Mayday is the international distress signal. We should have known what was coming, on that Mayday five years ago when the Pigmy President promised us Mission Accomplished. But instead we mostly slobbered and drooled and wagged our tails like ecstatic puppies — the fierce watchdogs of the media very much included.
Only a few habitual whiners failed to join in the general joy, and a search of the archives shows, to my relief, that I was one of them:
I just watched George W. Bush on the seven o’clock news, landing on an aircraft carrier to kick off his reelection campaign.
Here are a few paragraphs from CNN’s account of this photo op:
“ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN — President Bush made a historic landing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln Thursday, arriving in the co-pilot’s seat of a Navy S-3B Viking after making two fly-bys of the carrier…
“The exterior of the four-seat Navy S-3B Viking was marked with ‘Navy 1’ in the back and ‘George W. Bush Commander-in-Chief’ just below the cockpit window…”
I tried to imagine other wartime presidents landing on an aircraft carrier, wearing a flight suit for the cameras and saluting every sailor in sight. Roosevelt? Don’t be silly. Truman? Eisenhower? JFK or LBJ? Nixon or George Herbert Walker Bush?
Of them all only Johnson, who habitually wore an unearned Silver Star ribbon in his lapel, would have been capable of a trick so cheap, so tasteless, so tacky.
And two days later, on May 3, I was writing this:
During his campaign kickoff speech Thursday aboard the USS Photo Op, President Bush used the curious phrase, “a target of American justice.”
Of course he didn’t write the words himself, but somebody did and many other somebodies reviewed and approved them. What does the oddly awkward phrase say about all these somebodies and about the president who employs them?
The full sentence is, “Any person involved in committing or planning terrorist attacks against the American people becomes an enemy of this country, and a target of American justice.”
A person can be the target of terrorists or extortionists or the police, but justice does not “target” and indeed in theory cannot. Justice is blind. That is, or once was, the whole idea of the thing.
That this is no longer so in Bush’s America may explain why nobody at the White House seems to have found the language of the speech peculiar. Targeting, after all, is integral to this administration’s concept of justice. Do profiling and preventive detention amount to anything more than targetting? Mr. Ashcroft may aim badly or indiscriminately, but he aims. He is not blind.
Mr. Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war is not blind, either. Here again the target is chosen and the punishment carried out in advance of a trial. There is no longer any real need for a trial — no need, that is to say, for what Americans have long thought of as justice.
But what this president thinks of as justice is actually vengeance. They are very different things, as Abraham Lincoln well knew and George W. Bush does not.
And after four more days, this:
Senator Byrd was getting at my objections when he talked about exploiting the trappings of war and assuming the garb of a warrior. In this Mr. Bush did worse than violate some mere law of the state. The president put himself in contempt of what Albert Jay Nock once called “that court from which there is no appeal.” He violated the canons of good taste.
For which, see below: