From the NYTimes, Keepers of Bush image lift stagecraft to new heights:
George W. Bush’s “Top Gun” landing on the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln will be remembered as one of the most audacious moments of presidential theater in American history. But it was only the latest example of how the Bush administration, going far beyond the foundations in stagecraft set by the Reagan White House, is using the powers of television and technology to promote a presidency like never before.I remember that occasion. It was the first anniversary: a very tough day. Our own officials—the ones who actually went through it; who were here to help afterwards, not just for photo shoots; and who afterward kept their promises about what the were going to do to help—had all agreed to refrain from speechifying. Instead, we were going to have memorial marches by the departments that lost so many people, and lots and lots of candles and prayers, and the reading-out of the names of the dead, and solemn and dignified musical performances. In place of any one person’s words, we were going to have readings of the Gettysburg Address and other well-loved texts from the days of the republic.
Officials of past Democratic and Republican administrations marvel at how the White House does not seem to miss an opportunity to showcase Mr. Bush in dramatic and perfectly lighted settings. It is all by design: the White House has stocked its communications operation with people from network television who have expertise in lighting, camera angles and the importance of backdrops.
On Tuesday, at a speech promoting his economic plan in Indianapolis, White House aides went so far as to ask people in the crowd behind Mr. Bush to take off their ties, WISH-TV in Indianapolis reported, so they would look more like the ordinary folk the president said would benefit from his tax cut. …The White House efforts have been ambitious97and costly. For the prime-time television address that Mr. Bush delivered to the nation on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used to illuminate sports stadiums and rock concerts, sent them across New York Harbor, tethered them in the water around the base of the Statue of Liberty and then blasted them upward to illuminate all 305 feet of America’s symbol of freedom. It was the ultimate patriotic backdrop for Mr. Bush, who spoke from Ellis Island.
Which we did. Only right in the middle of it, we got ol’ Georgie Boy, carried live on the PA system, making his self-regarding and artfully theatrical speech from Ellis Island. That man has never seen an occasion he thought was more important than he was. Patrick and I walked away, deeper into Prospect Park, for the duration of the speech. Better to risk getting mugged than stay and listen to that.
I’ve mentioned it before here, but I’ll say it again: Bush showed up to get his picture taken with our firefighters and EMTs and police officers, but afterward he stiffed them on all those fine-sounding promises of help. He had money for three barges’ worth of fancy theatrical lights to give him just the right backdrop for one speech. He didn’t come through with money to help replace our emergency services’ squashed and shattered vehicles, much less help out with anything else.
Know what else? He’s a physical coward. Ellis Island was ringed with major amounts of heavy-duty security, at no small cost. Bush’s public appearances tend to involve shutting down and securing everything for a mile or so in all directions. This includes peaceable citizens going about their daily business. They can agree to be part of the rally, or they can choose house arrest for the better part of the day, but they can’t come and go in any normal fashion. They also aren’t allowed to put any kind of opinionated signs (no matter how mildly the opinions are expressed) on their parked cars or front lawns, which is clearly a violation of the First Amendment but so far hasn’t gone to court in any effective way.
Wuss, wuss wuss.
I’m trying to remember the chronology now. I think that in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Chirac may have gotten here before Bush did. What I do know is that Clinton almost made it back here from Australia before Bush got here from D.C. Bush did his little publicity turn under heavy security and took off again.
Clinton, with just a dab of Secret Service keeping an eye on him, started out from Union Square/14th Street—which was then the northern boundary for vehicular traffic—and just walked southward through the Manhattan streets. People came up and talked to him, and shook his hand, and told him their stories; and a lot of them hugged him and literally cried on his shoulder. That was okay. He was there for them.