Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Personality Cult lifts itself up by the hokum 

"This is an impressive crowd - the haves and the have-mores, some people call you the elites; I call you my base." ~ George W. Bush - Alfred E. Smith memorial dinner, New York City, Oct. 19, 2000

USA Today folklorist Richard Benedetto bounds up and on down the red carpet tossing out flowery petals of laudatory praise before the modest upstarts of the incoming Bush Cabinet:
President Bush finds a lot to admire in people who came up the hard way. Rather than follow the traditional path of populating his Cabinet with academics, Washington insiders and CEOs, Bush has assembled a Cabinet that is not only diverse in gender and ethnicity but also an American mosaic in background.

"In America, with education and hard work, it really does not matter where you come from; it matters only where you are going." ~ Condoleezza Rice

Unless those "where you come from" stories make for useful PR.

And of course all of Bush's appointments (including Bush himself) are former CEO's, academics, lawyers, think tank critters, and people who have long histories living and working inside the Beltway and inside government and corporate bureaucracies. But, forget that, for certainly we create our own realities, and the delighted Richard Benedetto is all-aboard the fabulous coronation choo-choo train. Yoo-hoo!, squeals sir Richard, as he continues waving a fluttering hanky at the storied promenade:
In November, when Bush named African-American Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, to succeed Colin Powell as secretary of State, he said people who come up the hard way bring qualities to their jobs that those who had an easier time might not.

Ok, so either it does matter where ya came from or it doesn't. Whatever. What's important here, at least at this point, so long as it makes for good public relations copy, is to envision the entire Bush administration as some kind of jumble of Joad family Okies that rolled into Washington in the back of a prairie schooner. Pushed ashore on the beachhead of our nation's capitol by an amber wave of grain and and a prayer and nuttin' but true grit itself.

And certainly Condoleeza Rice can't be considered an academic. No sir. Why heck, Miss Condi is the hard scrabble daughter of the Reverend John Rice. Did I mention he was a Reverend!? Yes, ok...she would one day be noticed by a dashing young hard scrabble action hero fighter pilot named George W. Bush while she was employed as a humble piano playing schoolma'am in some western outpost called the Stanford Boarding House located somewhere northeast of Coyote Lake in the great state of Californy. Yup. Damn straight. Next thing ya know the pilot fella who seems nice and talks like a regular goober is askin her to come back east with him and play piano at his family's whorehouse, I mean White House!, his family's big humble family White House. So, off she goes on a big humble bus headed all the ways to Warshington D.C. with nuttin' but a phone number in her pocket and a dogeared copy of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in her tattered satchel of humble beginnings. Who would have thought that one day the daughter of a Reverend from the segregated South would become the second wife, I mean second secretary of State!, for the pReznit of the USA and his administration of hard scrabble former small family farmer dairy operators and former breakfast cereal salesman and former Chinese boat people and other orphans and penniless castaways and so forth.

Certainly not Mr. Trent Lott's mosaic of old time Civil Rights activist friends. It's a good thing they ain't around no more to bother nobody.

Benedetto continues with some florid musings from some poly-sci academic named Shirley Anne Warshaw:
Shirley Anne Warshaw, a Gettysburg College political scientist who wrote The Keys to Power and other books on presidential management, says Bush's penchant for people with modest backgrounds is part of the evolution of the Republican Party from country clubs and Wall Street to middle America.

"It is moving from being the party of the wealthy and elite to the party of the common man, the NASCAR dad," she says. "Bill Clinton set out to create a Cabinet that looked like America. Bush set out to create a Cabinet that looks like the America that voted for him."

Uh huh. Hey, surely you all remember Elaine Chao's victory in last years Nextel Cup Championship! Roaring to victory as Rod Paige rolled over and burned on the infield during the final checkered lap. Yes indeed.

Anyway... Miss Condi is clearly at home among this collection of shunned mis-fits and former drunken awol sons of one room New England prep schools who each in turn raised up their own traditional families in humble common-man sod-roofed hovels far from the siren song ching-a-ling of wealthy leftist Wall Street. Just regular mainstreet moms and pops, ever-one of em, who have managed to claw their way out the sweaty boiler-rooms of noisy low wage think tanks or flee the cold unheated chambers of ruthless commerce to mount the marble steps of destiny and rise to the pinnacles of power. Swatting aside cynical journalists and scheming Beltway insiders and frivolous bloodsucking ACLU lawyers and wealthy despotic public school teacher union elitists and nosy background checks on the immigration status of their domestic helper-friends and the snickering smirks of snotty book larned big word spittin' liberal star chamber academics of all stripes. Arriving at long last at the top. To revel at last in the power and the glory of our great nation and ultimately bask in the humble spotlight of Jesus Christ almighty himself! Freedom on the march! Leave no sons of Poppy behind! Not that it matters where you come from or anything like that.

You can gaze upon more of these kinds of woosie awestruck wooings via Richard Benedetto and the USA Toaday right HERE.

Where was I? Oh yeah -- while on the topic of Miss Condi's journey from daughter of the segregated South to compassionate globe trotting bombs away NASCAR yokel -- it might be interesting to note that Condi's father, the Dean John Rice, was in fact one of those annoying academic sorts hisself. Once upon a time. One of those same kind of academic peacenik naysayer America hating sorts so vigorously avoided and outsmarted today by Condi's current associates and those peasant types being courted as potential BushCo Cabinet workers of America; each single one selected to serve tirelessly and loyally on behalf of the common every-man Bush family White House and therefore on behalf of the nation and Jesus Christ hisself.

Listen to this bidness here:
When I hear Condoleezza Rice defending the war in Iraq I think of her father denouncing the war in Vietnam. Condi's dad was a Dean in the college of liberal arts at the University of Denver in the early 1970s when I was editor of the student newspaper, the Clarion. His name was John Rice, but no student dared call him that. He was an imposing figure, and we all called him "Dean" Rice.

In her book Bushwomen, Laura Flanders traces how Condi Rice was recruited by right-wing Republicans. Flanders recounts how Ms. Rice, speaking at the GOP convention in Philadelphia, said that her father "was the first Republican I knew," and claimed "In America, with education and hard work, it really does not matter where you come from; it matters only where you are going."

That's not what I learned from Dean Rice. I took his class "The Black Experience in America," and continued to attend the seminars with his encouragement. The seminar was built around a series of invited speakers who lectured in a public form followed by classroom discussions.


The seminar speakers invited by Dean Rice included a wide range of perspectives--from members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, to exiled South African poet Dennis Brutus, to Louis Farrakhan explaining the teachings of Black Muslim Elijah Mohammed, to Lee Evans and John Carlos who were organizing Black athletes to resist racism. It was Carlos and a teammate gave the black power salute after winning medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. I still have a tape of the lecture by Andrew Young who was then a leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It was long ago, but I think I remember Condi as a teenager all dressed up playing the classical piano introduction to Young's speech. Condi was so smart and talented she was a bit scary. We all knew she was being groomed to go far, but we never suspected she would end up painting a public picture of her father that many of us would not recognize.


Dean Rice had high standards for all of us; and as his students we respected him enough to ask him to speak in May of 1971 at a campus memorial service for the students slain at Kent and Jackson State the previous year. Dean Rice eulogized the dead students as "young people who gave their lives for the cause of freedom and for the cause of eliminating useless war." He read the names of those from the university community who had died in Vietnam. He spoke of the atrocities. Then he challenged us all: "When tomorrow comes will you be the perpetuators of war or of peace? Are you the generation to bring to America a lasting peace? Or did your brothers and sisters at Kent and Jackson State die in vain?"


More than thirty years later I leaf through old issues of the University of Denver Clarion and old letters from Dean Rice. On the television I hear the Bush Administration justifications and rationalizations for the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, the endless wars. And I know that what I taught my child, and what I teach others, is shaped by the question asked by John Rice in 1971: "When tomorrow comes will you be the perpetuators of war or of peace?"

Poets! Peace rallies! Kent State! Oh fer Christ's sake alive. No wonder Condi done gone and run off with that beady eyed keg rolling born again diddler from Texas or Andover or Kennebunkport or wherever the hell he was from. Well, anyway, where you come from isn't important and where you're going is confidential. Or maybe not. Who can say for sure exactly. What's really important, especially if you're a member of the Bush administration or a potential memeber of the Bush administration, is that no-one really knows what the hell you're up to right now. Did I mention that Condi's dad was Reverend?

You can read more about Dean John Rice here: Condi's Dad and the Lessons of War, by Chip Berlet - October 27th, 2004.


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