Flying Shoes, Bursting Bubbles

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The most remarkable thing about the gesture was the fact that it was an act of defiant contempt, rather than one of criminal violence.

Bush’s reaction was remarkable only in the sense that he displayed, for perhaps the last time before he becomes deservedly inconsequential, the depth of his ignorance and the utter impregnability of his unearned self-regard.

Immediately after a Iraqi reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi disrupted a Baghdad press conference by hurling both shoes at Bush, calling him a “dog” and denouncing him in the name of “the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq,” Bush sat down with ABC reporter Martha Raddatz to decant some of his unique wisdom about matters of diplomacy and cultural understanding.

Raddatz pointed out that Zaidi’s act — attempting to strike Bush in the face with the sole of a shoe — is “considered a huge insult in this [part of the] world.”

Bush’s reply defies parody: “Look, they were humiliated. The press corps, the rest of the Iraqi press corps was humiliated…. But I’m not insulted.”

So — this carefully calibrated gesture, this surgical strike of an insult, which was directed specifically at the individual most responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans, managed somehow to humiliate everybody else in the room, while sparing the invincible ego of the one who was targeted.

This is not a sign of a character healthy and stable enough to slough off petty insults. It is a manifestation of a sociopath’s indifference to the legitimate concerns of other people — in this case, a young Iraqi journalist who has been subjected to violence by both American occupation forces (which had previously arrested him twice without cause) and the criminal mobs set free to prey upon the country by the U.S.-led invasion of his homeland.

“The guy wanted to get on TV and he did,” opined Bush in his interview with Raddatz. “I don’t know what his beef is. But whatever it is I’m sure somebody will hear it.”

Mr. Zaidi’s inexplicable “beef,” of course, is his entirely understandable rage and resentment over the foreign occupation of his country, and the needless death of innocent people.

Unlike Bush, who has made four lightning-quick visits to Baghdad — fleeting appearances under the cover of impenetrable security, during which he was spared any exposure to the gratitude of the pitiful people he “liberated” — Zaidi lives in Iraq. He has to live with the consequences of Bush’s whimsical little venture in mass murder and social destruction.

It was quite understandable that Zaidi found himself unable to abide the spectacle of Bush stewing in self-congratulation while Nouri al-Maliki and the assembled reporters dutifully played along with the charade, passively ratifying the lies that continue to sustain the world-historic crime that is the Iraq war.

Those who don’t believe in a Creator find it difficult to explain how matter attained self-awareness. The existence of George W. Bush presents us with exactly the opposite conundrum: How can someone blessed with the capacity for thought be at once utterly self-preoccupied and entire devoid of self-awareness?

Consider how Bush deflected the matter of Zaidi’s insult — which has understandably resonated throughout the Arab world — by comparing it with what he considers to be a similar incident during the visit of another ruler to Washington:

“I’ve seen a lot of weird things during my presidency and this may rank up there as one of the weirdest. On the other hand, I do remember when the president of China came to the South Lawn, and a member of the press corps started yelling — I think it was Falun Gong slogans at the Chinese president. So this happens and it’s a sign of a free society.”

I’m not sure which part of this double-barreled absurdity to deal with first.

Did Mr. Bush have a measurable understanding of the comparison he was drawing? The Falun Gong movement seems to share a phylum with Scientology and the Unification Church, but there are credible reports that its adherents are on the receiving end of severe official persecution, ranging from imprisonment to (allegedly) summary execution followed by harvesting of their organs for commercial use. Given that fact, is Mr. Bush really comfortable with his comparison?

Furthermore, after Dr. Wenyi Wang, a correspondent for the Falun Gong-founded newspaper Epoch Times, interrupted the press conference by shouting to Bush that he should “ask Hu Jintao to stop persecuting the Falun Gong,” she was arrested and charged with “willfully intimidating, coercing, threatening and harassing a foreign official,” a misdemeanor carrying penalties up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

This wasn’t done in China by Hu’s government; it was done here by the regime over which Bush presides.

Yes, those charges were dropped in April 2007 — as part of an agreement in which she was required not to commit any other crime, including the supposed offense of “confronting” any foreign leader about his government’s human rights record.

All of this, one assumes, constitutes what Bush is pleased to call the workings of “a free society.”

Perhaps he means a society in which the ruling elite is generally kept free of vexing exposure to the unfiltered opinions of those they rule.

It was the sudden, unaccustomed exposure to a contrary opinion that may have precipitated Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s sudden fainting spell during a recent address to the Federalist Society in Washington.

Generally described as “conservative,” the Federalist Society has been an incubator for many of the Bush Regime’s signature policies in the war on terror — institutionalizing the practice of torture, undermining habeas corpus, indefinite detention of terrorist suspects, the use of drumhead military tribunals with Soviet standards of evidence, exalting the president to the status of Grand and Glorious Decider, and so forth.

Mukasey used his address at the Federalist Society function for the same reason Bush made a final stop in Baghdad: Both of them were seeking to secure the Bush Junta’s “legacy” by making grand summary statements of its supposed accomplishments before docile audiences.

In both cases, there was at least one ram among the sheep. For Bush, it was Muntazer al-Zaidi. For Mukasey it was Richard Sanders — no, not the actor who played Les Nessman on WKRP in Cincinnati, but rather a State Supreme Court Justice from Washington.

Sanders is often described as a libertarian-leaning judge; he says that “protection of our constitutionally guaranteed liberties as the first duty of our highest court.” He managed to sit in silence for 17 minutes as Mukasey, basking in the fawning glow of his sycophantic audience, extolled the virtues of the Bush Regime’s assault on the rule of law. But Sanders, as sickened by the audience as he was by the speaker, could abide no more.

“Tyrant! You are a tyrant!” Sanders stood and exclaimed, causing Mukasey to pause momentarily. He left just moments later. A few minutes later, Mukasey suddenly started stumbling over his words as he read his prepared text; to the horror of his audience, the Attorney General suddenly slumped foward over the lectern, bringing FBI agents scrambling to the podium to catch him before he fell.

Sanders had left by the time Mukasey’s collapse took place, and was understandably concerned for the official’s health. But as someone who cherishes liberty and respects the Constitution, Sanders simply couldn’t suppress his reaction.

“Frankly, everybody in the room was applauding or sometimes laughing, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to stand up and say something.’ And I did,” Sanders told his hometown press. “I stood up and said, ‘Tyrant,’ then I sat down again, then I left.”

In a statement issued to the press, Sanders described how his outburst was the product of insuperable revulsion over both the Regime’s behavior and that of its willing accomplices in the audience at that Federalist Society event:

“In his speech, Attorney General Mukasey justified the Bush administration’s policies in the War on Terror, which included denying meaningful hearings for prisoners in Guantanamo, and other questionable tactics…. [T]he government must never set aside the Constitution; domestic and international law forbids torture; and access to the writ of habeas corpus should not be denied.

"The program provided no opportunity for questions or response, and I felt compelled to speak out. I stood up, and said, ‘tyrant,’ and then left the meeting. No one else said anything. I believe we must speak our conscience in moments that demand it, even if we are but one voice.” Or, for that matter, if we have only one set of shoes to hurl at the Emperor.

Policymakers, from the Dear Leader on down, are hermetically sealed off from dissent of any kind. On those rare occasions when frustration and moral outrage find a fissure in that bubble and the serenity of a political celebrity is disturbed, the result is usually a prominent display of some kind of corrective violence directed at the dissident.

Because he’s a sitting judge, Sanders won’t be punished in any way for his eruption. A private citizen almost certainly would face some kind of reprisal: That, after all, is what Tasers are for.

William Norman Grigg [send him mail] writes the Pro Libertate blog.

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