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Blogging Bush
From deep in the heart of Blue America, Inauguration Day lamentations in real time

JOHNNY CASH once had a novelty hit with a darkly humorous Shel Silverstein ditty called "25 Minutes To Go." It’s narrated by a man who’s condemned to die, and who counts down the minutes as he watches the preparations being made for his hanging. "Now they’re testin’ the trap, and it chills my spine, with 11 more minutes to go. And the trap and the rope, oh, they work just fine, got 10 more minutes to go." You get the idea.

For millions of us who live in Blue America, either geographically or psychologically, that’s exactly how it felt last Thursday, Inauguration Day. Except for this: at least Cash’s antihero didn’t have to think about it anymore after the trap door opened. By contrast, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist administered the oath of office to George W. Bush at exactly 11:56 a.m., our long national nightmare — to borrow a phrase from Gerald Ford, a very different sort of Republican president — had reached only its halfway point.

Four more years. Four more years of arrogant bullying, incompetent leadership, and radical right-wing policies. Four more years of war and rumors of war — including some saber-rattling at Iran by Dick Cheney just hours before he re-upped for a second term. Four more years of tax cuts for the wealthy and fighting to save Social Security, of torture memos and tortured logic. Four more years of being told what’s wrong with us Blue Americans is that we’re nothing but a bunch of God-hating, gay-marrying, values-disdaining not-quite-real Americans who’d be better off moving to France.

I spent most of Inauguration Day transfixed by this hideous spectacle, and kept a running account of it on Media Log, at BostonPhoenix.com. An edited and revised version follows.

Late morning

Rather peculiar. Within 30 seconds of my scanning the tube, I heard Doris Kearns Goodwin, on NBC, and Jeff Greenfield, on CNN, voice lame bromides about bipartisanship. The hell with that. I know where I want to be: CBS, where Dan Rather is anchoring his first big event since we learned he’d taken back his apology over the National Guard documents (see "Don’t Quote Me," News and Features, January 14). His sidekick is the ancient and obscure Reagan operative Ed Rollins, which may be a sign of just how low The Dan’s stock has fallen. Bob Schieffer’s in the booth, too.

Bush and Cheney are both outside now, waiting for the proceedings to begin. The sunlight doesn’t seem to be bothering Cheney. But he does appear to be looking furtively about — perhaps for a man with a hammer, a wooden stake, and a clove of garlic?

Enter William Rehnquist. A truly moving moment, quite beyond politics: the elderly chief justice, suffering from thyroid cancer, has just made his way to the stand, walking with some difficulty but exuding a surprising air of heartiness. The tracheotomy tube is clearly visible, but other than that he looks like himself, right down to the robe with the Gilbert and Sullivan stripes.

Early afternoon

Liberty in theory and in practice. Bush has just finished his speech, an address in which he invoked the word "liberty" repeatedly — but there was damn little of it in front of the Capitol. As he was speaking, I saw a police officer lead away a woman who was flashing the peace sign with both hands, and a group of officers forcing other demonstrators to take down their banner. I could only make out the word WAR; later, I read in the papers that it said NO WAR.

I thought the authorities were on hand to provide security — not to protect the star attraction of this choreographed spectacle from the inconveniences of the First Amendment.

Whole Lott of love. Two years ago, the Bushies got some well-deserved praise for pushing then–Senate Republican leader Trent Lott out of the way after he made his segregationist sympathies clear at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond. So what was up with Lott’s full-scale rehabilitation at the inauguration? It’s not like he had been sent into exile. He’s still a US senator from Mississippi. He has occasionally made himself useful, as in his opposition to the FCC’s rush to deregulate media ownership still further. But what has he done to deserve center stage at the inauguration?

Lott truly got to bask in the glow. He was just a few feet away when Bush denounced racism. He got to introduce and shake hands with Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, an African-American minister who gave the benediction. I mean, Bush let old Trent get himself cleaned up real nice. But why? I don’t get it.

Not whose president? C-SPAN 2 is carrying the ANSWER Coalition’s counterinaugural live. I’m sorry, but I’m unimpressed. I’m even less impressed with the demonstrators who turned their backs on Bush as his motorcade passed by, and the woman holding the NOT MY PRESIDENT sign whose photo was published in the next day’s Boston Globe. Guess what, folks? Bush won. This isn’t January 2001, when he was sworn in despite not actually getting elected. He’s the president of Blue America just as much as he is of Red America. Liberals need to fight him and his policies — not succumb to adolescent pouting.

Taking liberties. It’s been nearly two hours since Bush finished his 21-minute inaugural address. And it strikes me that he did two things that were noteworthy. First, he linked the war in Iraq — and possibly wars to come, since he never actually used the word "Iraq" — to an American mission of spreading "liberty" and "freedom" across the world. Second, he wrapped up his domestic agenda in that quest for liberty, casting proposals such as the privatization of Social Security in the gauzy haze of freedom.

It was a skillful performance, but that was to be expected. Anyone who still thinks that Bush is going to fumble his way through the prepared text of a major speech just hasn’t been paying attention for the past four years.

To the extent that one speech can help shape the national conversation, it was also incredibly dangerous. The projection of American values is not just a neoconservative idea — it was a central tenet of the muscular liberalism of the pre-McGovern Democratic Party as well. But the Bush administration’s planning and execution to date have been so arrogant and inept that it is terrifying to contemplate what he’s got in mind next. Iran, perhaps?

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Issue Date: January 28 - February 3, 2005
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