Doctor Axelrodstein and his creation appear to have mastered the stagecraft of modern politics. Oh, they’ve made a mistake or two, but all in all they have shown that they know how to manipulate ceremony and symbolism as well as . . . .the Republicans.
Stagecraft is important. There is value in the speeches and bill signing ceremonies, the formal state dinners and solemn rituals. But while stagecraft is important it is not the substantive part of governing.
The aroma, texture and taste of food is important too, but it is not a substitute for nutritional value. You could survive indefinitely on water and a bland paste that contained all the necessary calories, proteins, carbs, vitamins and other stuff, but how long could you stay alive eating only a great tasting synthetic food made of indigestible plastic? (Soylent Green vs. frozen pizza)
While stagecraft has been a part of politics since the time of the Pharoahs, it was during the Reagan administration that the “permanent campaign” became S.O.P. in Washington D.C. But it was during the (thank God it’s almost over) administration of George W. Bush that symbolism took precedence over substance:
“There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus,” says DiIulio. “What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”
Remember when Incurious George showed up at Ground Zero? That guy next to him with the FDNY uniform next to him was a retired firefighter that Karl Rove sent up on the pile of rubble so Bush could use him like a prop while he promised to get Osama bin Laden. But later the hunt for Osama was called off so we could invade Iraq instead.
Less than two months after invading Iraq on false pretenses the White House had the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln sail in circles off the California coast so Bush could fly in for his “Commander Codpiece” photo op and give his “mission accomplished” speech with a dramatic backdrop. That was on May 1, 2003 but our troops are still in Iraq.
The most egregious example of the dangers of symbolism over substance was the reponse to Hurricane Katrina. While NOLA drowned Bush and Karl Rove worried about appearing “presidential” and schemed about how to take advantage of the catastrophe for political gain.
Two days before G-Dub finally got around to showing up in the disaster zone, at Rove’s suggestion he made a flyover in Air Force One so he could have his picture taken looking concerned as he peered out of a window. When he finally touched ground in the Gulf Coast on September 2, 2005 (five days after Katrina hit) Bush gave gave brief “pep talk” speeches and told FEMA Director Michael Brown:
“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
When Bush gave his September 15, 2005 speech from Jackson Square in New Orleans, the White House had kleig lights brought in to provide a dramatic backdrop and temporarily restored power. MSNBC’s Brian Williams reported:
“I am duty-bound to report the talk of the New Orleans warehouse district last night: there was rejoicing (well, there would have been without the curfew, but the few people I saw on the streets were excited) when the power came back on for blocks on end. Kevin Tibbles was positively jubilant on the live update edition of Nightly Newsthat we fed to the West Coast. The mini-mart, long ago cleaned out by looters, was nonetheless bathed in light, including the empty, roped-off gas pumps. The motorcade route through the district was partially lit no more than 30 minutes before POTUS drove through. And yet last night, no more than an hour after the President departed, the lights went out. The entire area was plunged into total darkness again, to audible groans.”
Two days from now the village of Crawford, Texas will get its idiot back and Barack Obama will be the big cheese. So far all we’ve seen from Obama is speeches with dramatic backdrops and staged photo-ops. The packaging is wonderful but if he doesn’t have something more than that it’s gonna be a short honeymoon. The first time things go wrong all hell will break loose.