is of course aided by the American 24/7 media industry for whom politics is now mere theater, just another form of entertainment. There is no journalistic search for objective truth. Instead, all controversies are presented as ideological clashes morality plays with two sides. In that format, the "best" entertainers are the loudest, most aggressive and most theatrical. Whether the issue is Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay or the CIA leak case, the result is the same. Bill Kristol, Robert Novak, Tom Delay, Sean Hannity and their fellow goose-steppers in the conservative amen corner comically protest "the criminalization of politics." In reality, of course, it is the Republicans who are trying to politicize crime.
To gauge the crowding out effect of competing scandals, you can start with the Bush White House. The list is mind-boggling. The Abramoff scandal. The student loan imbroglio. The 2003 Medicare budget fraud and threats to chief actuary Richard Foster. The outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. NSA domestic surveillance. The political purge of U.S. prosecutors. Doctoring environmental reports. The "Reading First" fraud. The K Street Project. Dick Cheney's secret energy task force. $9 billion in missing Iraq reconstruction funds. GOP hacks running the Iraq Provisional Authority. Halliburton war profiteering. Blocking FDA approval of Plan B. Lying to the American people about regulating CO2 emissions. The GSA's violations of the Hatch Act. Bypassing federal records law by using RNC email servers. Undermining the Voting Rights Act. The Hurricane Katrina response. And, of course, the fabricated case for Iraq WMD.
As Rahm Emanuel detailed, the Bush administration "Hall of Shame" of the criminal, the suspect and the ridiculous is long as well. David Safavian. Scooter Libby. Karl Rove. Thomas Sculley. Lurita Doan. Alberto Gonzales. Kyle "Dusty" Foggo. Bernard Kerik. Kyle Sampson. Monica Goodling. Claude Allen. Matteo Fontana. Stephen Griles and Sue Ellen Wooldridge. Phillip Cooney. Gail Norton. Michael Brown. Jim O'Beirne.
Many of President Bush's GOP friends in Congress are also among America's most wanted. The rap sheet of Banana Republicans past and present on the Hill starts with Tom Delay, joined in wrong-doing by his wife and former aides Edwin Buckham and Tony Rudy. Mark Foley (R-FL). Duke Cunningham (R-CA), Brent Wilkes and MZM. Katherine Harris (R-FL) and MZM. Bob Ney (R-OH) and his aide Neil Volz. Bill Frist (R-TN). John Doolittle (R-CA). Rick Renzi (R-AZ). Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Heather Wilson (R-NM). Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Richard Pombo (R-CA). Don Young (R-AK) and his aide Mark Zachares. Tom Feeney (R-FL). And who could forget the Midas touch of Jack Abramoff and his cohort Michael Scanlon?
Of course, the Republicans' proud record of corruption extends to the states as well. The list includes Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher and former Ohio chief Bob Taft. Taft aide and Bush ranger Tom Noe finds himself in prison. Born-again Christian turned born-again Abramoff accomplice Ralph Reed. And in California, there's cronyism and conflict of interest aplenty with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A thorough accounting of the crimes and ethical failings of George W. Bush and his Republican allies would make the Encyclopedia Britannica look like cliff notes in comparison. The mind reels and eyes glaze over in contemplating all the wrong-doing of the Bush years. Which is exactly why his presidency still stands, even though the fog.
In that classic Simpson's episode, Montomery Burns' physician explains that his myriad diseases are actually good news, ensuring his health by balancing each other out. "Here's the door to your body, see?" the doctor says, continuing, "Here's what happens when they all try to get through the door at once. We call it, 'Three Stooges Syndrome.'" To which Mr Burns replies, "So what you're saying is, I'm indestructible."
At best, the Three Stooges is also a good metaphor for the presidency and party of George W. Bush. But it appears President Bush too, like Mr. Burns, may be indestructible.