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Groundhog Day

Apr
25
2007

A few days ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said President George W. Bush was in a state of denial over the Iraq war and the havoc the U.S. invasion has wrought. To be polite, that’s – er – a very polite statement. Denial implies that this administration actually has some sense that something might be wrong and that sense is, in turn, being ignored.
In a weird way, it would offer a sort of hope if, in fact, we were dealing with denial on the part of the Bush White House.
See, it’s denial and its various manifestations that make the move Groundhog Day so wryly amusing: The only guy who knows what’s going on – that his life is repeating the same day over and over – is the one who is in denial. Everyone else is just doing what they do for the first time. Watching this White House isn’t so funny. The Bush folks just keep repeating themselves, again and again with spectacularly bad results. And no one seems in on the joke.
But, like Phil Conners – the Groundhog Day weatherman played by Bill Murray – the administration’s defining characteristic is stubborness. The president and his advisors believe what they believe because they believe it and well, that’s just the way it is. And when they change their thinking then that’s the way it’s gonna be because that’s the way it always was. Don’t worry, you’re not the only person who’s confused. One of the reasons there’s so much international disgust for the U.S. is that it appears to be wielding power arbitrarily with little regard for its history or the history of its relations with other parts of the world. Kind of like Phil when he realizes there are no consequence to his behaving badly.
But there’s also a do-nothingness that’s an insouciant use of power that this administration seem to relish having in some circumstances but to studiously avoid deploying in others. When it comes to Iraq and the Middle East, stonewalling the U.S. Congress or defaming a now-former CIA agent, the Bush White House can’t be tough enough. But it can’t manage to stir itself to anything but cautious inaction when it comes to dealing other matters.
So, for instance, the Washington Post says that Food and Drug Administration inspectors were aware of the dangers posed by tainted spinach and other contaminated food but didn’t really do much to keep the produce from reaching salad-eaters. Not enough money in the budget, they now say.
The U.S. State Department was aware of the pending launch of a Chinese satellite-destroying missile but did nothing. They weren’t sure they could have an effect, says the New York Times.
That’s just this week. And it’s only Tuesday.
Earlier “do nothings” have been a bit more deliberate. There’s former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s decision to quickly destroy gun purchase records from background checks. Think that weakening in the system sent a loud and clear message that such checks aren’t really important to gun dealers and state regulators? And no one needs to be reminded of the misdirection, lack of attention and planning that characterized the U.S. reaction to Hurricane Katrina. It’s not too cynical to predict that Californians will get any necessary earthquake relief from Mexico of China before Washington, is it? And what, if anything, to do with injured troops returning from Iraq? Oh, yeah, we’ll just create a temporary – as in moldy, run-down and vermin-infested – place for them to stay because, well, we’re going to win the war and there won’t be any sick or injured soldiers. And if there are, they’ll get better faster because their injuries will be the minor scratches and scrapes of the Iraqi rescue squad, right? With Walter Reed in mind, let’s set aside – it’s too heartbreaking, other can tell the story too well – the mess in Iraq. And the mis-steps in the Middle East regarding Hamas, the Palestinians, Israel, Iran and Syria.
The U.S. refusal to exercise its influence is an unspoken encyclopedia of silence. Enough to make America’s most zealous anti-Imperialist realize just how much they value this nation’s position as an international power.
The sadder thing is that when it comes to petty retaliation, the Bush Administration knows how to get the job done. No one’s better. Trifle with the integrity of the president’s State of the Union address? You’ll find yourself on the wrong end of a smear campaign orchestrated by the Vice President. Try to vote even though you have a felony record: Get jail time even if you don’t realize that you’ve committed a crime. Do your job a little too well – say, go after corruption, without regard to political party and make a U.S. Senator cranky? Well, you’ll find yourself booted out of your U.S. Attorney’s job, told your weren’t doing very well. Let’s say you volunteer to work as a translator for the U.S government as an Iraqi? Well, you can find your life in danger and your fate subject to the whims of a bureacracy steeped in ignorance and, well, denial because, of course, to protect those who help us is to admit – in a small way – that what we’re doing in Iraq makes no sense.
After this willful parade of self-deceit it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that real problem isn’t that the Bush Administration doesn’t know what it’s doing; it’s that no one can remember what they’re doing. Or why they’re doing it. It’s Groundhog Day without Phil Conners, who provided movie-goers with his subtle comments and clues about how he was changing even though his world was not. That’s why we laughed; knowing we’ve all done something similar without the cameras rolling.
But in the Bush Administration, things are as they are until, well, they’re not and we’ve forgotten – perhaps because they never really knew – how they were supposed to be in the first place. So U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales can’t remember discussing the status of the lawyers working with him with his chief of staff. Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff can’t remember what he said to various Washington reporters. And, well, the president and vice president, maybe they don’t have cable so they can’t see the tapes of what they said, which is not what they’re now saying.
In that world, the State Department just forgot about the photos of the Chinese missiles because they were sitting under a file of really important stuff. The North Koreans’ check really is lost in the mail Those U.S. attorney are, in fact, less competent than the man to whom they report, even if he can’t remember what he did as recently as three months ago. The FDA’s inspectors’ notes on various health safety issues were mailed to uh, the Federal Energy Management Administration. Maybe the new level of violence and in the Middle East is a signs of a new beginning in that region and maybe, just maybe, this “surge” of U.S. troops will restore civil order – it’s too much to hope for peace, isn’t it? – in Iraq.
Who knows? Who remembers? It’s enough to make you not want to care. And that is a true state of denial, isn’t it?

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 7:53 PM | Permalink

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