I can't fully explain why I continue to watch television appearances by the president -- the press conferences, interviews, speeches, addresses, and impromptu comments. All of it. Some of my friends and family have long since abandoned watching the president for reasons as varied as: "I'm sick of his pointy face," to, "Sorry. I'd rather watch the DVD commentary track for Lucky Number Slevin because it's less ridiculous."
But I keep on watching. Perhaps it's because of my job here or maybe it's a touch of masochism in my personality. I'm fairly certain it's because I've always been a student of the American presidency and as such I feel our current president is so bad as to be historically significant in innumerable ways.
That said, there's one aspect to President Bush's public speaking style that's forcing me to rethink my interest in watching. For a while this one particular idiosyncrasy was fascinating to observe, however outrageous. Now it just makes me want to get up from the TV or computer and just run away really fast. One of those cinematic angry sprinting runs -- the head thrown back, teeth gnashed, fists pumping -- the kind that always ends with a drunken bloody fracas at a pub for some reason. I really can't cope with it anymore because it's just so damn wrong. We've all noticed this particular affectation over the years and many of us have written about it on the blogs: The president tends to grin and laugh when discussing deadly serious topics.
The most recent occurrences of the president's giggle-fits happen to have been documented during his 60 Minutes interview Sunday night (video via C&L). The smirking and smiling and laughing was so rampant that I almost completely overlooked not only the substance of his criminally misguided bullshit, but I also nearly missed Scott Pelley's repeated use of the pejorative "Democrat" form when discussing Democratic legislation and Democratic opposition to the war.
First up, the quote: "Abu Ghraib was a mistake. Using bad language like 'bring 'em on.'" And the expression:
"Bring 'em on" in effect condemned hundreds or more American soldiers to death by taunting the insurgency to attack. It wasn't just a mistake, it was a blunder of the most deadly order. And grinning like a nervous high school student during sex ed class while (apparently) owning up to that blunder is about as disrespectful as it gets for a commander-in-chief -- especially one who has blundered everything else.
Next up, the quote: "There's not enough troops on the ground right now to provide security for Iraq and that's why I made the decision I made." And the expression:
That's an awfully big grin for someone in the midst of discussing his proud decision to send 21,500 more American soldiers into a civil war in which many of those soldiers could return without limbs or worse: in flag-draped coffins. Yeah. Really hilarious, Mr. President. The "decision [he] made" -- looking like he just made the decision to watch his favorite movie, Lucky Number Slevin (sources say he loves the clever title and walks around repeatedly pronouncing the word "Slevin".)
And finally, the quote: "I think that what they're saying is is that the Iranians are providing equipment that is killing Americans. And therefor -- either way it's unacceptable."
This expression better matches a statement like, "I once swallowed a coin then pooped it out." Instead, the very same man who ordered Americans into Iraq in the first place is now grinning when discussing one of the ways in which they've been killed.
There were several other instances during the interview, but I think you get it. The larger point, though, has to do with his inability to fully grasp the cost of his words and actions. He appears to lack the conscience to understand the gravity of this illegal and unjustified war -- a war with an almost incalculable toll in dollars and lives.
But worse, he can't even fake the dignity and tact required to discuss Iraq without the cockeyed smirk of a stoned teenager who's being grilled by his parents after coming home late; the laughter seeming to bubble and tickle just below the surface of a thinly aloof facade. Maybe it's embarrassment. Maybe it's poorly-executed stage direction from his media consultants, i.e. "be more casual than last week's speech, sir." Or maybe he thinks it's all just a game. Maybe the unspoken financial goals of those who are profiting from the war have been achieved. Maybe his own hinted political goals have been achieved (re-election, for example). So other than some occasional ugliness, his mission really has been accomplished, and thus, good times.
I don't care if you're for or against this fiasco, but your president's willful lack of respect and dignity should be an outrage to us all -- every American and every human being. His behavior is supposed to set an example, but as the twisted bodies stack up, fewer and fewer of us can observe it all without faces contorted in anger, despair and shame.
That's all I can take. Gotta run.