Lights, Camera, Exploitation

That’s Our Bush! The President’s Re-Election Campaign Kicks Off With a Shameless 9-11 Docudrama

Rumsfeld (impersonated with frightening veracity by Broadway vet John Cunningham) emerges as the Soviet-style positive hero, embodying the logic of history. In the very first scene, he is seen hosting a congressional breakfast, invoking the 1993 attack on the WTC, and warning the dim-witted legislators that that was only the beginning. Rumsfeld is the first to utter the name "Saddam Hussein" and, over the pooh-poohs of Colin Powell (David Fonteno) goes on to detail Iraq's awesome stockpile of WMDs. But there can be only one maximum leader. Increasingly tough and folksy, prone to strategically consulting his Bible, it is Bush who directs Rummy and Ashcroft to think in "unconventional ways." This new Bush is continually educating his staff, instructing Rice in the significance of "modernity, pluralism, and freedom." (As played by Penny Johnson Jerald, the president's ex-wife on the Fox series 24, Condi is a sort of super-intelligent poodle—dogging her master's steps, gazing into his eyes with rapt adoration.)

Ultimately, DC 9/11is less a docudramatic account of historical events than a legitimizing allegory. In glamorizing a living president, it is an opportunistic piece of political mythmaking—a scenario that effectively bridges the highly irregular maneuvering that brought a popular-vote loser to power in 2000 and the exaggerated, even fabricated, claims with which his regime orchestrated the U.S. invasion of Iraq

Bush's approval rating was hovering around 50 percent on the morning of September 11. Indeed, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have done so much for Bush's presidency one might reasonably suspect they're being held in a witness protection program. If the Iraq war is integral to America's transformation from republic to empire, then DC 9/11is part of the process, described by Mark Crispin Miller as Bush's "incarnation as America's Augustus."

Showtime Bush (Timothy Bottoms) gets mega-phony
photo: Ken Woroner/Showtime
Showtime Bush (Timothy Bottoms) gets mega-phony

Several incidents in the Iraq war—the semi-fictional Saving Private Lynch saga, the made-for-TV toppling of Hussein's statue, the outrageous Top Gunphoto op with which Bush announced victory—are ready to be excerpted in Republican Party 2004 campaign propaganda. DC 9/11 isthat propaganda: The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" swells as Bush flies into ground zero, where he astonishes even Rove (Allan Royal) by spontaneously vaulting a police barricade to hop on the rubble and grab the microphone. A nearby fireman, compelled to tell the president that he didn't vote for him, swears allegiance, mandating Bush to "find the son of a bitch who did this." Once Bush realizes that "today, the president has to be the country," Rove considers the image problem solved. Bush, he explains, has become commander in chief and taken back "control of his destiny." The climax is Bush's televised, prime-time September 20 speech—a montage of highly charged 9-11 footage that ends with the real-life, now fully authenticated Bush accepting the adulation of Congress as he fingers the talismanic shield worn by a fallen New York police officer.

As long as there are parents and children in this world, people will yearn for the illusion of a wise, selfless, divinely inspired leader. As expressed in DC 9/11, this desire is far less complex than the bizarre wish-fulfillment provided by The West Wing—unless a political miracle occurs and that fantasy materializes with the election of Howard Dean. Both these presidential soap operas offer utopian visions of political leadership. But unlike The West Wing, DC 9/11gumps a fictionalized hero into real catastrophe to create the myth of a defining moment, and stake its claim on historical truth.

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