A small circle: The Unfeeling President - An essay by E. L. Doctorow    
 The Unfeeling President - An essay by E. L. Doctorow41 comments
picture4 Feb 2006 @ 04:45, by D

A sense of loss, a feeling of missed opportunity for our country and the rest of the world at the turn of the new millennium, to some, a sense of betrayal too, many who have felt it have tried to express it, in many different ways, but few have done it as well as Edgar Lawrence Doctorow in his essay, "The Unfeeling President."

As for betrayal---betrayal is too strong a word---there must be love and understanding, to betray. This president hasn't the wit or the honor for betrayal; not to know it when he sees it, not the stomach to apprehend it as he does it. Blind and dumb in his self-centeredness, this president does not betray, he merely disappoints.

E. L. Doctorow is the author of several critically acclaimed novels (The Book of Daniel, Ragtime) that blend history and social criticism. Currently, he holds the Glucksman Chair in American Letters at New York University. He delivered a commencement address critical of President George W. Bush at Hofstra University on May 23, 2004:

The Unfeeling President
An essay by E.L. Doctorow
This essay was published by the Easthampton Star (9/9/04) / Long Island, New York.

I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.

But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.

He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.

They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life . . . they come to his desk as a political liability, which is why the press is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq.

How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going to war was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does not regret that his bungled plan for the war's aftermath has made of his mission-accomplished a disaster. He does not regret that, rather than controlling terrorism, his war in Iraq has licensed it. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters who have fought this war of his choice.

He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew those costs. He did not understand that you do not go to war when it is one of the options but when it is the only option; you go not because you want to but because you have to.

Yet this president knew it would be difficult for Americans not to cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator. He knew that much. This president and his supporters would seem to have a mind for only one thing -- to take power, to remain in power, and to use that power for the sake of themselves and their friends.

A war will do that as well as anything. You become a wartime leader. The country gets behind you. Dissent becomes inappropriate. And so he does not drop to his knees, he is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the grieving parents and wives and children. He is the president who does not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the 35 million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the 40 percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of the chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills - it is amazing for how many people in this country this president does not feel.

But he will dissemble feeling. He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest 1 percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, and that he is decreasing the quality of air in coal mines to save the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional class.

And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for God and the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party are doing to our democracy is choking the life out of it.

But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the time.

But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.

The president we get is the country we get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into and get us into, is his characteristic trouble.

Finally, the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail. How can we sustain ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and ineffective warmaking, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

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14 Feb 2006 @ 01:18 by Hanae @ : Meanwhile on CNN:

A bit of History revisionism: Bush administration's deception presented as 'honest error.'

CNN (AKA the mouthpiece of the White House) ran their documentary "Dead Wrong," again last Sunday, their so called "coverage" of what went wrong with the "intelligence failures."

This is how CNN's documentary opens:

------------- quote --------------------------------------------
"(voice-over): In early 2001, George W. Bush, urged by his father, who had been a director of central intelligence, keeps George Tenet in charge of the CIA. The new president is applauded for putting the agency above politics. And Tenet, who was appointed by Bill Clinton, becomes the first CIA director in more than three decades to survive a change of party in the White House. But theirs will be a fateful relationship. The president will take the country to war, a decision he will justify using intelligence produced by Tenet's CIA."
------------------- end quote -----------------------------------

The whole premise, the opening statement, the forgone conclusion suggested by the terms "intelligence failures," all reeks of disinformation in what came all too clearly to me as an effort to exonerate the President and take the attention away from his responsibility and the duplicitous role his administration played. The terminology itself, "intelligence failures," pretty much says it all, as some failures just simply were not apparently deemed worthy enough by CNN to be looked at in their "coverage," like for instance the White House's failure to head Tenet's recommendations to tone down the rhetoric. CNN placed, instead, the emphasis---chose to place the emphasis---on the "intelligence," not on how the commander-in-chief and his top aides heavy-handedly influenced the production/presentation of the so-called intelligence (parts of which were ignored while other parts were hyped despite their known weak credibility) and abused the process to make the case for war. I find CNN's astonishing complete omission of some of the major elements of the story (Excellent overview and recap on "The Selling of the Iraq War,"{link:http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/unmovic/2003/0630selling.htm|here} on Global Policy Forum), like the fight put up by Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was the greatest congressional obstacle to the administration's push for war,) is very significant to that regard.

Anyway, unlike Greg LLoyd (Official Newswire) who had watched the program first time it was aired, back in August 2005, I was not holding my breath for informed and balanced journalism on the part of CNN, so I can't say I was taken aback by the coverage, like he was. This is what Greg had to say:

As I watched the trailer for a couple days before I finally caught the program, I had such high hopes that CNN would "uncover" something new, or even offer an independent opinion about the events that lead America into an illegal war, but in the end, I guess that merely proved my naïveté.
CNN’s "Dead Wrong", even with Wilkerson's comments, offered little in the way of new information and served only as another example of how the Bush administration seeks to revise history through an ever-submissive mainstream media.  

14 Feb 2006 @ 01:43 by i2i : Questions you won't hear on CNN
Thank you for taking the time for posting, Hanae. I have just read the reprint of the article from The New Republic by John Judis and Spencer Ackerman on the Global Policy Forum website. This is a lot of information to take in and to evaluate. Here are some journalists who have investigated the facts and put them together in a coherent and intelligent form. Why couldn't CNN do it (straighforward and simple: "just the facts, m'am,") or as you put it why did they chose not to do it?

Anyway, here are some challenging questions from readers of the {link:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/linkset/2005/04/11/LI2005041100879.html|Washington Post} (the kind of questions CNN won't ask) that I've found via {link:http://www.newciv.org/nl/newslog.php/_v63/__show_article/_a000063-000354.htm|jazzolog}, whose blog might be familiar to you:

1. On the Cause of War

From Steve Walach:

"Referring to intelligence that claimed Iraq had an extensive program to construct and use weapons of mass destruction, you, Mr. President, now sheepishly admit that those assertions were plain wrong. However, by way of disclaimer, Mr. President, you attach this bizarre epilogue: 'Knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again.'

"Taken to its logical conclusion, Mr President, your statement means that the casus belli -- the WMDs -- mattered not a lick in your decision to invade. Doesn't your statement mean that you would have invaded Iraq regardless what the CIA and all the other spy agencies said about WMDs, making the war in Iraq your decision entirely and a decision based only on your desire to attack Iraq and eliminate Saddam?"

2. On the Run-Up to War

- From Adam Blackwell:

"Many people, including officials in your own administration, have claimed that you decided to go to war in Iraq long before you announced you had given up on diplomacy. Are they all lying?"

- From Steve Shepherd:

"You repeatedly said you had not made any decision to invade Iraq in the run-up to the actual invasion. Yet numerous sources, including administration insiders such as Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neil, say otherwise. And for more than 10 years, invading Iraq had been a publicly stated goal of the so-called 'neoconservatives', including Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, within your administration. Wasn't it always your intention to invade Iraq but you first had to fix 'the intelligence and the facts around the policy,' as the Downing Street Memo suggests?

- From Phillip Daniel:

"President Bush, according to Bob Woodward's book 'Plan of Attack,' you attended a presentation by then-CIA Director George Tenet regarding WMD at the end of which you reportedly said words to the effect of 'nice try, but I'm not convinced.' This led Mr. Tenet to his now infamous 'It's a slam dunk' endorsement. However, this meeting came months after your administration, led by yourself and Vice President Cheney, had been asserting to the American people that there was no doubt that Iraq held WMD. How do you think these revelations of private doubt affect your credibility when the American people recall your trying to convince them there was no doubt about WMD, and therefore no choice but to go to war?"

- From Don and Charlotte Lamp:

"Did you tell Tony Blair on Jan 31, 2003, that you were prepared to invade Iraq regardless of whether the inspectors were able find evidence of weapons of mass destruction? Did you tell him that you were considering sending a U.S. plane, painted in U.N. colors, over Iraq, so that if Iraq fired on it there would be a pretext for charging it with a violation of U.N. resolutions?' This is based on an alleged memo cited by Prof. Phillip Sands of University College London in the revised edition of his book, 'Lawless World.' "  

14 Feb 2006 @ 20:58 by Hanae @ : CNN the White House handmaiden?

In an article highlighting the role of the corporate media in playing the Bush administration handmaiden, Steve Breyman ("{link:http://www.newtopiamagazine.net/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=24|Time for Another Corporate Media Mea Culpa}," on NewtopiaMagazine - 4/19/05) had this to say:

"The whole post-9/11, post-war-gone-wrong “review” process is surreal given the baldness of the mountain of facts readily available to any and all of us. [We] knew all this long before the US invasion. The evidence was overwhelming. Appeals to the facts appeared futile. We knew this was an administration bent on war with Iraq years before it came to power (as evidenced by PNAC), and eager for a pretext once it took office (as claimed by Richard Clarke and others)."

But as Rahul Mahajan sharply pointed out on AlertNet ("{link:http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/21687/|We Told You So},")

"Those of us who knew better in opposing the invasion of Iraq know better now. We know that "intelligence failure" is just a neat rhetorical device to shift the blame from the coterie of top officials who deliberately deceived us into a war to the intelligence agencies who were pressured to come up with those lies. The WMD commission was not created to help us arrive at the truth, but to head off any chance of a serious investigation into the administration's wrongdoings. So in the end, the commission did its job well. It's unfortunate that its job was a political cover-up."

I wish it would have been different of CNN and of their faux-documentary "Dead Wrong," but despite the Media big public display of contrition, here we go again - nothing has changed:

"None of these reports is willing to acknowledge the proverbial elephant in the debate over Iraq, i.e. the complicity of the Bush administration in creating this so-called "intelligence failure."

Some ten months later Steve Breyman's point is validated: Clearly, we need more than just a show of false contrition from the media, we need structural media reform:

"We demand an industry-wide commitment to not broadcast or publish government propaganda parading as news or analysis (video press releases, paid pundits, etc.)"

"This is, of course, but the tip of the media reform iceberg, but it’s a start."

Don't hold your breath.  

14 Feb 2006 @ 23:39 by i2i : Is CNN the White House handmaiden?
"What might be different today if the press hadn't swallowed so many administration lies, hook, line and sinker? Is it the media's responsibility to report what the people need to know, or what the government wants us to hear? And which -- if any -- journalists got their reporting right?"

So asked Kristina Borjesson in her new book (October 2005) in which she asks some of America's top journalists for insight on why post-9/11, pre-Iraq War news coverage was so shoddy: {link:http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/29833/?comments=view&cID=70227&pID=70210|link}

I did google around on the web to try and see what's out there on CNN and what I could find about the perception of media bias in general.

{link:http://www.newciv.org/pic/nl/artpic/119/000119-000029.jpg|Here} is a picture from the antiwar Hollywood march back on March 2003.

And {link:http://www.motherjones.com/mojoblog/archives/2006/02/zahn_moves_cnn.html|here} is a recent article (02/01/06) on MojoBlog posted by Diane E. Dees who echoes Hanae's comment about CNN, which in Diane's opinion, "has been an effective mouthpiece for the Bush administration, mostly through innuendo, flag-waving, and omission."

I don't know, I should probably try to watch CNN and make up my own mind about it, but watching corporate media in general----not just CNN----has been more than I could bear lately. So maybe I will leave that to Hanae. What about it, Hanae? Maybe a Blog of your own dedicated to the Media? Something like "What I learned today on CNN." I am not saying this in jest. I can relate to some of the things you have observed and I do believe that the media should be watched (as in monitored). There are already some sites on the internet devoted just to that purpose, but someone running a Blog reporting what CNN "taught" her during one hour of viewing a day, like between 7 AM and 8 AM, or whatever, would be something different.

Anyway, I understand and I agree with the general idea here. I do believe that the first duty of reporters should be to the People, not to the President, or to the corporation or financial institutions and various interests who pay their wages or contribute financially to them or to the company that employ them in one way or another. I know it is easy for me to say, but this is what being a reporter means. This is also what patriotism means. It is all starting to look as if all of a sudden people were understanding patriotism as meaning one should stand behind the President no matter what. And this is not right. Patriotism is standing for the Nation and for the People and for the principles that make this great country what it is, or what it claims to be about in any case. And if the President for one reason or another is, knowingly or unknowingly, undermining those principles and hurting the country it is the patriotic duty of every reporter to come forward and raise questions about it.

From what I have been able to ascertain from my web perusals, I do not believe that anyone (with the exception of a rare few fringe fanatics) is expecting of CNN, or of the media in general, that they launch and all out attack on the President. Only, that they do their job and ask the right questions and lay responsibility where responsibility belongs. As it stands, not only haven't they done that, but it is as if they are doing everything they can to obfuscate the issues any chance they get, oftentimes under the pretense of bringing the light on an issue, like in the case in point of CNN's "Dead Wrong" documentary. And as if this were not enough more often than not their view of the world and events in the world happens to closely espouse the views of the White House to which they give credence and support, as has been documented aplenty during the time the Bush administration was pressing for the invasion of Iraq.  

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Other entries in
19 Sep 2006 @ 00:09: My God’s better than your God…
13 Jul 2006 @ 23:06: The Law of Attraction?
30 Mar 2006 @ 08:03: We and They: The Polarization of America
10 Oct 2004 @ 05:39: Consistently Dogmatic
20 Jul 2004 @ 00:59: Racism, Oppression, Poverty and Social Injustice
7 Apr 2004 @ 13:10: What would you ask?
25 Mar 2004 @ 13:17: Candles in the Sun - A culture of hidden violence

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