The Daily Devil’s Dictionary looks back on George H.W. Bush and the role of political grooming in America.
As the US political establishment pays its sometimes gushing respects to George H.W. Bush, who died on November 30, some journalists have dared to remind us who he was, what he did and where he came from.
In an excerpt from his 2006 book, Playing President, seasoned journalist Robert Scheer described the race of political aristocrats to which Bush Sr. belonged. Scheer explains how that nobility of wealth and privilege managed to define its special role within the infrastructure of power: “They were as painfully aware of their having been schooled for that purpose as was the mass media so studiously ignorant of the importance of elite grooming in what passed for representative democracy.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A form of managed predestination of individuals who can be counted on to rule over the people in a democracy
When assessing the career of a personality like the democratically (s)elected George H.W. Bush, the use of oxymorons seems particularly appropriate. Scheer condenses a brilliant insight into his description of the mass media’s ability to remain “studiously ignorant” of how the grooming of the elite takes place.
The Daily Devil’s Dictionary’s oxymoron (“managed predestination”) to define this species of career preparation of future leaders may help the ignorant to understand one of the paradoxes at the core of America’s democratic culture by bringing together two fundamentally opposed memes: “predestination,” a central dogma in the theology of the Calvinist founders of New England, and “management,” which — alongside consumerism — defined the American religion of the 20th century. That is when the nation learned to manage money, people, resources, brands, currencies, time, political messages, interest rates, quarterly results, to say nothing of the network of military bases across the globe that permanently remind the world’s population where the managers hail from.
As Scheer at one point suggests, US presidents come in at least two strongly contrasting varieties: the “self-made man” (Abraham Lincoln, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, to mention only the best known) and the predestined (Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, the two George Bushes). The predestined are a class of people who may become eligible for the presidency or other high offices, but who will navigate toward some area of in the economic power structure — in business or finance — that both underpins and gives direction to the supreme political power wielded by the master of the White House, whether from self-made or predestined stock.
Groomed as he was by his family and class, Bush Sr. was many things before becoming vice president and then president, including ambassador to China and head of the CIA. He may even have been peripherally involved in the investigation (and/or cover-up) of the Kennedy assassination.
But he was far less active and influential than his busybody father, Prescott Bush, who as a businessman was everywhere in the 1930s, including Adolf Hitler’s Germany and, according to General Smedley Butler, a member of the mysterious Business Plot that sought to remove Roosevelt from office and impose a fascist government with Butler, the war hero, as titular leader. In 1952, Prescott Bush was elected senator of the state of Connecticut.
Unlike Europe’s aristocracy, defined by families rooted in the land, the more dynamic American elite produces new dynasties around either business or political ventures. The Roosevelts, Kennedys, Bushes, Clintons and possibly the Obamas have cultivated within their family culture the notion of dynasty.
The classless interloper Donald Trump seems to have similar ambitions, though he and his family lack even the notion of grooming (other than his own hair). Since the American elite to which the Bushes, Kennedys, Romneys and Rockefellers belonged is an aristocracy made up of the predestined — those who by the grace of God (and carefully cultivated media ratings) stepped into the public spotlight — rather than of offspring who automatically inherit position and power, the American elite grooms its members not necessarily to rule, but to benefit from a consumer’s choice between business clout and political power or ruling from the background or the foreground.
Once a family dynasty gravitates toward the status of membership in the elite — whether Democrat or Republican, white or black — they adopt nearly identical values and spontaneously identify with each other as a family.
In recent months, the American public has seen numerous displays of deep affection and close friendship between the Bushes, Clintons and Obamas. Do they agree on every important political issue? They would certainly deny it, because their individual celebrity is linked to their image of leadership in the parties, Democratic or Republican, that elevated them to the presidency. But do those issues that divide the parties matter? And what are those issues, other than a difference of “priorities” rather than fundamental choices?
They also join the clan of super-wealthy and share their narcissism with the media — all, that is, except Jimmy Carter.
In Robert Scheer’s famous 1980 interview that provoked candidate George H.W. Bush to demand that his friend, Otis Chandler, publisher of The Los Angeles Times, fire Scheer, presumably for impertinence, Bush, complaining about President Jimmy Carter’s policies, made this telling statement, which the practice of all recent presidents would confirm: “I think if we let our human rights policy appear to override everything, including our strategic interests, that the policy is wrong.”
By “our strategic interests,” our doesn’t refer to the American people’s, but to the interests of those of the elite to which every president, including the “Kenyan” Obama, understands that they belong.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.