Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
September 04, 2005

WB: The Potemkin President


The ultimate Potemkin Village, in other words, may be the archaic structures of the American republic. And while it will certainly take a much stronger hurricane than Katrina to blow them down, history suggest that such storms do come along, eventually.

The Potemkin President

Posted by b on September 4, 2005 at 20:58 UTC | Permalink



Posted by: Sandwichman | Sep 4 2005 21:07 utc | 1

Thanks Billmon - you are getting better post by post - what smoke is coming out of your air condition?.
There were two German TV news reports from the ground in Biloxi by two different reporters on independant financed public channels.

Both report that on the route the presidents convoy took, suddenly, after days of nobody showing up and after everybody had been evacuated, equipment, search and rescue teams and cleanup crews showed up, did some work and left after the president passed.

Both reports were done and shown by prime, very reliable news shows with very high penetration in Germany. (Hey I am quite a tin-foil-hat guy, but when I want to hear real neutral news I turn to these folks and probably the BBC.)

The first is from "Die Tagesschau". THE prime news show in Germany (23+ percent of viewers). It is here the second is here (this one only did work for me under IE with Media Player - the reporter starts about at 3:00 into the report).

In the first the reporter closes with this sentence:

"The extend of this natural catastrophy had me shocked, but the extend of this (theater) staging today has shocked me at least to the same level."

Posted by: b | Sep 4 2005 21:26 utc | 2

Brilliant essay, Billmon.

The Republican political machine may rattle on for a while. Eventually an opposition movement led by a charismatic will rise in opposition. A new Huey Long? An American version of Hitler? The next coming of FDR? I don't know, but what that movement looks like will determine our future. It won't be today's Democratic party.....

Posted by: infoshaman | Sep 4 2005 22:05 utc | 3

Right you are once again, Billmon, even though I thought you were going all soppy for a while, thinking that somehow Bush might have to pay politically. But you saved yourself in the end with your "Potemkin Village" conclusion about the archaic American republic.

After you published your piece, none other than Dean Broder roared in with this (courtesy of Josh Marshall):

"Because the commander in chief is also the communicator in chief, when a crisis emerges the nation's eyes turn to him as to no other official. We cannot yet calculate the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and its devastating human and economic consequences, but one thing seems certain: It makes the previous signs of political weakness for Bush, measured in record-low job approval ratings, instantly irrelevant and opens new opportunities for him to regain his standing with the public."

So if Dean Broder believes this, then I guess the rest of the Beltway pundits will fall in line, and it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I like you Billmon, not only because you're right pretty much all the time, but also because you're an old cynic -- as I am. And even I, in the early stages of this disaster, toyed with the idea that THIS might be it for "Potemkin" Bush. But as the week wore on, and as the Mighty Wurtitzer focused blame on those poor people in New Orleans for causing not only their own problems -- but worse, for causing Dear Leader problems -- I reached the same conclusion that you did.

We really do live in a time in which the emperor can't be seen without clothes by his adoring public. Just before Nixon resigned, his last poll rating was 25 percent. Gore Vidal, famously, said that if Nixon were on national TV strangling his wife, Pat, 25 percent of the people would think she has fainted and he was trying to revive her.

With Dear Leader, the number of people who MUST, MUST keep viewing him through rose-colored glasses has to be around 40 percent of so, and it may run higher than that depending on the crisis of the moment. But it probably never will go any lower.

In fact, I saw one poll this weekend that gives him a 48 percent approval rating on how he has handled the hurricane (and only 46 percent negative I think). If they get away with this -- and his ratings actually GO UP over this disaster that they let unfold, then we do have a Potemkin Republic, and I think we can all pretty much write off democracy as we know it.

Posted by: Phil from New York | Sep 4 2005 22:27 utc | 4

Wiskey Bar is among my top 3-4 blogs, I check it daily and usually read all of it. Good work through and through.

I also saw Downfall, fantastic film. But I suggest we open oursleves to unnecessary flak when Hitler and Nazis are brought into the discussion. I don't disagree in the least that racism is largely responsible for much of the NO crisis. Not at all. GB is GB and the neoCons are neoCons. I see no need to compare them to anything else?

I also agree with your analysis of David Brooks (no relation, but it seems unecessay to point out he has it somewhat wrong about the 70's? I think it just moved the analysis down a notch, and your work doesn't deserve that.

Maybe I'm an idiot, but I couldn't find a way to email Billmon directly. I don't mean this to be a castigation of Billmon's great work here. I'd prefer a private note, but I either overlooked the direct email link or something. sorry.

Posted by: dick brooks | Sep 4 2005 22:37 utc | 5

Thanks Billmon for Another great posting.

Let's not forget that he is not only the Potemkin President with fake elections, fake reasons for war and fake compassion, but he is also the Vacation and Excuse President.

Vacation August, 2001:

PDB titled, "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the US"

Excuses September, 2001:

“Nobody expected planes would be used as missles."

"I am satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America -- at a time and a place, an attack.”

“Had I known there was going to be an attack on America, I would have moved mountains to stop the attack. I would have done everything I can. My job is to protect the American people.”

Vacation August, 2005:


Excuses September, 2005:

"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

How many more Americans will have to suffer the continued excuses of a vacationing President because the work is too hard for him to protect the American people?

Posted by: Disgusted in St. Louis | Sep 4 2005 23:08 utc | 6

The situation the Carter admin had was building since Johnson. The Vietnam war, and the nergy shocks and the lifting of Bretton Woods contributed to the inflation of the late 1970s. Also, the real powers behind the scenes let things get out of hand so the country could be taken in a different direction. If Carter was honest he would out the real powers that be for their manipulation.

The pendulum has swung to far as Brooks seems to admit. But hes not looking to change things, just subtle changes to the conservative machine by a centrist. As far as Bush, he will go down in history as one of the most incompetant Presidents in history.

It is really time though for my favorite progressive dream. Class warfare. Its time to attack the rich and re-distribute wealth. But, the dems are so shell shocked by the last 15 years they are num to the opening they really have here. If a true leader would show up they could make hay.

But, I believe there is a concerted effort behind the scenes of the dems to "just shut up" and let the rethug machine go down by a hundred self inflicted cuts. I may be wrong, but, I sure can't help but think that way. Maybe the dems know their agenda will only sell in an "anybody but them" mode. Has the country turned so anti government and conservative that the dems only get power by default?

Great post Billmon.

Posted by: jdp | Sep 4 2005 23:23 utc | 7

dick, i believe you can email billmon @
[email protected]
he posted here recently w/that link

Posted by: annie | Sep 4 2005 23:25 utc | 8

So where is the savior Dean? anybody heard anything from his tribe?

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Sep 4 2005 23:50 utc | 9

funny you should mention that. i just googled him this morning, nothing. i find it kind of strange. maybe the thugs are doing such a great job of hanging themselves no prominent dems going in for the kill. i have a feeling there is a behind the scene MO. perhaps there will be some surprises coming up in congress this week. i'm not holding my breath but i am sure holding out hope.

Posted by: annie | Sep 5 2005 0:06 utc | 10

Great post Billmon--trenchant and thought provoking as usual. I just hope this fiasco has exposed preznit and his cronies as the rudderless blowhards that they are. We are not better prepared or safer after 9/11. Katrina proves it and we must hammer this point.

Posted by: mando | Sep 5 2005 0:12 utc | 11

Brings back Twain's rants about Theodore hunting a bear that was tied to a tree. Billmon walks in these footsteps and does a damned good job of it.

Posted by: ken melvin | Sep 5 2005 0:19 utc | 12

"And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who've had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime."

Rumsfeld 2003

Posted by: cc | Sep 5 2005 1:51 utc | 13

Superb post Billmon and thoughtful historical analogies, esp. regarding "Downfall." I think the political vacuum started quite a while back, however, and has been intensifying since Spring as the Iraq debacle continued to spiral downard.

As the cliche goes, nature abhors a vacuum. And the thing thats ever more noticeable is that Bush is lazy to the point of carelessness (in the words of the New York Times, no less). Not a good trait when the ranks of your enemies are increasing rapidly. And in addition to the Democrats, you have many in the CIA, quite a few military officers and a whole lot of seriously pissed Southerners.

Bushco thinks the outrage will disappear beginning next week when the Supreme Court hearings grab the the headlines, pro-football starts and school begins. I doubt it. When a good old boy like Jefferson Parish president Broussard talks about his friend's Mama drowning on Friday night in a nursing home after waiting 5 days for help, it is not going to be assuaged by a presidential hug. To paraphrase Walter Sobchak--Bush is an world of hurt. Or you could also say this is a crisis of political legitimation.

Posted by: yearzero | Sep 5 2005 2:05 utc | 14

BTW - didn´t Rehnquist die at a very percious (for Bush) point in time?

Posted by: b | Sep 5 2005 2:18 utc | 15

Bush himself might be seen as the Potemkin President. Not just in the trappings they encase him, it goes deeper. Bush himself is the front man, as much a prop as the managed stages on which he appears.

Does anyone think he really calls the shots in any real sense. Sure, huge swaths of any modern administration go unnoticed by the president, millions of decisions are made in his name withouthis consent or even knowlege.

With Bush however I think everything is done outside his door. His trust in his inner circle, Cheney Rove and the rest is absolute. Whatever they do they do in his name and he adopts what they do and say as his own doing. (Sorry this is muddy, I hope some get my drift)

Somewhere the other day in the blogosphere this point was made, calling the Bush presidency a regency. Such a view goes far in explaining the total lack of accountability.

In Bush's famous conclusion that he would do nothing different in his first term one might conclude that is because he didnt actully do anything. Almost by osmosis he internalizes totally the thinking of those around him and imagines that he is calling the shots.

Posted by: rapier | Sep 5 2005 2:20 utc | 16

The conclusion does not follow from the analysis.

If there is a power vacuum and the Democrats useless, how can one fairly conclude that corporate power reigns supreme and Americans are broken to empire?

Where's the choice?

Political inertia is not a statement of motives and causes. An argument could be made that it is, but would convince few.

The problem is still failure to articulate a competitive alternative. The "left" turning New Orleans into a fable about race and class is one example of why there is a political vaccum. How is it that raping and killing is the natural consequnce of racism, for which the rapers and killers are not responsible, but, the whatever paradigmatic hegemony is responsbile? The left, as with 9.11, has immediately turned the disaster into their old hobby horse because that is what matters to them. The 43rd adminsitration people pods are not the only ones living in a fantasy land and cold to new realities. Cure the vacuum.

Posted by: razor | Sep 5 2005 2:57 utc | 17

"On the other hand, there is no obvious or immediate prospect of dramatic change on the horizon. There's no Russian Army poised outside the capital, ready to crush the remnants of a deluded regime and impose a new order. The cult of Bush may have been discredited, the Potemkin Village of his presidency exposed as a giant hoax. But the feeble and fractured Democrats aren't exactly offering a compelling alternative -- and won't even have the chance to do so for another three years."

That's why I think the proper short-term push is for the simple demand: Resign. Now. The best way to exercise the power of the people. More here and here

Posted by: Eli Stephens | Sep 5 2005 3:02 utc | 18

Very very good, Billmon. Excellent.

I think we do have a demolition of illusions here and that a vacuum will be created. I think the destruction is just about complete and the rebuilding will go on for the next 25 years or so, although some demolition will continue for a while. We don't really need a fast dramatic reaction. The more slowly and consciously we rebuild the better our new structures will be.

This might be the real challenge ahead. If this vacuum occurs we know that matter is ever so anxious to fill it. This is where our caution should come in.

Posted by: jm | Sep 5 2005 3:40 utc | 19

James Wolcott and Billmon are both bright lights in the darkness that has fallen on the USA.

The death of a USA city is a turning point, more potent than 9-11, equal to Pearl Harbor or shelling of Fort Sumter. Yet, it will be the gas lines and $5 to $10 a gallon gasoline that collapses USA’s house of bubble cards.

Posted by: Jim S | Sep 5 2005 4:06 utc | 20

I've thought that the US under Bush has been a Potemkin product of Bush's imagination from 9/11 if not sooner. The disconnection from reality would be of concern anywhere, but in the government of the most powerful nation on earth it's terrifying.

Iraq, national debt, global warming, now New Orleans...

What scares me is what the reaction of the US is going to be when the chickens come home to roost, ie the nation goes bankrupt thanks to this government's spending and taxing policies. I'm sure it will be spun as a plot by those evil foreigners to do in the US, like the Kyoto Protocol. And it will make the Bush cheers squad's xenophobia look positively timid.

Still, as one Canadian reader on AmericaBlog put it, the US can now see the Bush administration the way foreigners have seen it for five years...

Posted by: Malcolm S | Sep 5 2005 5:14 utc | 21

"There were two 'Reigns of Terror', if we could but remember and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passions, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon a thousand persons, the other upon a hundred million; but our shudders are all for the horrors of the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief terror that we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror -- that unspeakable bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves." -- Mark Twain

Thankyou Billmon.

Posted by: PeeDee | Sep 5 2005 5:15 utc | 22

If there are $10 gas lines, the entire country will look like New Orleans. Things could spin out of control very quckly here, with all the guns. We are a nation of looters, hence the jealousy over the 'lucky' ones in N.O. who got their free Tommy Hilfigger.

Posted by: folkers | Sep 5 2005 10:42 utc | 23

Reading this fine essay had a strangely calming effect, especially after immersing myself in the nearly hysterical commentary on other blogs, even the good ones . . . people are near the breaking point, trembling with rage and incredulity, and one becomes rather agitated in reading the commentary culmulatively. So this was a bit of an oasis.

Phil in New York, you wrote:

So if Dean Broder believes this, then I guess the rest of the Beltway pundits will fall in line, and it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Quite by accident I was allowed to accompany Broder for a couple of days as he covered the 2000 presidential election. My impression, from sitting in with the press corps that travels en masse with the candidates, is that Broder, while certainly treated with universal respect by his colleagues, was also something of an eccentric and remote great-uncle, the sort of figure one might feel affection for, but who is, nonetheless, largely avoided.

Remember, this was five years ago, and Broder was already quite an old man. My sense is that if indeed inner circles exist within the D.C. punditry, Broder's regular pronouncements are probably irrelevant to what might be perculating within them.

Of course, it could be that I have it reversed, and that Broder was himself avoiding the other correspondents. In either case, I think this genial man really exists in a world of his own, remote and largely outmoded. Unfortunately, this often seems the fate of aged people who were once very accomplished. They seem unable to extricate themselves from a calcified world-view that existed during their flourishing. Political structures and traditions may have been abandoned or demolished, and yet they still function, at least intellectually, within them.

Posted by: Trilby | Sep 5 2005 23:28 utc | 24

can you blame him? I think he is on to something.

Posted by: eftsoons | Sep 6 2005 0:12 utc | 25

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