The Symbolism's Perfect, But Not The Bird
Published on Friday, December 5, 2003 by
The Symbolism's Perfect, But Not The Bird
by Glenn W. Smith

The widely circulated photograph of President Bush and the Thanksgiving turkey was faked. What Bush served -- or pretended to serve -- our troops in Iraq was a table centerpiece, not an edible turkey, the Washington Post reports.

This is almost too good for analysis. It's like John Barth's observation that some symbolic images are simply too loaded to use, for instance, a bird perched on a 'No Parking' Sign.

But Bush has served us so many phony turkeys it's impossible to resist the temptation to make this latest falsity a fairly clear symbol of everything Bush stands for. Weapons of Mass Destruction? Medicare reform? No Child Left Behind Education reform? Steel Tariffs? Compassionate Conservatism? Rugged Texas cowpoke president? Tax cuts for the middle class? Mission Accomplished?

All of it's so much inedible garbage. The image is real enough, but the substance is quite another kettle of turkey.

The amazing thing is how many people admire Bush and his handlers for their art. It's as though deception, employed skillfully enough, deserves applause. Thatšs what leadership is all about.

But wešre not dealing with a magician we know hasn't really made the elephant disappear from the stage or the turkey materialize before the eyes of our distant troops. Wešre dealing with a world leader who now has demanded and received the power to invade any country he wants upon his own whim.

As is often noted, the ability to deceive is greatly enhanced by the modern tools of politics. Itšs a fact of life that a President can instantly plant any image he wants into our living rooms and our memories. But what's more disturbing is our shrugging acceptance of these deceptions, especially when they are constructed so as to fit the narratives of our desires. We want a strong, compassionate, down-home kind of guy for president. Images that support the fantasy -- and in this case it is no more than fantasy -- have more power.

Al Gore was vilified for saying he'd invented the Internet. Of course, he hadn't said that. In this case, the lie was perpetrated by journalists who knew there was something about Gore they didn't like, and this would serve to point up his undefined shortcomings as well as any other example they could think of.

Luckily, our troops in Iraq were given real Thanksgiving dinners. They weren't forced to dine on the Bush deception that day. But aren't they dining everyday they spend overseas on more serious deceptions? Arenšt they there because Bush had already served our country and the world perfectly carved lies?

Ah, the presentation is superb. But we're stuck with that and only that. Therešs no real world of sustenance we can retreat to, like the troops' cafeteria line. The deficit grows, the rich grow richer, prescription drugs remain unaffordable, and our nation's schoolchildren sit abandoned by an un-funded and ill-considered public education reform effort thatšs designed to force public schools to fail.

It's up to us to reject the indigestible illusions and demand truth, which like food, water and oxygen is necessary for life to flourish. Then again, Bush has all but ended federal inspection of our foodstuffs and reversed or eliminated regulations aimed at protecting the quality of our air and water.

Hešs 0-for-4 on the life thing, but as long as the turkey looks good, we forget that we are hungry.

Glenn W. Smith is a consultant and writer in Austin, Texas. His new book, "The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction" will be published by John Wiley & Sons in July, 2004. Contact him at