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Running on Empty 

George W. Bush’s plea for votes — and brain cells

Wednesday, Jul 19 2000
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This dark season draws on, numbingly, as the twin candidates leap and yammer at the very edges of the nation‘s consciousness, making nice with the black and brown voters they will ignore for the next four years, blaming each other for the high price of gas, executing the odd doubtfully convicted soul. As part of a continuing effort to lay bare the worm-eaten pilings upon which our democracy rests, you will here again find collected a few of the more worrisome outbursts of our latest aspirants for the executive, Gush (the shifty one) and Bore (the lifeless one). But first, a story.

In an attempt to make my hunt for Gush’s gushings less painful, I phoned the Gush for President headquarters in Austin, Texas, and asked them for a list of Gush‘s recent television interviews -- it is in such unscripted forums that he lets his true self shine. The young woman who answered took my name and number and assured me someone would get back to me. A few hours later, I got a garbled message from an unidentified gentleman with the Gush campaign informing me that they were not making that information public. Confused as to why a candidate’s press office would want to conceal its boss‘s most public statements from the public, and perhaps a little suspicious that they had done a little research and decided (wisely, I’ll grant) not to help me, I called back the next morning. This time, I spoke to a young man with the delightful name Harry Wolff, who said that they did not have the information I wanted and that “we don‘t release that information,” not just because they didn’t have it, but “as a matter of policy.” When asked why on earth the Gush campaign would make a policy of keeping Gush‘s past public appearances confidential, Harry Wolff admitted he did not know. I sent him off to check, but the person he thought might know was not, apparently, in the office.

To their credit, the Gush people did come through in the end, kindly bending the rules for a persistent and unfailingly polite reporter. They helped unearth the gems collected below.

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If anyone has forgotten why the already quite wealthy and powerful enough but not particularly qualified or clever or even literate Gush wants to take over the helm of the American empire, Gush reminds us: “I want to be the president for a reason. I’m not just running to hold the office. I‘m running for America to seize a moment, to take advantage of an opportunity. And we better take advantage of it now. And the opportunity is to say to the elderly, ’We‘re going to take $2.3 trillion of surplus, and you will be -- we promise you our promise will be fulfilled.’”

He‘s ready for the job, and occasionally forgets he hasn’t already won it; he announced recently that “As president, I‘m here in Knoxville, Tennessee, to tell America I’ll set a new tone in Washington.”

And what a tone it is -- when the host of MSNBC‘s misleadingly named Hardball asked Gush about his ability to handle “the immense burdens of the presidency,” and gave as an example the possibility of having to react to a North Korean attack on South Korea, Gush responded, “I’m comforted by the fact that I‘ve got great faith, that I believe in a supreme being. And that gives me great comfort.” Blind to the idea that his comfort might not be at issue, Gush continued, “I’ll be comforted by the fact that, one, the military hopefully will be prepared to respond, and secondly, that I would lay out a vision about -- and a predictable vision about what the response will be. If North Korea attacks South Korea, there will be a response. There will be a response.”

If that‘s not comforting enough (A vision? A response? Who would have thought?), Gush went on, “The mission of the United States military has become diffuse; it’s not clear. And when I become the commander in chief, the mission will be to fight and win war . . . and therefore prevent war from happening.”

This may be particularly frightening to those living in one of our main “areas of interest,” Mexico. Asked what U.S. strategic interests might justify bombing other countries, Gush laid out “four areas of national strategic interests.” The first three such areas are rather large: the Middle East, the Far East and Europe. Gush considered that “If our national strategic interests are threatened and if there is a clear need for military and a clear exit strategy, that‘s when the president ought to be committing troops, when it’s in our interest . . . peace and stability in our own hemisphere is in our national interest.” This is where it gets scary. “It‘s in our own interest, by the way,” he says, “to trade with Mexico. It’s in our interest for Mexico to be a strong and prosperous nation. New Mexico and Texas and California -- and America, for that matter -- will benefit with a -- with free trade in our hemisphere. And so those are the areas of interest in which the president could commit troops -- so long as there‘s a clear mission, a clear objective and an exit strategy.” a

Clear enough. Still worried? Gush reassures: “The fundamental question is, ’Will I be a successful president when it comes to foreign policy?‘ I will be, but until I’m the president, it‘s going to be hard for me to verify that I think I’ll be more effective.”

On abortion, also to Hardball host Chris Matthews: “I‘m gonna talk about the ideal world, Chris. I’ve read -- I understand reality. If you‘re asking me as the president, would I understand reality, I do.”

Still more reassuring: “I think anybody who doesn’t think I‘m smart enough to handle the job is underestimating.”

But Gush is improving. The campaign trail seems to have gifted him with a previously absent degree of self-knowledge. On juvenile justice: “. . . getting put away for 10 years right off the bat on a first offense at 16 is pretty extreme. I don’t think that happens a lot in my state, for example. It may. I may be mistaken. Put me down as a person who will stand corrected at some point in time.”

Such soul-searching, extended to his party‘s missteps, produced: “Truthfully, our party has been tagged with being against things -- anti-immigrant for example.”

On support from Latino voters (you know, immigrants and things): “When I got sworn in as governor of Texas, I said in my inaugural speech -- I think I said it in my inaugural speech -- I’m your governor too. You may not have voted for me, but I‘m going to be your governor.” Like it or not.

More on Gush’s disturbingly wide comfort zone: “Only thing I can tell you is that every case that I‘ve reviewed, I’ve been comfortable with the innocence or guilt of the person that has been, that I‘ve looked at. And I do not believe we’ve put a guilty -- I mean an innocent person to death in the state of Texas.”

And finally, Gush clarifies: “This may sound a little West Texan to you, but I like it. When I‘m talking about -- when I’m talking about myself, and when he‘s talking about myself, all of us are talking about me.”

On the other side of the fence -- short and wafer-thin though it may be -- stands Bore, who, despite the efforts of a rotating pack of handlers, despite the colorful ties, the animated hand gestures and the big robotic smiles, still makes an unconvincing human. A little rewiring may yet prove necessary, for most of Bore’s pronouncements are so, well, boring that they do not bear repetition. He nonetheless released a tidbit last month so revealing that even The New York Times was forced to snicker. At a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser in Washington, attended largely by African immigrants, Bore praised the audience for having raised $350,000 for the Democratic National Committee: “That is a sign that this group has really entered a brand-new relationship to the national politics of our country.” Bore congratulated the crowd -- finally relevant, having appropriately bought their way in -- for at last being able “to play its proper role in helping to focus the attention of our country on issues in Nigeria or Ethiopia or Ghana or Cameroon or South Africa.” To paraphrase a slogan popularized in the streets of Seattle: “This is what plutocracy looks like!”

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