The President of the United States is Not a Superhero

At any given moment in history, the President of the United States might be a democrat or republican. The President might be liberal or conservative, male or female, black or white, gay or straight. Yet despite all of the possible permutations of the Presidency that one might imagine, it remains the case that the President neither drives a Batmobile nor shoots spider silk out of his ass.

During his or her four to eight years in office, the President will either get blamed or take credit for everything that happens on his (or her) watch. Yet the President is responsible for neither stock market booms and busts nor high or low employment. How relevant is the US President? You know that old song by Stealers Wheel?

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am — Stuck in the middle with you.

Basically, it doesn’t matter. Shit happens in the world and the President … he’s just sort of there. He’s a mystery person, much like the Pope. He comes out of his box and makes a pronouncement from time to time and then disappears again. We all take it on faith that he or she actually exists and isn’t just some kind of animatronic puppet, but the truth of the matter is it wouldn’t really make much difference. For all I know, just before the President appears on camera, some guy might be putting a coin in a slot to activate him.

Pedestrian exodus of Manhattan via. the Brooklyn Bridge on Sept. 11, 2001. [Photograph by Daniel Shanken, AP]

Pedestrian exodus of Manhattan via. the Brooklyn Bridge on Sept. 11, 2001.
[Photograph by Daniel Shanken, AP]

Today is the thirteenth anniversary of one of the shittiest days in the history of the United states. It was a shitty day that was, incidentally, caused by neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush. In the aftermath of that shitty day, this country, under the “leadership” of George W. Bush, began to spiral towards totalitarianism. We are a surveillance state now and locked in a perpetual state of warfare that is, for many of us, little more than an abstract idea that we see on TV. You can’t fly on an airplane now without being molested by some asshole TSA employee parroting some tired old bullshit about having to fondle your balls because “it’s the post-911 world, blah, blah, blah.” You can’t walk down the street in New York City without being frisked. You can’t take a picture of a building in Washington DC without a Secret Service agent popping out of the bushes to ask you what your business is. Osama bin Laden might be dead now, but the motherfucker won. It seems to me the present state of our society is proof of that. We were free, more or less, before September 11, 2001. Fuck me if we’re free now.

Of course, some of us thought that this situation might change when Barack Obama took the throne from George W. Bush. These two guys are supposed to be polar opposites, right? But nope … everything is still pretty much the same. Same bullshit endless war; same bullshit surveillance state. This has become a country where even a city’s mayor is at risk of having the Gestapo kick in his door and  shoot his goddamn dogs. God help you if you’re just some black guy jaywalking, or you’re a teenage girl who accidentally drops some cake crumbs on the school cafeteria’s floor.

Whoever the President happens to be at any given moment really doesn’t seem to make any difference. Would the situation be dramatically different today if Barack Obama were President on Sept. 11, 2001 and George W. Bush were President now? Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. Hell, even the one thing that is supposed to stand out about Barack Obama — Obamacare — really is no different than any plan proposed by republicans. Strip away the smoke and mirrors and it’s all the same: The money just flows a little differently as it leaves your pocket. The clowns on the left take money from the left pocket; the jokers on the right take money from the right pocket. It all gets filtered (in the case of healthcare) through the same insurance company middlemen who are usually the brothers, sisters, and cousins of the people in office.

Anyway, what triggered this rambling rant of a post is that, a few days back, I was wondering about the timeline involving the President in the moments following the first attacks on September 11, 2001. I remember some of the events were kind of murky back then, as things often are in the thick of things with so many chaotic and unexpected events happening all at once. I googled the information, and sure enough I found a number of sites that have very specific moment-by-moment timelines involving the President’s actions on that day. I went to one of the sites I found and started reading. At first, it seemed very balanced, but as I read, the piece became increasingly critical of the President’s actions. By the end, it was downright hostile. It was extremely critical of each and every moment of George W. Bush’s time on that day. Why didn’t the President leave the school he was visiting that morning ten minutes earlier than he did? What bits of information did he get immediately after the attacks, and what did he learn later? Why did his plane — Air Force One — have a fighter jet escort at such and such time, but not at such and such time. I was surprised by how hostile the author of the piece was over all these little things because — for fuck’s sake — what the fuck difference does it make?

Did the author think the President was going to jump into a phone booth that morning and emerge wearing blue tights and a red cape? What was George W. Bush, or anyone else acting as president that morning, supposed to do exactly? The President wasn’t going to stop any potential attacks from unfolding. He wasn’t going to put out any fires. He wasn’t going to do a damn thing, because doing things in moments like that is not the President’s job.

Before he left the school that morning, the President made a short speech in which he said he talked to the Vice President, Governor of New York, and the Director of the FBI and that he “ordered the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families … and to conduct a full scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.” In other words, George W. Bush that morning called up some people and said: “You all know what your jobs are, right? Well, keep doing them, by golly.” You see, the police, fire department, FBI, FAA, first responders … they are the people who had SKILLS that were needed that morning, not the President. He should have stayed and read some more with those kids that morning because, frankly, he had nothing else to do except call other people and tell them keep doing your job. It wouldn’t have mattered if somebody else were President that morning, and it wouldn’t have mattered if they acted differently. The actions of the President in situations like that are nothing more than a sideshow.

It’s not that I like defending George W. Bush or anything. I think he was the worst President this country has ever had. But if you’re going to criticize him, find something worth criticizing, like his bizarre obsession with Iraq.

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