“I will have a foreign-handed foreign policy.”
—George W. Bush, September 2000
The voice on the phone is a study in controlled passion, thoughtful and determined. Its tone moderates between humor and vitriol, resignation and defiance.
It belongs to Mark Crispin Miller, a New York University professor of media studies who is among George W. Bush’s most eloquent detractors.
I’ll be disappointed if the National Security Administration, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security don’t have fat dossiers on Miller.
Miller contends that Dubya is unworthy of his post, a fraud whose political survival is wholly dependent on an illusion of strength and rectitude. He believes our president is incapable of cogent leadership, and therefore dangerous.
“… [T]o snicker at this president for his stupidity is not productive, for his unfitness really isn’t funny — and in any case, he isn’t stupid. True, he is the most ignorant president in U.S. history, probably the most illiterate, and easily among the least concerned about the contents of his mind,” Miller writes in his book, The Bush Dyslexion: Observations on a National Disorder ($15.95, W. W. Norton & Co., 370 pp.).
Miller’s tome first rolled off the press in June 2001. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, however, and of the mainstream media’s rush to remake Bush into the Lion of Crawford, Miller updated Dyslexicon. The new version debuted in paperback in July.
The interval between first publication and second only reinforced his theory that Dubya is a man filled with blind, Nixonian rage. And the stakes have grown exponentially.
When he conceived the book, Miller expected it to be a more mirthful examination of Bush’s spectacular malapropisms. But after parsing nearly every utterance issued by Dubya’s tortured tongue in the past decade, Miller noticed a disturbing trend:
Bush’s gibberish disappears when he speaks of aggression. When he speaks of virtually anything else, however, he turns back into a blithering dunderhead.
Even the liberal intelligentsia is loath to embrace Miller’s hypothesis.
“People get very angry at me when I say this. They want him to be a moron, they want him to be someone they feel superior to,” Miller tells me. “If you read the book, you must acknowledge the fact that on certain subjects Bush is perfectly lucid.
“He has continued to stumble when he tries to sound idealistic and continues to speak with relative coherence when the theme is punishment, revenge or death.
“His comfort with tough talk is not evidence of any particular skill as commander in chief. All it really tells us is that he likes to strike that posture, he likes to thump his chest and make threats. I don’t think that’s good enough.”
Miller’s treatise goes a long way toward articulating my own incredulity at the nation’s trajectory. I watch TV pundits yammer for an hour without ever broaching the possibility that Bush’s determination to attack Iraq is ludicrous, unjust and counterproductive. I marvel at the contortions these seemingly intelligent, informed people undergo in order to eschew their duty to scrutinize. For them, war is a foregone conclusion — nothing can stop it.
Miller attributes this phenomenon to the rise of mediopolies, the control of our airwaves, and even our presses, by an ever-dwindling coterie of corporations. Dubya is, after all, The Corporate President. And in any case, who can afford to make waves in these trying economic times?
“The mainstream media in this country is about as feisty or independent as the media in Cuba or Iraq,” Miller tells me. “They’re all domesticated. The media consistently cover for Bush.”
Dyslexicon is not merely a withering polemic (though it is certainly that). It is also a sobering and credible exposition on modern propaganda spoon-fed to Americans in epic proportion by sycophantic broadcasters and scribes. Hence, the subtitle: “Observations on a national disorder.”
On the pages of Dyslexicon, dark Bushspeak is served up as a metaphor for our collective ignorance and apathy.
“The mainstream news in this country is a national scandal,” Miller says. “The best stuff out there tends to be print journalism, and there’s a wide range of quality. Without the Internet it would not be possible to get an accurate picture of what’s going on in our own country.”
The mainstream’s tendencies are born of the fear that to break lockstep with our warrior president is unpatriotic. It’s more expedient to go along to get along, offend as few people as possible, provoke little debate or introspection. This is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned.
“[T]he press in this country has utterly failed in its constitutional obligation to keep the people informed. The First Amendment was not put in place to make sure that media owners could make a big profit,” he says.
Miller’s book generated little interest among the homogenous book-selling apparatus. Dyslexicon became a best-seller in spite of Miller’s relative radioactivity. Still, there are few invites for readings or signings.
A smattering of domestic organs reviewed the text; even fewer rang him up for an interview. He remains a popular and quotable source for stateside journalists exploring more palatable fares such as advertising and cinema.
“But very few American media outlets want me to talk about the president,” he says.
The foreign press has shown far more gusto for Dyslexicon.
“People elsewhere, getting their impression as we do from the American media, think we’re a nation out of control, when in fact we have a government out of control,” Miller says.
“People all over the world hold the mistaken view that the American people are foursquare behind the president. They think we’re all unanimous in our support of his military approach to world problems. It’s extremely important that this misimpression be corrected.”
Correction requires reform, and Miller contends that meaningful campaign-finance reform is imperative, in tandem with “radical media reform.” He suggests re-regulation of broadcasters with a stiffening, not further relaxation, of antitrust laws. He wants a restoration of the late, lamented “Fairness Doctrine” that required broadcasters to give equal time to opposing views.
“We need a complete renovation of public broadcasting,” he says. “We need a much more powerful noncommercial public system. There has to be a way to democratize media policy.”
Miller is convinced that Bush is far less popular than the mainstream media make him out to be. And he is convinced that Bush’s popularity will continue to wane as alternative sources persist in documenting his foibles.
“It isn’t that people don’t care,” says Miller, who lives with his wife and children a mile from ground zero. “They’re just not informed.”
“The most important job is not to be governor, or first lady in my case.”
—George W. Bush, January 2000Jeremy Voas is the editor of Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org