The imperial presidency

by Henry on October 19, 2004

Teresa Nielsen Hayden makes a very interesting aside in a long post about how GWB’s way of dealing with criticism reminds her of vituperative slushpile authors with middle-management backgrounds.

You know how topical jokes are generally formed by adapting earlier groups of cognate jokes? I’ve been looking into the current batch of GWB jokes, and find that many of the jokes from which they’re drawn were originally about Stalin. But I digress.

This seems to me quite telling. Mark Schmitt makes a good case for GWB as a “bad CEO,” but the administration’s refusal to brook criticism and wilful contempt for “reality” seems more grotesque and dangerous than that. It verges on what the French call ubuisme (from Alfred Jarry’s Pere Ubu). When I read Ron Suskind’s article on the administration, I couldn’t stop thinking of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book on the last days of Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia, The Emperor.

It was a small dog, a Japanese breed. His name was Lulu. He was allowed to sleep in the Emperor’s great bed. During various ceremonies, he would run away from the Emperor’s lap and pee on dignitaries’ shoes. The august gentlemen were not allowed to flinch or make the slightest gesture when they felt their feet getting wet. I had to walk among the dignitaries and wipe the urine from their shoes with a satin cloth. This was my job for ten years.



Barry Freed 10.19.04 at 8:39 pm


Jehovah’s Kingdom Comes?

That would be Pere Ubuism.

What I’d like to know:

How Many Iraqi Schools Would Jesus Paint?

And Why Are So Many Of His Followers Inhaling The Fumes?

Too shrill? Perhaps. I’m afraid that only the cynics can hear me now.


Teresa Nielsen Hayden 10.19.04 at 9:02 pm

Have a look at a comment thread about current GWB jokes. It’s not strictly necessary to read the posts about digestive biscuits.


g 10.19.04 at 10:50 pm

This has nothing whatever to do with the actual topic, but it occurs to me that “Kapuscinski” is a rather strange name. I mean, a capuchin is either a monk or a monkey, yes? And “-ski” means “son of”, yes? So …


Brett Bellmore 10.20.04 at 1:33 pm

Telling indeed, but I suspect it tells us more about the people making the jokes, than about Bush.


Paul 10.20.04 at 2:13 pm

A Soviet judge walks out of the courtroom, barely managing to suppress his wild laughter. A colleague asks, “What is it you are laughing about? “Well, I just heard a great joke,” the judge says. “A joke? Tell me!” “Are you crazy? I just sentenced a man to five years for that joke!”


nofundy 10.20.04 at 2:46 pm

And who would be Dubya’s urine wiper? Glenn Reynolds perhaps?


JBGreen654 10.20.04 at 3:02 pm

If I were a conservative, I’d be voting for someone else. They usually like to think of themselves as the practical, non-Utopian ones.

Anybody remember these articles from – now silent – conservative (sorry, “Old Fashioned Liberal”) blogger Den Beste, claiming that he was on the side of the empiricists – not the p-idealists? And that this was why he was not going to vote for Kerry?

I remember thinking at the time that he was right about some things and almost exactly backwards about others…


Barry Freed 10.20.04 at 3:56 pm

Telling indeed, but I suspect it tells us more about the people making the jokes, than about Comrade Stalin.

-Attributed to Lavrenti Beria, in conversation with Nikolai Yezhov, possibly apocryphal.


wood turtle 10.22.04 at 12:14 am

I may be the only one here who finds those laughable inspirational sayings, well, inspirational. Thanks very much Teresa Nielsen Hayden for posting them. I try to read them every day.

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