December 19, 2005

George and Ted and Dick and Karl


What’s the message here?  Rough riding on the Constitution?

In response to the NYT leaking the news that George Bush has been authorizing secret wiretaps of U.S. citizens, the President (according to a Seattle Times headline) “came out swinging” in defense of the activity.

As a backdrop for Bush’s televised radio address, the White House chose this 1909 painting of Roosevelt in the Roosevelt Room.  (Karl Rove had to be pleased considering almost identical images showed up Sunday on the front pages of the NY and LA Times.)

It would be interesting to find an analysis of exactly when and how often Bush has used this backdrop.  Alan Farber, a professor at SUNY, mentions Bush’s use of the framing to endorse a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.  The Washington Times notes the setting was also used to announce the (failed) nomination of 9/11 personality and N.Y. City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to become head of the Homeland Security Department.

If you watch the White House Roosevelt Room video (moderated by none other than Rove himself), you get a sense of what is going on in this photograph.  As an added bonus, you can appreciate Karl’s love of symbolism in general, and artwork in particular.  When Rove comes to this portrait, he says:

I love this painting because it shows how the world saw Theodore Roosevelt.  He’s in his uniform as commander of the rough riders in the Spanish American war.  It’s not too accurate a depiction of the uniform apparently, but everybody around the world loved to think of Theodore Roosevelt as a rough rider, and that’s how he was depicted here.

In three sentences, I count two references to the concept of “depiction,” and two more regarding about how the world (cognitively and visually) came to prefer a romanticized image of a President.  Also sandwiched in there is a parenthetical comment about the inaccuracy of that image, with the conclusion that people will tend to ignore factual discrepancies in favor of a more emotional and heroic impression.

As No More Apples points out, the White House and Bush are endlessly fond of referencing FDR.  That’s because Rove has always fancied his “Permanent Republican Majority” as the successor to (and dismantler of) The New Deal.  What stood out for me from Rove’s on-line tour, however, was the fact the person responsible for the design and naming of the current Roosevelt Room was Richard Nixon.  The way things are going, I’d say Tricky Dick serves as a better comparison to Bush than FDR TR.

OK, so Bush is talking to us and not to the painting.  Still, it’s getting harder to tell who tops who in paranoia.

[Editorial Note: Sorry, I don’t really know how FDR slipped in there….]

(image: Manuel Balce Ceneta/A.P. December 18, 2005. New York Times, p. A1)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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