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FEAR AND LOATHING IN O.C.: Bush Hawks His Wares in the Temple

By       Message Jennifer Epps       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   5 comments

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For Hunter S. Thompson*, R.I.P.

Much as I hate to stray from the standards of objective journalism, you may as well know from the outset that I am writing this thing under duress, having been dragged out from under my bed by several thugs sent over by pencil-pushers in the editorial department -- literal-minded bureaucratic types who do not appreciate my having spent three days straight in a coma, inhaling dust bunnies the size of small goats, instead of writing my article. This is a lamentable failure of imagination on the pencil pushers' part, considering how on Monday I had to endure almost an hour and a half in the same room as George W. Bush, having to listen to him deliver platitudes and "jokes" to 3,100 devotees at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. It ought to be obvious that I have sustained lasting, severe damage from the experience, not least of all from the tension of sitting there, wanting to rush the stage, yet knowing that I'd be torn limb from limb by the Orange County multitude -- and that's just counting the old ladies. I was also afraid, as I sat there watching the whole Satanic ritual, that my eye sockets might get burned out of my skull. I have not yet precluded this possibility.

Ah, Jesus, I have to get a grip on myself. The apes sent by Editorial are watching me write this and they are not to be trifled with. More to the point, if I don't finish, I believe they may take my liquor as a perverse form of compensation, and I'm not expecting a delivery for another two hours -- so it will be very tough going if they do. The illicit substances I had in my pocket rolled out while I was under the bed and the dog may already have licked them up, so things are looking pretty dire. Come to think of it, where is that dog?

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But I digress. The theme of the Bush appearance was "We are well and truly fucked," although technically, it was called a "Saddleback Civil Forum on Leadership and Service", and the devout crowd in attendance left with big smiles on their faces. Pastor Rick Warren, who is "America's most powerful religious leader" per a 2008 Time magazine cover, hosted the ex-Prez on a talk show-like stage set, and webcast the chit-chat live via his "Purpose-Driven" network to 164 countries (which is more countries than have signed the land mine ban treaty, but who's counting?). This is the same Rick Warren who Obama picked to give the invocation at his inauguration, pissing off the LGBT community early so he could get to work pissing off other progressives on his list once his presidency officially began.

I looked for the picketers from CODEPINK and the Orange County Peace Coalition at Bush's book promotion, but the 50 or so protesters were banished to the outer limits of the sprawling mega-church grounds. Tickets were free to go hear Bush sell his memoir, Decision Points , but they had been handed out over a week in advance, so I gazed uncertainly at the hordes pouring in. I considered just skipping the whole thing and going out on the town, but I wasn't sure if Lake Forest knew that Prohibition had been repealed. Five minutes before the doors were about to close, I asked the Will Call table if they had an extra ticket, and a woman smiled and handed me one with a flourish: "It's your lucky day." That was not exactly my sentiment, but I obviously had to attend now. I went into an adjacent restroom and hid the protest sign that had been in my satchel, and made it through the bag-check without incident.

After a woman sang an extreme vibralto version of the national anthem that would not have been out of place in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Rick Warren's wife Kay expressed her gratitude that she was raised to love her country, and a video extolled Bush's righteousness. Then Pastor Warren and the ex-Prez came out together.

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Bush lounged comfortably in a recliner while the pastor all but drooled, asking him questions for which the word "softball" is inadequate -- I'd call them "shuttlecock" questions but I think the LGBT community hates Pastor Warren enough as it is. The questions revolved around how to be a good leader, in ways that the audience could try at home or at the office, i.e.: "How do you deal with the egos of the people you are assembling?" (If there'd been more time, perhaps Warren would also have asked for tips on writing good memos and whether Casual Fridays are a good idea). I had gone in with a vague plan to guffaw loudly at every lame-brained thing the Crawford reptile said, but evidently the pastor was careful to only ask questions Bush was expecting, because the kind of stumblings and circuitous sentences we're used to from Bush were in short supply. I also ended up changing my plan because my vocal chords are not in peak condition these days -- for which I blame my attorney, who regularly insists that we go out after midnight to howl at the moon. I've noticed increasingly thick hair growing on his back, but I don't like to be impolite.

Dammit, there I am on another tangent. Writing about politics has clearly sapped me of my moral strength, but the goons Editorial sent over are scratching up my wood floor with their jackboots, so I really do have to bite down and push through.

Bush kept describing what it was like to lead "an organization" -- as if he'd been a high school principal, or the head of his neighborhood watch patrol. "There's nothing worse than trying to lead an organization and be full of self-pity", the Supreme Court's anointed one remarked thoughtfully. ""Why me?' It just doesn't work."

The pterodactyl from Texas bragged that he did not believe in "surrounding" himself with "sycophants", because there's a "tendency for people to say "oh boy, you're looking pretty' when you're not." The audience took him at his word that he wanted advisors who were "willing to share opinions in an open and honest way", conveniently forgetting about Colin Powell, Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, and others who apparently tried to share opinions. The CIA also comes to mind, people I don't normally feel a lot of sympathy for -- and people who may very well have tampered with my GPS recently, since it told me to turn right when I needed to turn left, and when turning right propelled me straight into oncoming traffic. But nonetheless, the CIA comes to mind, as an agency whose skepticism about Saddam's alleged WMDs and the wisdom of invading Iraq were not welcome in the Bush White House. Oh yes, and then there were the U.N. inspectors. And critics of the Administration's policies of surveillance, detention, and torture. Somehow, they all missed the Decider's open-mindedness.

W. did actually wrap up his declaration of tolerance with: "once you decide, they need to say "Yessir,' or they're out". One of the few scraps of honesty in the whole evening. But his audience got off on the display of power. As did the fundamentalist pastor, who was getting a little flushed sticking his tongue that far up Bush's fundament, and who interjected at one point: "it's a theocracy, and you're Theo."

The worshippers noticed no disconnect when Bush advised using "good judgment" to put "people around you who you can trust." In that crowd, I didn't think it was prudent to bring up Donald Rumsfeld, who sent the troops to war without enough body or Humvee armor, or Alberto Gonzalez, who "couldn't recall' details of the firing of federal attorneys, or Michael Brown, the former unsuccessful horse commissioner turned disastrous FEMA administrator, or Harriet Miers, who Bush trusted to be a Supreme Court justice until senators were appalled at her ignorance of the law. Besides, as I've said, my voice was a little too hoarse to carry in that enormous stadium. I may have to change my cigarette brand.

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But let's not be uncharitable. Who would want to be a downer, when Bush was being so upbeat? The conversation did touch on the low points of his presidency -- Warren, channeling Barbara Walters for a moment, asked him very sympathetically: "You clearly weren't listening to the polls. What kept you going?", but Bush replied "Belief." #43 admitted that "it's hard to relive those days", but his faith kept him going -- allowed him to endure the hardships of"he didn't say, but I guess you'd call it "democracy'. He told the Saddleback Church: "you've got to tune those people out. They're acting out of spite and"emotions that are negative." With an approval rating below 30% by the end of his presidency, he must have had some industrial strength earplugs.

The most important thing about leadership, he told us, is to have "a set of principles you will not violate." One of his key principles was: "All life is precious". Warren smiled and nodded, discreetly refraining to mention the 1800+ lives lost in Katrina, the 3000 lost on 9/11, or the close to 5,000 troops lost in Iraq thanks to Bush. The ex-Prez shared another heartfelt principle, reposing leisurely: "to whom much is given, much is required". He did not, however, explain how this principle related to his lack of any response to direct verbal warnings that Hurricane Katrina would breach the New Orleans levees. In fact, when Warren even mentioned Katrina, Bush quickly changed the subject -- and Laura has probably since struck the pastor from their Christmas card list.

A slogan that came up often during the evening, causing a tremor just below my right eye, was "it's not all about you" -- a slogan, apparently, that Warren favors and which Bush feels is the secret of good leadership. King George made sure we knew that he did not view his job as "serving George Bush" but "serving the United States of America." This from the guy who oversaw eight years of troubled times, yet told his wife that "the worst moment" of his presidency was being called a racist by rapper Kayne West in a Katrina telethon. But the horrors of Katrina, 9/11, economic collapse, two occupations, deterioration between Israel and the Palestinians, and the vilification of America worldwide seem to have vanished from W.'s mind. He exclaimed to Pastor Warren with religious conviction that every day in the White House had been "joyous" for him.

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Jennifer Epps is a peace, social justice, pro-democracy, environmentalist and animal activist in L.A. She has also been a scriptwriter, stage director, actor, puppeteer, and film critic. Her political film reviews are collected at: (more...)

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