In a little-noticed presidential initiative on July 27th, the putative leader of the free world flipped the proverbial bird at a group of reporters as he happened by while strolling through the White House. The extended middle digit of his right hand was raised high as he turned his back on these accredited White House journalists.
It was caught on tape, and the gesture was unmistakable. That night it was featured on the Jay Leno Show to garner a few laughs. The next day, throughout our vast newsgathering establishment: silence, except for Air America's Randi Rhodes show, which put it on her web site.
What would have happened if Bill Clinton had flipped the bird? I would imagine a great clamor from the talking heads on MSNBC and Fox, not to mention the vast right-wing radio empire. One can almost imagine charges of immorality and the ruination of America's children.
As I recall, President Bush specifically promised during his campaign to bring honor and dignity back to the White House. On July 27th, he showed us what he apparently meant by that. And the White House press corps, the target for the obscene gesture, appears to have rolled over.
Bush seems to enjoy flipping the bird, not only literally but also metaphorically, at whomever he wants. A few examples of metaphoric bird flipping:
• The John Bolton recess appointment. It was abundantly clear that Bolton was an inappropriate nominee to be UN ambassador, and that he wouldn't be confirmed. The White House refused to release documents relating to Bolton's activities, making it impossible to bring the vote to the Senate floor. Since Bolton's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we've learned that his sworn statement denying involvement in the uranium-from-Niger controversy was false. Several more senators, including Republican John Chafee, now indicate that they would never vote to confirm Bolton. So right after the Senate adjourned this summer, the president sent Bolton to the UN, as a recess appointment.
• Stem cell research. This promising new medical technology has great potential to fight numerous diseases and prevent some of the most devastating human genetic maladies. In 2001, Bush decided to allow a few lines of stem cell research to continue but prevented any new openings. Since then, it has become clear that more extensive development must be allowed to enable the full benefits of this medical breakthrough.
Due to the restrictions in the US, the advancement of this science is moving to other countries, and many Americans will suffer needlessly. Bush's religious-right constituency has insisted that genetic material from fetal tissue, even if it's about to be thrown away, is off limits to medical science. Measures supporting expansion of stem cell research are expected to pass both houses of Congress soon, but Bush says he will veto them.
• A ban on torture. The United States has endured a public relations disaster due to the disclosures about torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, and other locations. These revelations and subsequent world reactions have greatly hindered efforts to fight terrorism and have hurt our efforts to induce allies to assist us.
At the same time, they have greatly aided the recruitment efforts of those opposing America. It would seem prudent to do whatever we could to counteract these images and insure that we're on track to eliminate this black eye.
Many in the Senate have felt the same way, and with the leadership of prominent Republicans with military backgrounds --- Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham --- and most Democrats, the Senate added language to the defense spending bill. It stated that America rejects prisoner abuse as a policy and would insist on procedures in the Defense Department to prevent it.
The White House was so adamantly opposed that it ordered the Senate leadership to stop the progress of the bill until the offending language could be expunged. So to those in the outside world waiting to see how America will respond to the torture issue, it's this from the president of the United States: middle finger, right hand, pointing skyward.
Many additional examples could be enumerated, but the philosophy is clear. This president doesn't give a damn about what others think. He doesn't want input from anyone with a different mindset. Those who disagree within the administration are soon history. Those outside the administration are smeared. Information will never be provided except under self-serving conditions. Error will never be admitted.
And if you don't like it, well, you know the gesture.