The Deepest Terror
The Deepest Terror
President Bush wasn't told about the recent bin Laden tape until after his prepared speech Thursday morning in Virginia. Why? And once informed, he didn't put us on higher alert. Why? Well, it's not bin Laden who scares our president. The people who strike fear into the heart of George W. Bush are not terrorists - they are Americans like you and me.
He needs to wiretap Americans more than he wants to capture bin Laden or respond to his threats of future domestic attacks.
It has become clear that we Americans have always been the ultimate terrorists as far as he's concerned - externalized versions of his profound and ever-threatening internal reign of terror. Bush hides in Crawford and in front of pre-selected audiences; he jokes; he dismisses; he exercises; he only holds brief White House meetings; he surrounds himself with layers of yes-men; he ignores the pain of others (read Katrina victims) who remind him of his own denied terror. He used to drink in order to narcotize his persecutors, now he prays in stead.
In the last analysis none of these techniques he uses to rid himself of terror is fully successful. For Bush, that is not possible - no matter how hard he tries. His most consistent effort to repel his inner terror has been to externalize it. He gets the rest of us to feel his fears - the opposite of President Clinton who often said, "I feel your pain." I maintain that Bush wants to make us afraid, not just to maintain political power, but to keep the bogeymen as far away as possible. Of secondary benefit is becoming the voice of reassurance - Bush urges us to go shopping, to continue to travel as before. No longer the bounty hunter out to get bin Ladin dead or alive, Bush tells us that he rarely even thinks about him.
When bin Laden's new tape hit the world on Thursday morning, the audience at Bush's speech in Virginia knew about it before he did. After all, they probably watched CNN before entering his bubble. Interestingly, that particular bubble was rigged to look like a boxing ring where he was the only fighter, surrounded by cheering throngs (who in fact mostly sat with arms folded in front of them).
Why wasn't he informed of the new tape right away? I think it is because the Secret Service and the CIA and the State Department and all the president's men and women knew that he would be enraged. After all, he is the one who should control the terror. He is the one who is supposed to make us afraid, not bin Laden. Whenever he has been afraid in the past he's fled - that shameful flight he took on 9/11 became the new signal for his aides never to tell him about a disaster. Remember Bush was allowed to continue bicycling while the White House - including his wife - was being evacuated when a plane mistakenly flew over restricted air space. By then it was clear to his staff that Bush's fundamental personal goal was to manage his own anxiety. It's too simple to say that he prefers domestic spying to searching for bin Laden; he prefers domestic spying because he has no psychological choice.
And how did we, the people whom he is sworn to protect, become his deepest fear? Bush took over the White House under questionable circumstances. While he got the go-ahead from the Supreme Court to become President, he got a secondary message that he could continue to live outside and above the law - that the court would protect him. But protect him from what? From the American majority that voted for Vice President Gore? After a while, his fears spread even to his own constituents. By the end of 2004, Bush proclaimed that he had plenty of political "capitol to spend." But underneath that jovial veneer lurked that same plaguing guilt.
Show me a man without guilt and my first reaction is to wonder what happened to it. This is because the unconscious can never be fully free of guilt, even if one has gotten away with murder - remember Lady MacBeth's "Out out damn spot." For Bush, that damned spot is us, the American people from whom he cannot escape. He feels both compelled and entitled to know what we are thinking and talking about. The American people have finally replaced his political opponents, Saddam Hussein, and even Osama bin Laden, to become his ultimate bogeyman. At the end of the day the question is bogeyman, bogeyman - who is the bogeyman? And in the meantime, while the President is guarding against imaginary enemies, who is going to lead America against the real enemies that face us?