As a playwright, I pay special attention to the difference between words
as they are spoken and the unsaid words hidden beneath the surface --
what we in the dramaturgy biz call "subtext."
With McCain and Obama edging closer to full-out general election
campaigning, it seems an appropriate time to examine recent and older
public utterances of various Republican officials -- Bush, McCain,
Cheney, Rumsfeld, Fleischer, Ashcroft, et al. -- and their likely
I'm presenting them here for several reasons: first, to make sure these
utterances do not get forgotten, but also to help us figure out how to
combat the twisted politics they represent. No doubt a goodly number of
these quotations will appear in campaign ads prior to November.
George W. Bush, of course, is a never-ending source of such examples.
Many of them make you guffaw in absolute embarrassment for the guy, way
over his head in a complex world he's capable of understanding only in
the most simplistic terms. Some of his remarks, especially in recent
years when nobody really is paying serious attention to him any more,
make you cringe in their dangerous, reckless abandon. Some are so
anger-provoking, they almost make you wish Cheney had taken him
Often, Bush's comments are evidence of pure ignorance. Sometimes, he
can't hide the arrogance and malice -- sure tip-offs of someone with
major self-esteem problems. Sometimes things come out of his mouth
impulsively and he winds up revealing a lot more than he realizes.
Of course, the GOP archives of the past eight years contain hundreds of
juicy quotations worth noting. Here are just a dozen of my favorites.
Remember, boys and girls, you can play this game at home with your own
choices. (If you run across some really good ones, send them in along
with your subtextual explications.)
1. WHO GIVES A FLYING F?
Early in his residency in the White House, an ordinary constituent at a
rope-line reception for Bush told the installed President that he
disagreed with one of his policies. "What do I care what you think?"
Subtext: In that curt, rude response -- the king dismissing one of his
lowly subjects -- Bush inadvertently told us how he would rule. Those
with economic or political clout, those who supported the
Administration's policies with their monetary contributions and their
political flattery, would be paid attention to. The rest of us could
take a hike.
Karl Rove made that attitude even more clear to his Republican Party
cohorts: All we need is "the majority plus one," he said, then we
proclaim our "mandate" to rule and proceed to do whatever we want.
2. THE DICTATORSHIP "JOKE"
The above Bush response has to be understood in the context of how he
has preferred to rule. Before he was inaugurated, and he repeated it
twice in similar form after he was installed in the White House, Bush
blurted out: "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot
easier, just as long as I'm the dictator."
Bush's handlers claim that this comment, and the two others much like
it, were just "jokes," but everything we've come to learn about him in
the past eight years makes clear that the unfunny "joke" long ago moved
into reality: his paranoid hyper-secrecy about what his Administration
is up to, his refusal to obey Congressional subpoenas for documents and
testimony by his aides, his behaving like a dictator who is beyond the
law (for example, taking illegal actions and then unilaterally claiming
he's permitted to do so as "commander-in-chief" acting in "wartime"),
his "signing statements" (where, after he affixes his signature to the
bills passed by Congress, he attaches presidential statements asserting
he has no intent of obeying key aspects of those laws. To date, he's
issued an estimated 1000 such "signing statements"). Etc.
The subtext is: "You want me? You come get me. Until that day -- and
you'd better think twice about even trying it -- get out of my face."
And it's worked: Despite the many high crimes and misdemeanors carried
out by Bush and Cheney, the so-called "opposition," the Democratic
Party, has refused to do much, if anything, to rein in the
Administration's extremist behavior. Impeachment is the clear remedy
called for by the Constitution, but the timid/complicit Democrats have
taken that option "off the table."
3. CHENEY: 2 QUOTES, 3 WORDS
Cheney's one-word reply to a reporter's question serves as a complement
to the Bush item#1 above. The query was about why the Administration
keeps escalating and plowing on in the Iraq quagmire when poll after
poll for several years now has shown that the American people think the
war was a bad mistake and want the troops to start coming home as soon
as is practicable. Cheney looked at the reporter who inquired as to how
the Administration might want to respond to this overwhelming citizen
rejection of CheneyBush Iraq policy and said: "So?"
Subtext: What Cheney was saying was that his White House has its own
agenda, based upon his absolute certainty that he knows what's best for
us all, and most especially best for the elites that support the
Administration. Therefore, he is not about to be dissuaded by anything
as trivial as public sentiment or democratically-derived opinion, or,
for that matter, reality on the ground in Iraq. In effect: "Just get out
of our way before you get run over." (Earlier, Cheney, a man of few
words, used just two to attack Senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the
United States Senate: "Fuck you!")
4. THE PRESIDENTIAL "CATAPULT"
Using Karl Rove's Big Lie Technique -- telling whoppers again and again
and again, to the point where they get accepted as conventional wisdom
-- Bush inadvertently gave away the store when he described how a large
part of his job was to keep repeating the same talking points endlessly
in order to "catapult the propaganda."
Willy-nilly, the subtext became the text: Whoops! That phrase just sort
of slipped out out of Bush's mouth. You can just see his "brains,"
mainly Rove and Cheney, gnashing their teeth and pulling out their
remaining hair as those words escaped Bush's mouth. The topic was Social
Security, but the CheneyBushRove "catapulting" approach is the same
regardless of subject: We define reality; you better adjust to it, or
5. ASHCROFT & FLEISCHER
Authoritarian rulers not only must keep what they're doing away from
public scrutiny -- this Administration has been the most secretive in
U.S. history -- but also must frighten away would-be critics from
questioning their policies. The aim is to get potential critics to keep
silent or, at the least, to moderate their objections.
So here was then-Attorney-General John Ashcroft at a Congressional
hearing, responding to criticisms of the Administration's rampaging
through the Constitutional protections of due process in its top-secret
"war on terror":
"To those who scare peace-loving people with
phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid
terrorists -- for they erode our national unity and diminish our
resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to
In essence, Ashcroft was accusing anyone raising
questions about those extra-legal tactics of giving "aid and comfort" to
our enemies: a treasonable offense. In other words, shut your mouth and
pay the consequence of having your patriotism impugned, or worse: lose
your job, be the target of hate, go to jail.
Then-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer continued in the same
vein by warning those with access to the media to keep their mouths
shut, issuing reminders to all Americans that "they need to watch
what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like
that. There never is."
6. AH, THE "ROMANCE" OF COMBAT
Here's a recent Bush remark that is so out-there that one was tempted to
believe it was an Onion parody. Bush told U.S. military and civilian
personnel facing death and maiming in Afghanistan:
"I must say, I'm a little envious. If I were
slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a
fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young
democracy succeed. It must be exciting for you … in some ways
romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger."
One can be certain there are plenty of GIs in
Afghanistan and Iraq today who would love to trade places with George W.
so he could finally get some of that wonderful "romantic" experience of
being under enemy fire.
The subtext: Bush, whose connected family made sure to keep Dim Son from
serving in Vietnam by getting him a soft-cushion commission in the Texas
Air National Guard, still exhibits no knowledge of what war is really
like and what those young men and women he sends into harm's way have to
go through day by day. Many of them serve without enough armored
vehicles, without enough body armor, and return home, often to deficient
VA medical care, with severe brain or lower-extremity injuries as a
result of the lack of the correct armoring,
And how did then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld respond when an Army
National Guard specialist had the temerity to ask his boss in public why
they were having to cannibalize their own vehicles to provide the
necessary armoring? "You go to war with the army you have, not the
army you might want or wish to have at a later time," said Rumsfeld
coldly, effectively verifying that CheneyBush had rushed into war
without adequate equipment or contingency planning. Thousands of U.S.
troops have died or been horribly maimed in the interim.
7. "HECKUVA JOB, BROWNIE"
Here's one Bush quote that never grows old:
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and
so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our
country and our people, and neither do we."
Well, yes, of course he mis-spoke.
But the subtext bespeaks a truth. Naomi Klein's brilliant book
Doctrine" rests upon the assumption that Bush&Co. would prefer their
disastrous behavior and policies be seen as evidence of "incompetentcy"
rather than admit that their underlying goal is to sow chaos and
confusion and fright as ways of implementing their social, political,
economic agendas. So when Bush told Michael Brown that he was doing a "heckuva job, Brownie" running the Administration's post-Katrina
response, he was telling the truth -- but from a "shock doctrine"
8. RUMFELD'S "QUICK" WAR
Rumsfeld is a running fount of wonderful quotes. One of my favorites
came just before the invasion and occupation of Iraq, when the public
was torn about the wisdom of attacking that country. It was important to
make the impending war seem a fait accompli that would be just a minor,
temporary blip on the American political radar screen.
So when a reporter asked him how long he envisioned this imperial
adventure might last in Iraq, Rummy replied : "It could last six
days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
Similarly, members of Congress wanted to know how much the war would
cost U.S. taxpayers. Telling the truth, that the costs could run into
the hundreds of billions and then trillions, would have been
unacceptable to Congress and the American people, so Paul Wolfowitz,
Rumsfeld's Deputy Secretary of Defense, said blithely that the costs
weren't a problem, since the Iraqis would finance the war and
reconstruction out of their huge oil revenues. "There's a lot of
money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money,"
A final Rumsfeld quote: Reporters kept asking him where the supposed
caches of "weapons of mass destruction" were in Iraq, since the invading
troops hadn't found any. Without missing a beat, Rumsfeld replied that
U.S. forces were right on the scent: "We know where they are. They're
in and around Tikrit...north, east, south and west of Baghdad."
Subtext: The Administration was lying through its collective teeth about
the real problems associated with an invasion and occupation and
nation-building. Furthermore, they were totally winging it in Iraq, with
nary a clue how to proceed. But they would keep going, deeper into the
Big Muddy, because that's the only idea they had in their heads. And,
because they were the only Superpower on the planet, they felt they
could do whatever they wanted and the Iraqi public and the U.S.
citizenry would be frightened into submission. Since their multinational
corporate supporters (Halliburton, Bechtel, KBR, Blackwater, et al.)
would make out like bandits in the nation-building stage, a stalemate of
shock-doctrine chaos in Iraq was just fine for however many years it
9. THE "DISAPPEARING" INSURGENCY
Another doozy from Dick Cheney. The Administration could never admit in
public that things weren't going swimmingly in the U.S. occupation of
Iraq. To do so would be admitting that Bush was a fallible human being
like the rest of us, and the fundamentalist part of the Republican base
seemed eager to believe that Bush was an anointed servant of God and
thus could do no wrong.
So Cheney, at the height of the insurgent attacks in Baghdad and
elsewhere around Iraq, when so many U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians
were being killed or maimed by suicide bombers and roadside explosives,
told a questioner that there was no reason to worry, since the "insurgency is in its last throes." That was in May of 2005.
Subtext: One of the major goals of the U.S. occupation of Iraq was/is to
make sure that any open American defeat will not happen during the
CheneyBush tenure. If the next Administration were to be a Democratic
one, they would be the ones having to admit that the war was lost and
bring home the troops. The GOP could then claim that if only the
CheneyBush policies had been permitted to continue after they left
office, "victory" would have been possible, even likely. It's the old
stab-in-the-back smear: Who "lost" China? Who "lost" Vietnam? Etc.
Cheney was just spinning like crazy, hoping against hope that another
six months would see the U.S. forces move closer to something that
somehow could be described as a victory. These six-month increments
(called "Friedman units," after the New York Times' pro-war cheerleader
Tom Friedman) would come and go with little or no progress over the next
three years. The Administration tried to use the recent military "surge"
as proof of the wisdom of that theory, but the original aim for that
surge was to buy enough time for the so-called "government" in Iraq to
arrange for a political/ethnic/religious reconciliation that would
guarantee a peace. It never happened.
10. BUSH "REACHES OUT" TO DEMS
When Bush was declared the winner in 2004 (*see footnote below), he
promised he would reach out to Congressional Democrats, and others who
opposed many of his policies, to try to change the tone of partisan
gridlock in Washington. He seemed sincere in wanting to make good on his
earlier description of himself as "a uniter, not a divider."
But he couldn't quite bring himself to make the actual peace gesture.
Instead, he announced, as if he was granting a major concession to his
political opposition, that he would extend the hand of collegiality to
"everyone who shares our goals."
The subtext: In short, it was the ol' "my way or the highway"
confrontational mode again. In effect, Bush was saying, "I will work
with all those who agree with me, and nobody else. You're either with me
or against me. And those against me will pay the price." And they did,
until the increasingly fed-up voters elevated the Democrats into the
majority in the 2006 midterm elections.
11. BUSH'S GIANT "SACRIFICE"
Bush made sure never to go to Dover Air Force base to honor the dead
soldiers whose coffins are offloaded there from Iraq. He even tried to
keep photos of the war dead from ever getting into public print.
And yet Bush has the gall to claim, as he did in a TV interview last
week, that like the soldiers in Iraq and their families, he also has had
to "sacrifice" much. What did his major "sacrifice" consist of?
"I don't want some mom whose son may have
recently died, to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf. I feel I
owe it to the families to be as -- to be in solidarity as best as I
can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the
Subtext: You almost can hear the internal mental
processes of the media pros inside the White House: "The proper spin is
important when dealing with the touchy feelings of families of Iraq War
veterans. So we'll devise something that might qualify. Doesn't matter
how ridiculous it sounds, or how hypocritical we might appear to be
(since the Prez is constantly photographed having fun riding his
mountain bike or attempting something approximating dancing with various
ethnic troupes visiting the White House). Our base will eat it up.
McCain will need that base if he's to have any chance to continue our
foreign/military policies. So no public golf."
By the by, Bush was photographed playing golf three months after he
claimed he'd given it up. Question: Judging from his slurred delivery in
several recent speeches, I'm wondering if he's back on the sauce again,
since he claimed to have given up drinking many years ago.
12. McCAIN'S "HUNDRED YEARS WAR"
Finally, since John McCain is trying like crazy to run away from his
recorded statement -- caught on video and audio -- let's close with his
clear and unequivocal support for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq forever.
The United States military, McCain recently told a town hall meeting,
could stay in Iraq for "maybe a hundred years" and that
be fine with me". He then re-affirmed and expanded those remarks to
a reporter, declaring that U.S. troops could be in Iraq for "a
thousand years" or "a million years," as far as he was
Subtext: McCain explained that the rationale for keeping U.S. troops in
Iraq for that long didn't rest on the number of years but on the
provision that no American soldiers would be killed during the extended
occupation. Since one can safely say that if U.S. troops remain in Iraq,
some of them will be killed by insurgent forces, with the U.S. military
forced to defend itself and retaliate; therefore, it follows that
McCain's 100/1000/1,000,000 years figures are just so much campaign B.S.
The cold fact is that if the U.S. stays as an occupying power, American
troops could well be tied down forever in the Iraq quagmire and would be
attacked and killed/wounded on a regular basis. On the other hand, if
the U.S. were to complete an orderly withdrawal, of course, there would
be no more American troops in Iraq to get killed or maimed.
*There are plenty of reasons to believe that the election was stolen
from Kerry as a result of Rove's vote-suppression tactics aimed at
minority, Democratic-leaning voters, along with manipulations of
vote-totals by the Republican-leaning companies that tabulate votes in
America. For more on this, check out Mark Crispin Miller's new book,
All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008."
Copyright 2008, by Bernard Weiner