Friday, November 26, 2004

George W. Bush is the Beating Heart of Americanism
I cannot describe to you how creepy this is. You're looking at a real billboard that was erected alongside a highway in the great state of Florida. The reason it's scary is because I once visited a real, live totalitarian country called Syria, where they have billboards like this up on every other street corner. Their language is a little more florid than what's on this billboard, but the general idea is the same. When I first saw this story kicking around the Web I assumed it must be fake, one of those things that is bound to get debunked by Netlore in a few days. But if you believe this Orlando letter-to-the-editor writer, it's for real. You have to wonder how many of these things are out there polluting America's skylines.

Now, I don't think George W. Bush has any aspirations to be the next Hafiz al-Assad, the late dictator of Syria (although I wouldn't put it past some of his supporters, namely the ones who put up this ridiculous billboard). But I do find it somewhat disturbing that some Americans seem to crave the same manner of warped and insulting propaganda that you see in the most closed-down autocracies on the planet. It also reminds me of the cult-of-personality-like devotion of some of Bush's most fanatic partisans, who routinely say that they "love" him. And when they say "I love George Bush!" they don't mean it the same way normal people do when they say, "I love Kate Beckinsale" or "I love curly fries." They mean the kind of love that can only happen between a man and a woman under Ohio state law.

I think this kind of substance-less hero-worship is seriously corrosive for our political culture. Can you imagine the Pennsylvania Turnpike adorned with billboards of Big Ed Rendell, "Our State Leader"? I'm sure you can't, because you probably think of your political figures as public servants and human beings rather than as transcendant and God-like figures that should be revered and obeyed (either that or you don't live in Pennsylvania and thus aren't familiar with our bear-like governor). I can assure you that this is not how many of the more extreme figures in the evangelical movement look at George W. Bush -- many of them believe that he was quite literally chosen by God to lead America at this, it's moment of greatest danger. People like that probably imagine that people like me (who voted for John Kerry: Not Our Leader) don't know that George W. Bush is in fact, our leader, and that I'd better fall into formation, get with the program, and support the War President in our time of national peril.

Now, I'm not going to deny that George W. Bush was just re-elected as President of the United States. And I'm fairly certain that I could give the correct answer to "Who is Our Leader" on a citizenship quiz. But I don't need to be reminded of it by some anonymous ad-buyer on my highways, who seems completely oblivious to the blisteringly obvious authoritarian overtones to their billboard. Save the landscape-scarring billboards for vodka or casinos, or better yet, tear the fucking things down altogether. Why should any corporation own the horizon?


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