The emperor is still nekkid 

Beaufort Cranford, a prematurely grumpy Georgian who edits Wayne State University’s alumni magazine, has a peculiar dedication to the truth.

That not only makes him an excellent editor, it helps him in his hobby, which is the lonely task of spreading the truth, now enormously unpopular, about George W. Bush.

Several times a week, Cranford unearths some stray honest morsel from the Internet, aims it at his listserv and fires it into cyberspace. That’s a fairly lonely task in the dog days of our ersatz war.

But a very necessary one. The fact of the matter is that George Bush’s pals, helped by the amazing ineptness of the Democrats, stole the presidential election for him, an election he very clearly lost. In office, he has proven to be a lightweight, occasionally terribly embarrassing, while at other times capable of bringing off the impression that he is playing president in Beta Theta Pi’s Frat Night at the Theater.

Everyone in the press corps knew this full well when he came in. Fortunately for all of us, Bush appears to have mostly known it too. Or at least he knew enough to keep his hands off the machinery. Daddy and his friends found some nice men to run the government for him, and most of those who pass for journalists averted their eyes.

The powers that are sent a coded message. Don’t start drinking, and, for Clinton’s sake, don’t fondle the interns, and we’ll go easy on ye, at least for a while. When the nation was confronted Sept. 11 with the deadly attack from without, Dick Cheney was in the White House running things, and George Bush was in a second-grade classroom somewhere in Florida. The videotaped look on his face when they told him says it all.

Yet they wrote him a brilliant speech to memorize, and by God or by George, the United States of America still seems to be militarily superior to Afghanistan.

My theory is that what happened next is mostly the fault of a string of recent Hollywood blockbusters, from Saving Ryan’s Privates to Pearl Harbor. We were awash in World War II nostalgia, especially those too young to remember World War II.

This, we saw, was our shot. So we have willed the feather duster into becoming Franklin D. Roosevelt, and to my poorly hidden horror, the press corps has managed to largely convince themselves of it too. Frank Bruni, who once worked for the Free Press, is the latest and worst evidence of this fact. He’s written a new blockbuster, Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush (HarperCollins, $23.95).

Though self-obsessed, Bruni is a good reporter with an excellent eye for detail, coupled, unfortunately, with analytical powers which are at best cockeyed. Back when he was at the Free Press, he wrote, so help me, an attempt at a long sympathetic portrait of a child molester. While this book ends up being largely a fawning portrait of another kind of perversion, it, intentionally or not, makes it crystal clear that Bush Two has all the gravitas of, say, John Belushi, with whom he seems to have more than coke in common.

Yes, there is something about the leader of the Free World making faces and “winking conspiratorially” during a church memorial service that makes me want to enlist in some faith-based nonsense. Yet in the end, Bruni turns to the party-line drivel: Somehow, something mystical happened to the frat-boy president on Sept. 11. Perhaps the hand of Lincoln reached down from the heavens. But in any event, he suddenly became, well, presidential. Yes sir, the boy became a man, ready to lead where Washington and the Roosevelts went before.

Oh, barf. The truth is that George Bush is a chucklehead. Was then; is now. If I visited Fort Knox and a huge gold ingot fell on my head, it would not make me a mining engineer. Son Of Bush had the extreme good fortune to have wandered onstage for the most convenient war in history, one in which his officials, if we let them, can justify for years any atrocity by claiming there are shadowy “terrorists” under the bed.

Bush Minor, meanwhile, really wants to please his moneyed friends, by doing things like opening national wildlife refuges for oil drilling and then photo-oping on TV.

Ronald Reagan was much the same. However, we mostly deserved him. We really elected him. We almost elected Bush Minor, but on the last weekend of the campaign, jolted by his inane charge that “Al Gore thinks Social Security is a government program” we sobered up, and elected his wooden, but functionally literate, rival.

And then the bad guys, from Katherine “Cruella” Harris to Clarence Thomas, stole it. That’s a very important distinction. And while even political junkies are now weary of campaign books, the best by far was published just a couple months ago, and in paperback, to boot. Jews for Buchanan (New Press, $14.95) by John Nichols, a columnist for the Nation magazine. Nichols establishes beyond the shadow of a doubt that Gore really should have won Florida by 51,000 votes or more.

Not that Nichols has much nice to say about the Gorebot, whose post-election behavior seemed to prove conclusively that he is not a leader. Yet, as Nichols concludes, “if we don’t act on what we now know about the corruptions and the compromises of the 2000 election, then the joke is on us.” That, to me, is far scarier than Osama. For once, the Israelis put it best: Never again. And never forget.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail to

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