December 18, 2002
Preface to the 3rd Edition of "Fortunate Son"
by Mark Crispin Miller, Author of "The Bush Dyslexicon" and America's Foremost Expert on the Unique Dialect of the Man Occupying the White House
Until Monday, December 23, BuzzFlash exclusively offers Mark Crispin Miller's preface to the 3rd Edition of J.H. Hatfield's "Fortunate Son." Thanks to Soft Skull Press for this opportunity.
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When Jim Hatfield started to work on Fortunate Son, he had no idea what he was up against. At no point had he planned to do a hatchet job on the anointed one. Jim’s attitude to Bush, while critical, was not unsympathetic (as anyone who reads the book can see). It was as if Jim knew that he was drawn to this biography in part because he saw Bush as another version of himself: someone who had attained success despite an iffy background. His aim was to be thorough, not destructive; and so he went to some of Bush’s closest aides—Karl Rove and Clay Johnson—for guidance and for information, which was surely not the m.o. of a character assassin. Assuming that the whole truth, laid out fairly and impartially, would justify whatever he might find in Bush’s background, Jim forged ahead unmindful of the terminal ordeal that was awaiting him.
The details of his public punishment—the irrelevant news about his prison record, his maladroit response, the eager pile-on by the media—are known to anyone familiar with Jim’s story. Less well-known is the Bush team’s later private message to the pesky author, who, not long before the publication of the first Soft Skull edition, ill-advisedly called up Clay Johnson, to gloat about the book’s new incarnation. He was at his mother-in-law’s house, Jim told the filmmakers Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky, "and I got a little cocky."
I was pacing outside on the cellphone and I called one of the sources from the afterword, and just let him know that, hey, the book's coming back out—kinda like, "Ha ha ha, you tried to stop it, but it's coming back out." And he was just kinda... well, pissed-off is the best way to put it. But he was cool about it, though. He said, "Look, Number One, we're gonna continue to discredit you every chance we get. We'll make the comments about you being an ex-convict and everything else—and write your science fiction or whatever"—just the same thing they've always said—"and we'll slam you every chance we get." I said, "Well, the difference is, this time I'm gonna put everything out on the table. I'm gonna come right back at ya!" I said, "If Bush says that kinda stuff in the press this time, then I'm gonna say, ‘Well, maybe it takes one to know one, and maybe if my dad was rich, I wouldn't have been down there hoeing cotton in Texas either on a prison farm, and—"
I had all my little sound bites ready. And he says, "Well, the second thing we're gonna do is, you need to really think about the safety of your wife and newborn child"—which, he called her [i.e., his daughter] Haley—he called them by their names.
Jim panicked, and immediately asked his lawyer to stop the book from coming out, but it was too late for that. So he tried to put the threat out of his mind, although he never did get over it.
And the rest, as they say, is history—or at least those easy pieces of it that the people are allowed to know: Bush became America’s president, and those who had abetted him directly were well-rewarded for it, earning lofty posts in his administration. Karl Rove became the mightiest presidential propagandist in the nation’s history, with right of entry into any White House meeting, whether on a foreign or domestic issue. For his part, Clay Johnson —one of Bush’s classmates at Andover—served first as "Executive Director of the Bush Transition," and then became the White House personnel director. And Jim Hatfield fell apart, the fear and ostracism finally proving more than he could handle. On July 17, 2001—a day that the vice president was politicking for more oil and nuclear production, while Bush was in the White House, bestowing the Medal of Honor on a chopper pilot who had saved some fellow troops in Vietnam—Jim checked in to room 312 at the Days Inn in Springdale, Arkansas, and took a handful of antidepressants, washing them down with lots of fruit juice and vodka. The paramedics found him the next day (when Bush was on his way to Europe, for the bloody G-8 summit in Genoa).
Although his fate was something special in the annals of unauthorized biography, Jim Hatfield certainly was not the only one who, in dealing with the Busheviki, didn’t know what he was up against. Two years after their forced Restoration, we can safely say that very few of us, if any, could have guessed, pre-coup, just how extreme their moves would be if they should be allowed back into power. In retrospect, however, Jim’s ruination—a joint production of the Bush machine and a compliant corporate press—stands out as a very telling sign of things to come.
First of all, the Bush team’s eagerness to kill Jim’s book was a striking portent of their obsessive impulse to kill all public information, other than those little bits that they themselves have cooked and garnished. Of course, Rove and Co. had good reason to discredit Fortunate Son, the story of Bush’s no-fault coke bust posing a grave double threat to the campaign propaganda, which made a buzzword of "accountability," and kept on flogging the preposterous canard that Bush is just a fella like the rest of us. And yet by now it’s safe to say that there was more to their attack on Hatfield than the mere need to defuse a sizzling story—for the urge to drop an iron curtain on the truth is second nature to this gang. Their vision of America derives not from the Bill of Rights but from the boardrooms of Halliburton and the like, and the warrens of the Pentagon and CIA, where democratic openness is not a civic duty but a damned annoyance. Bush/Cheney’s paranoid secretiveness was apparent well before their theft of the election, and broadly marked their regime from the start—the stealthy veep’s refusal to come clean about the White House energy plan was only the most controversial of such black-outs, which also included Bush’s shady move to stash his gubernatorial documents in Poppy’s presidential library, and the team’s efforts to suppress some 68,000 pages of Ronald Reagan’s papers—even though the Reagan family wants them released. But it was after 9/11 that the White House really moved to brick in every window. The president made clear that henceforth we the people would not know what our own troops and spooks were up to, and his Attorney General urged US government departments not to grant requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act.* Most remarkable of all, however, was Bush/Cheney’s unrelenting opposition to an independent body that would study how and why those terrorist attacks had happened in the first place. Despite the will of Congress and the public, and the force of precedent (Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination), the oilmen at the top have so intently blocked such an inquiry that you’d think they must be hiding something. At the very least, such interference is a staggering example of their deep hostility to mass enlightenment. "There's just this general philosophical orientation," one GOP staffer told Newsweek, that the less the world knows, the better."
As their campaign against this book foretold Bush/Cheney’s later efforts to hide inconvenient truths, so was their elementary tactic in that case —the personal smear—a portent of the way this White House always tries to force its point. Rather than address the content of a disagreement, charge or criticism, Bush and his henchpersons will at once impugn the character, veracity and/or mental health of the offending speaker—an ancient tactic, certainly, but one that this administration uses with remarkable consistency. When the Busheviki repetitiously shrugged Hatfield off as "a convicted felon," then, the move anticipated many calculated slanders by the presidential apparat—e.g., that Sen. Jim Jeffords, after his defection from the GOP, was "quirky" (i.e., cracked), or that the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, having noted Bush’s penchant for untruths, had peddled falsehoods. Likewise, when the EPA officially linked global warming to the use of fossil fuels, Bush trashed the findings with a simple burst of rightspeak: "I read the report put out by the bureaucracy." He used the same dismissive tactic in referring to the critics of his "war on terrorism"—so many "professor types," as he put it to Bill Sammon of the Washington Times. The tacit threat in such contemptuous asides was quite explicit in the mouth of Bush’s ardent and inept Attorney General, who thus addressed those senators concerned about the status of the Bill of Rights post-9/11: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."
A free and democratic press would loudly protest such authoritarian maneuvers. For its part, the corporate news machine has barely noted them, much less deplored them. Aside from grousing over Ari Fleischer’s stonewalling ("Ari has the uncanny ability to suck information out of a room," said CBS’s John Roberts in October of 2002), the Fourth Estate has largely skirted its responsibility to ask about what’s happening at the top. In this regard as well Jim Hatfield’s punishment foreshadowed the Bush/Cheney status quo; for if the press had not allowed itself to be distracted by the details of the author’s past, he would probably be with us still—and the Bush campaign would have had to answer some hard questions. And yet the journalists were so completely snookered by Rove’s gambit that the candidate professed himself quite pleased with their performance. Thus they looked pointedly away from Bush’s history of drug and alcohol abuse, and from the fact of his lifelong exemption from the rules that hold for everybody else: both issues arguably crucial to an understanding of his character and inclinations. The media maintained that deference through the presidential race, the judicial coup d’état, Bush/Cheney’s epic "honeymoon" and grim first summer—and then 9/11 came, whereupon that journalistic over-tactfulness mutated quickly into abject hero-worship. And so, having all along ignored, or underplayed, this administration’s radical agenda, the press went mute just as the junta started kicking out the jams. As the Busheviks began to shred the Bill of Rights and send our troops throughout the world in search of World War III, the coverage was absurdly sparse and courteous, as in Iraq, or Moscow, c. 1972. Despite its constitutional duty to shed lots of light on what our government is doing, the corporate press now merely helps to keep us in the dark, by sitting on whatever stories the cabal wants people not to know—Al Gore’s actual victory in Florida (a win that, as in Orwell’s Oceania, was reported as a loss); Bush/Cheney’s prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks (a fact that surfaced briefly, then slipped right down the memory hole); the major US military strike against Iraq that started early in September, 2002, while Bush was posing as "a patient man" who would "consult" our allies prior to making war (an operation that made news throughout the world—but that went wholly unreported in this country); "the largest expansion of covert action by the armed forces since the Vietnam era," as William Arkin put it in an op-ed in late October, 2002 (a huge investment in black operations, unknown to most Americans); and so on. And as they thus help keep the secrets of the ruling clique, the corporate news teams also have colluded in Bush/Cheney’s moves to silence uncooperative reporters. Such was the case with, among others, Jason Leopold, who, writing for Salon, dug up much rich dirt on Thomas White and Enron—and who was then smeared as a plagiarist and fabricator by The New York Times, a stroke of infamy that could well stop a journalist’s career.
The acquiescence of the press (and the general capitulation of the Democrats) has made the Bush machine so brazen that we now know what we’re up against, and what Jim Hatfield had, unwittingly, gone up against. Here is a regime that was imposed on the majority through fraud and violence; that is committed to the permanent establishment of corporate rule, and to that end seeks out eternal war; that would make all dissent impossible; and whose top figures are convinced that God has chosen them to lead this nation to its destiny as manager and center of a global empire. It is a regime, moreover, that has completely cowed or compromised the press, and spooked the tepid opposition into hiding. In short, what we have here is fascism, Texas-style—and that is what destroyed Jim Hatfield, and discredited this valuable biography. From those early threats and slanders (and God knows what else) the men behind the operation would move on to subverting an election, suspending constitutional protections, fomenting war through various Big Lies, and otherwise embracing the example not of Jefferson and Franklin but of Mussolini. Now that we know it, we must reread this book, and learn what else there is to know about Bush/Cheney—and then we need to spread the word, and talk among ourselves, and see what can and must be done to save American democracy.
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