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August 29, 2005

Bush In Crawford: Calling It Curtains


Often, a news image will lead the wire because it captures some underlying truth about the political moment at hand.

This shot is incredibly robust in terms of symbolism.  The photo — from yesterday — shows George Bush in full “damage control” mode entering a press briefing to reframe the dismal results of the Administration’s Iraqi constitution effort.

Because the meeting took place in Bush’s aircraft hanger in Crawford, it seems the photographer’s vantage worked substantially to the President’s disadvantage.  If Bush’s policies are shrinking in popularity, this image might well serve as visual documentation.  (At the same time, if the PR team decides to hang curtains in a hanger, they shouldn’t be surprised if their man ends up looking like a midget.)

Besides the stature issue, I was also drawn to the three shadows Bush generated.  In my mind, these echoing reflections suggest the fact this guy never had a good idea where he was going in Iraq.  As well, it suggests the growing fragmentation of the whole endeavor. 

I also thought the seal floating on the left curtain was interesting.  (It’s hard to decipher in this shot, but the text reads: “The Western White House” and “Crawford, Texas.”)  “Western White House” seems an obvious reference to the terms used for Nixon’s La Casa Pacifica and Ronald Reagan’s ranch.  Regardless, Bush come off smaller whether by association to the former or comparison to the latter.  Also, given that Bush has been pinned down in Crawford by anti-war demonstrators (as well those who criticize his unending vacations), you would think his people would want to minimize the Crawford connection.

(But then again, hubris can cause you to play things up that another could hardly live down.)

Finally, in terms of cultural reference, this image (with those two hilariously oversized curtains) seems to connote a sound stage with Bush (the emcee) emerging on set.  When I first saw this shot, I thought I was looking at a file photo of the old Tonight Show, with Bush as Johnny Carson.  (Although, from this distance, he might also be mistaken for Pat Robertson walking onto his show.)  The scene emphasizes how thoroughly staged this Presidency has been, and how policy (not to mention competence) has been subsumed by dramatic effect. 

As Bush Co. war agenda comes unglued in the absence of tangible notice by the media or the opposition, the photo portends the Administration will be brought down ultimately be exposed by humorists as a parody of itself.

(Revised 8/29/05 7:40 PST)

(image: Jim Watson/AFP.  August 28, 2005. Crawford, Texas.  In YahooNews)

  • Priscilla
  • hauksdottir

    Well, Bush only thinks that he is a rancher… no horse, no cattle… and he only thinks Texas is “west”. Sorry, but Texas is in the eastern half of the country.
    Are those curtains velvet??? What kind of joker would install velvet curtains in an airplane hanger? (dust, grease, chemical fumes, high-octane fuels… and velvet) It is soooooo Johnny Carson, and not nearly as funny as a walk-on comedian. Unless my eyes deceive me, his jacket and trousers don’t match, and navy blue is going to recede even more against royal blue… leaving just a tiny head floating in space.
    We taxpayers are footing the bill for his pretensions to royalty.
    1970s furniture of the “Spanish” sort (3 rooms of furniture for $800) was upholstered in velvet like this. I wonder what the bedroom looks like?
    I could understand hanging a curtain as backdrop if a speaker was using visual aids. A projector screen or white board wouldn’t get lost in the distance and it minimizes distraction. But, if Bush is so lacking in charisma and confidence that he is afraid of getting lost in his own garage, he has a problem.
    BTW, Schwarzenegger appeared before the Hispanic Chamber last Thursday in a blinding white suit, white shirt, and white tie. He doesn’t disappear into the curtains! (Of course, he looks like a fund-raising preacher asking the chorus to stand… but he also knows how to radiate confidence.) Photo by Kepka, SF Chronicle, page B5, 8-26-05… but not on the web. :(
    Meanwhile, welcome back. I’m a bit envious if you spent the week backpacking in the high country. Even car-camping up there is wonderful. :sigh:

  • Redshift

    I count three shadows — does that mean he’ll retreat to the ranch, groundhog-like, for *eighteen* more weeks?

  • cj

    He looks stiff–like a marionette. Maybe Pinocchio…?

  • redstaterepublican

    Come on. This is ridiculous. A lot of wishful thinking but not the customary depth one sees on this site. Clearly by saying you see through this curtain, shadows, and seal you think that you can foresee the downfall of our president. Hmmm. Well the ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ progressive movement is doomed because we red staters aren’t winking and nudging. We are actually doing something.
    The picture and posture makes people feel more positively about Bush since, as the little man, they know he speaks for them. You can disagree of course and say he doesn’t speak for you, but the point is that the image is really set up to speak not to you educated blue types but for the ones who don’t read ‘into’ a picture what they don’t want to see. It is the media trying to make the president look small but being unable to.
    And how exactly are you progressives going to act to force the rest of us to see your reading? Who are you writing to anyway–everybody else who watches Monty Python in the gentrified sections of blue cities?

  • bg

    I guess NOTHING resembling the landscape can be used as backdrop at this point, for the “western White House.” Too many bad connections there: vacation, Cindy–so it is curtains for the President. No Wizard and no yellow brick road for the tin man.
    I notice the Rovians are now reframing to try to get MSM to believe that Cindy and Friends are OVER. Poof. Gone. Time for y’all to get on back to some real news. Camp Casey is sooo yesterday. Thank goodness for that hurricane. It is Mother Nature to their rescue.

  • The BAG

    Priscilla: “Western White House” did originate with Nixon — sorry.
    Carolly: Thanks, I’m glad to be back. And yes, the cars were in close proximity, but otherwise, it was the real thing. We were at White Wolf in Yosemite — and there were literally more bears in the campsite than there were other campers. By the way, as people came and went over three days, we were probably the only Americans in the campground. We were wondering if it is too hard for most Americans to leave the TV?
    Red State: Wishful thinking? Perhaps it’s wishful to believe the visuals don’t say Bush is shrinking. If he was so strong right now, there would be no need for him to solicit images with “counter-Cindy’s.” Bush has rarely been in a situation where he wasn’t in charge of the visual narrative. I content that events are controlling him now, and it’s making him look more like an act.

  • Purple

    Once he finishes his monologue, introduces the band and settles in with his desk and chair, he’ll be fine.

  • black dog barking

    By all means yes, the Great Oz. This Oz uses the curtains to focus our attentions on him.
    Crawford is the *Texas* White House which fits neatly with Texas politics ( Rove, DeLay are modern masters of a body of practical art long known to Texas political insiders — think “Landslide Lyndon” ), Texas business ( Enron, Fortune’s choice as “America’s Most Innovative Company” 1996 – 2000, was undeniably innovative ), and Texas justice ( #1 for capital punishment, Alberto Gonzalez, “Thin Blue Line”, etc ).
    The comment upstream about looking small, appealing to the “little man” is completely off the mark. This group has gone to heroic lengths to show their guy as larger than life — Mission Accomplished, smoke generators, scripted Q&A and town hall meetings. The curtains and shadows prove multiple bright lights, stagecraft. Making this small president look small probably gets someone fired.
    To even think “little people” implies the commentor’s belief in larger folk. Leona Helsmley, perhaps?

  • Molly

    But doesn’t the Bush Admin’s arrogance suggest that THEY believe in the little people themselves?
    Who fights this war? The little people
    Who pays for this war? The little people (a la Leona Helmsley!)
    Who is getting gutted by the tax cuts that was supposed to fund this war? the little people
    Who is expected to suck it up and give the Admin carte blanche? the little people
    Go to the mirror and look at your back. You might not be able to see it, but there is a piece of paper taped there by BushCo that says, “Little people”. Hear that snickering sound?

  • linda

    the ‘western white house’ was the fallback, the initial tag was to be ‘chequers’. unfortunately, americans hear ‘checkers’ — which brings to mind a deceitful, corrupt executive; instead of the admired, stalwart leader of an earlier time.

  • Tracy

    The newscaster Brain Williams said on his blog that using the term “White House” to refer to presidential vacation places goes back a ways. Roosevelt’s place in Hot Springs was nicknamed the “Little White House.” According to Williams though, Bush is the first to put the term on a seal. I think its part of the administration’s petty version of psy ops. They think they are subliminally reinforcing the point they’ve made before – that bicycle boy is working. The problem they have is that there are too many mixed signals. They say that with teleconferencing and all the other wonderful technological innovations, Bush can run the country in Crawford as though he were in D.C., yet, as we saw in images posted here not too long ago, contradictorily, Bush’s handlers dragged poor Rice, Cheney, and Rumsfeld down to 100-degrees-in-the-shade Crawford to show that Bush is h-a-a-a-a-rd at work. Again contradictorily, a couple of days ago, in Idaho on vacation from his vacation, when reporters asked what his plans for the day were, Bush, with a forced casualness that was apparently forced by the criticism of his long vacation, said he hadn’t decided yet whether he would take a bike ride and that he was just going to “hang loose” (or words to that effect). I think his handlers know how bad it looks for him to be on a vacation that long, but I think they also know that he would fall apart mentally without it. I bet the shrink who wrote “Bush on the Couch” would agree with the latter statement. If only there were a shrink right around here somewhere from whom we could get an opinion . . . . BTW, Ron Reagan, Jr., explained to his readers in a magazine article written shortly after his father’s death that from Bush’s point of view, “You’re the help.”

  • black dog barking

    But doesn’t the Bush Admin’s arrogance suggest that THEY believe in the little people themselves?
    The arrogance suggests to me they *know* better (deep down). They want US to believe that people are little and large. Hence the stagecraft, the tight control of message — convincing us to internalize as fact a rather bad idea that is neither objectively nor politically true.
    Dame Helmsley is chemically the same as her help. There is nothing special about any of the her molecules that ennobles her above me, you, or her help. You are free to perceive her as noble if you wish but nature is equally indifferent to all of us.
    Dame Helmsley ( born 4 July 1920, Marbletown NY ) has managed to accumulate fabulous wealth but was really more fortunate in the time and place of her birth. She was born into a system of laws and customs founded on this special ideal –
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …
    ( men as in “human” )
    That’s why Group Bush works so hard at selling their perceptions and misdirections. Absent the stagecraft, behind the curtain, their message is not only untrue, it is self-evidently untrue.

  • George Myers, Jr.

    “Western White House” reminds me of an Yippie I once met. He (who either tongue-in-cheek or well I don’t know) said he was an illigitimate son of George Metesky, “NYC’s Mad Bomber” who terrorized the citizenry for 16 years with non-lethal bombs, I think a disgruntle ConEd employee (Con Edison once had the first “White House Press Secretary” George B. Cortelyou as its CEO, according to my research and his standing at its museum on 14th Street there. He once taugh shorthand in NYC, before becoming Chairman of the Republican Party among other jobs, 3 Cabinet posts) told me there was a theory about Nixon’s “Western White House”, San Clemente Island, which also had special ops launched from there Gyrodyne built thingies I think. There, they tought, President Nixon had at one time some sort of secret brain operation, which Yippies knew about but nobody else did. They liked Nixon up until that time, he changed they thought because of it. I hope President Bush isn’t pushing President Reagan around in a wheelchair as it was once reported in tabloids President Clinton President Kennedy.

  • Asta

    “Little people” made me think of Munchkins and the Lollipop Leaque. I guess I’m a member and don’t even know it.

  • Diane

    Is the reason they have to make things so big is because they really feel so small? Have to protray “grandure” because they know they are not grand? Is this the visual “I am not a crook?”

  • redstaterepubliKKKan

    Come on, I’m dumb as Bush, but this is ridiculous. A lot of wishful thinking but not the customary depth one sees on this site. Clearly by saying you see through this curtain, shadows, and seal you think that you can foresee the downfall of our president. Hmmm. Well the ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ progressive movement is doomed because we red staters aren’t winking and nudging–we’re fucking our sisters. We are actually doing something–procreating feces to ruin all rational humans’ future.
    The picture and posture makes people feel more positively about Bush since, as the little man, they know he speaks for them–and my little penis You can disagree of course and say he doesn’t speak for you, but the point is that the image is really set up to speak not to you educated blue types but for the ones who don’t read ‘into’ a picture what they don’t want to see. It is the corporate-owned but utterly communist media trying to make the president look small but being unable to.
    And how exactly are you progressives going to act to force the rest of us to see your reading? We can’t read–we’re dumb as dirt! Who are you writing to anyway–everybody else who watches Monty Python–who predicted the Rise of the House of Bush in 1969 when they first did their BBC show, those bloke bastards!–in the gentrified sections of red cities where I’m not fucking my sister or digging up Daddy’s grave for a bit of bi-fun?
    Posted by: redstaterepubliKKKan | Aug 29, 2005

  • redstaterepublican

    I am sad that someone thought they needed to insult me in precisely these ways in order to make a point. Racism is not what I am about. Nor is deviance. This is not the best that the progressive movement has to offer, and it is certainly not a fair assessment of all conservatives. I expected more from this site.

  • Sarah B.

    Bush is subsumed and subverted by own fabrication!
    There is one word that comes to mind in this picture with regard to the way in which Bush seems lost in the suffocataing stage-set drapery that surrounds him in a tidal wave of blue fabric — and that word is:
    To get the full effect of the original wide shot, you must open the link to the New York Times front page:
    The original wide shot emphasizes the endless sweep of heavy, cloying, Victorian, royal-blue velvet fabric that threatens, ominously, to engulf Bush on his fabricated presidential stage set at his fabricated “Western White House” at Crawford, Texas.
    Also, the wide shot compresses the vertical, which exaggerates the shortness of the distance between floor and ceiling, thus making it appear that Bush is walking — in his well-practiced fabricated military march — toward the podium, as the ceiling and floor conspire to squash him like an insect in a floor-to-ceiling vice.
    The wide shot also suggests that when Bush leaves the podium, he can hide behind the elaborate curtains of fabrication if exits left; and if Bush exits right, he will move on forever, trapped in the endless folds of the theatrical curtains of fabrication behind him — because there is literally no end in sight and no exit.
    Bush can’t allow himself to take the obvious exit of genuine escape — to move forward into the audience and out into the world — because that is where the public resides, and where Cindy Sheehan is camped out just down the road, and unscripted interaction with ordinary Americans in the real world is off-limits for Bush.
    Finally, Bush himself has become a fabrication, in a fabricated world that is carefully fabricated and stage-managed by his handlers — even the “ranch” is a movie-set fabrication — and Bush is a fabricated dude-ranch “cowboy.”
    Some might even argue reasonably that Bush is a fabricated president, who inhabits the White House as the result of a fabricated court case with no precedents in 2000, Bush v. Gore, and possibly a fabricated election in Ohio in 2004.
    I have a feeling that it was Karen Hughes who chose the vulgar fabric for those embarrassingly-pompous fabricated stage-set drapes.
    Another short close-reading is that the heavy weight and clincial-depression blue color of Bush’s stage-set drapes — as they threaten to consume and crush him — strongly suggest that Bush, and his fantastical Iraq policy, are suffering from a terminal case of the “blues” — vis-a-vis those sinking poll numbers which are not fabricated.

  • Grumpy

    When did blue curtains and ellipsoid, monochrome placards become standard press conference backdrops, anyway? Even my local city council uses one.
    Next time, he’ll probably use a backdrop with the slogan “Working Vacation” plastered all over it.
    hauksdottir: Sorry, but Texas is in the eastern half of the country.
    It’s west of the Mississippi, so it counts. Then again, Texas differs from other “Western” states in a significant respect: hardly any federal land withdrawals (parks, forests, refuges).

  • Mad

    Yep, this is a weird picture, a strutting caricature lost– without his flag, without any supporters, almost without any true life.
    But the full photo in the NY Times that Sarah B mentions is even weirder for the reasons she provides.
    What would be even better would be to see the full Presidential Stage-set, inside the Western White House Presidential Aircraft Hangar, with all of the mundane equipment and mechanicals.
    Then the charade would be even more apparent.

  • JJF

    First thought after seeing the photo: what’s behind the curtain? Second: the Wizard of Oz?

  • jonst

    When is he going to sign up the twins to fight in the war?

  • Molly

    Red state, it is the person who mocked you not the site that is disappointing. Please note the difference.
    Susan B. – you go, girl!
    JJF – I also thought of the wizard except he gave up the charade once the curtains were pulled aside; we cannot ever expect the same from Bush. Go to and click on “Stay the Course” for a wonderful visual of Bush’s determination.

  • Gary

    “Come on down!”

  • redstaterepubliKKKan

    Red state, it is the person who mocked you not the site that is disappointing. Please note the difference.
    Posted by: Molly | Aug 30, 2005

  • bg
  • redstaterepublican

    Molly–the site permitted the post.
    And my ghost–Yes, I suppose that ‘aiding and comforting’ is least on the minds of blue staters like you, you who can only trash another’s name to have one yourself. That such bitterness and antipathy, the kind that lead to a civil war in another century, arises out of a democracy shows just how far each side has turned towards a violent horde. ‘Calling it curtains’–just on a red state president or on the power of people to actually take responsibility, aid and comfort, and rationally approach one another? Sign your own name, if you dare. But leave mine out of your vitriolic, virus-like hatred that blinds you to the real problems. Louisiana for one. I am going to call up all the aid and comfort I can for those in need. You can feel free to read the Free Republic for more ideas about how to post against charity, if you wish.
    Not all red staters are neo-cons. Know to whom you are talking.

  • fotonique
  • hauksdottir

    We need all points of view, including the contrary ones.
    In a search for truth, we artists and writers, like scientists, put up a hypothesis which can be attacked or amended or looked at inside out… if it stands up to inspection, great. If it is weak or faulty, it will fail the test sooner or later. What virtue in agreement if we are wrong?
    I still remember my years at UCSD. We’d stand around the Revelle fountain in the dark and argue questions about physics, poetry, the nature of matter, whatever. It didn’t matter if you were a Nobel scientist or a student… in the dark the only thing which mattered was the quality of the argument.
    Anonymity on the Internet is very much like standing in the dark: the only thing which should matter is the point being discussed, and the quality of the discussion. There is no winning or losing, just reaching a little closer to the heart of the matter.

  • redstaterepublican

    Agreed. However, I just wonder if sexual harassment was part of your beautiful fountain-experience. And, whether I am a woman or man, and I have not said yet, is it permissible for me to be treated this way? No one stands up for me on that score. Why?

  • Molly

    Do you want someone to stand up for you? I have always assumed that exchanges in comments sections were for ideas, not persons.
    No one likes to be attacked, but unless there is a threat to one’s safety, the attack is like an idiot in the schoolyard acting out (looks at redstaterepublikkkan).
    Unless this joker is at your door, he is protected by the first amendment and your response is twofold: 1) ignore him, or 2) be offended. The plea for defense is as juvenile as the rock throwing.

  • redstaterepublican

    1) I didn’t ask for defense. I wondered why I didn’t get it. There is a difference. Please read what I actually say.
    2) What does ‘at your door’ mean? Is this person not sexually harassing me in public? Is it OK to mail offensive material in a harassing manner? If it shows up in my mailbox is that at my door? If I am a woman, and someone is making remarks about my genitalia and telling me that I am a whore who sleeps with her family members–hmm. like the treatment poor Cindy Sheehan has gotten from some quarters–I doubt that your response would be the same, Molly. We are all fellow citizens, and we deserve respect. That you permit it is 1)cerainly immoral and 2) quite possibly illegal.
    It is not simply offensive. It is violent. I have gone to too many ‘take back the night’ marches to allow your voyeuristic thrill in the bashing of someone you don’t agree with to go unchecked. Read the post again. It is hate mail.
    On another note–when will you progressives give up bashing Bush? Doesn’t the progressive line require you to see through what you call the theatricality of this person and towards the actual larger political, economic and social movements? You seem to endorse the cult of personality by articulating it.
    I’m no progressive, but I’m puzzled as to why you guys get so sidetracked in your hatred of the front-runner. Perhaps because you have no alternatives to offer that actually work?

  • Diane

    Dear Redstaterep:
    We appreciate all contributions, but please keep the tone and verbage at a decent level. This site is noted for the subconcious reading of images, the more gut-level they are, the more interesting. I’d appreciate hearing your gut-level responses to the images, not your responses to our responses, if you get my meaning.

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