03 September 2012

Unoccupied Furniture

Leaving aside for the moment the awesome silliness of a piece of performance art for which the perpetrator would probably rather remain The Man With No Name, what I really believe is that it's just a time warp: It was either four or eight years too late. If there was an empty chair in American politics in the last quarter of a century, it was the one behind the desk in the Oval Office from 20 January 2001 to 20 January 2009.

It was morally and ethically empty. Neither the part-time purported occupant nor anyone connected with him could even go so far as their purported idol and use the passive voice in its most disreputable manner (at least in English) and proclaim "Mistakes were made" when everyone knew that, well, mistakes had been made.

It was symbolically empty. Leaving aside the immediate importance of children reading — and it is, and was, even in the horrible broader context — the leadership remembered by the American public not quite eleven years later, for a national tragedy (and I do not use that word lightly), is that of the mayor of one of the target cities. One might think that a major strike on the nation's military headquarters would be somewhere in the national consciousness, despite the lower death toll... but it's not, and not just because the World Trade Center made for better TV than did the Pentagon. Instead, if people remember politicians on that day, they remember Rudy Giuliani (who for entirely separate reasons should never be allowed to hold office again), not the President.

It was monetarily empty... in the sense of any bucks stopping there. You don't really think that W came up with the TRAITOR Act1 — or any significant part of it — by himself, do you? You don't really think that W — the greatest exponent of the Imperial Presidency since Andrew Jackson — even thought legislation was necessary or appropriate, do you? No, he likely turned to a few flunkies and said "Tell me what you want to keep people who disagree with Murikan Values from ever bothering me again before I leave this office, and I'll sign it and push it through." And he did.

It was intellectually empty. Not once during eight years of public speeches emanating from that chair was there any sense of nuance to anything. Everything was absolutist and bivalued; on those few occasions that it was not "my way or the highway," it was closer to "my way, and there is no other."

It was judgmentally empty. Consider the (execrebly poor) quality of the people around him. And I don't mean either just the underlings (e.g., Scooter Libby on down to Monica Goodling) or colleagues and drinking buddies2 like the President in Charge of Vice and more others than I could name. The less said about Harriet Miers, and the inability to learn from one's own mistakes about whom to trust with critical jobs, the better. Unfortunately, with the hardening of the partisan arteries in American government, when you vote for someone from Party X, you're also voting for all of his/her friends and fellow-travellers (which explains the empty Speaker's Chair in the House of Reprehensibles at the moment, but that's for another time).

It was not just a prop thrown on stage at the last moment. For eight years, not just twelve minutes.

  1. The USA Totalitarian Regime Activity Incitement To Obscure Reality Act, Pub. L. No. 107–56: they had to destroy representative democracy to save it.
  2. W proclaimed that he avoided alcohol. He was nonetheless drunk on power — and the same goes double for Cheney and Ashcroft and Rove and...