Wednesday 12th October 2005
By Peter Fredson
October 11, 2005
We are all familiar with the Bush Cabinet trade-mark facial expressions: Bush’s preppy smirk, Cheney’s sneer, Condi Rice’s scowl and Rumsfeld’s dead-pan way of spouting horrible news. Most people want to know why Bush smirks in his self-satisfied way when he has just done something atrocious. It is a trade-mark smirk, identifying Bush.
For instance, when he appointed John Bolton as America’s diplomatic representative to the U.N., a totally repugnant choice, Bush smirked his little smirk. When he does something rather stupid, but doesn’t realize it is stupid, he smirks. When he thinks he has pulled something over on the public or reporters, he smirks.
Bush shows up for interviews without proper preparation, clueless, stammers, utters malapropos, gets off some zinger, and then smirks as though he has solved some problem. When he screws up, and others must clean up his mess, he smirks. When he issues what he thinks is a clever retort, he smirks.
According to The New Yorker’s Joe Klein, Bush: “will squinny his eyes, raise his chin, lift an eyebrow, and curl his lip slightly--his face seems to be involved in a somewhat painful, quasi-involuntary struggle to prevent itself from erupting into a broad, self-satisfied smile. This facial skirmish is often accompanied by a slight forward bend at the waist and a what-me-worry? shrug, and they often occur after the Governor has delivered a line particularly well, or thinks he has.”
Republican friends worry that his smirk may be mistaken for arrogance, not charm. His father had the same quirk, but not as pronounced and both smirked slightly when relieved that they finish a press interview without embarrassment. They may disguise arrogance behind the smirk. Some people think the smirk is a forced smile, or a slight expression of disgust or relief at getting past some hurdle. It may be a way of hiding some other emotion, a sort of falsification or mask of true emotion.
People who think the Bush smirk reflects confidence ask why he feels confident when he is failing to protect and lead his nation. They say “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Some commentators suggest that Bush does not comprehend his lack of understanding his own failures or incompetence.
That is, he doesn’t even realize he is doing a terrible job. People ask: Why does Bush keep smirking while he is sending more people to their deaths. Why did he give a little smirk when visiting the Twin Towers rubble after hugging the firemen.
Chris Matthews on Hardball had several comments on the Bush smirk: "He’s had that smirk and that attitude that it’s all given to him because he got-he had the right daddy and mommy." ("Hardball with Chris Matthews," CNBC, February 15, 2000)
"You know, that . . . is George W. Bush. You like him or leave him. I mean, here’s a guy who has a smirk. He basically is looking down his nose at this wacky goo-goo, this League of Women Voters type he thought was bringing up all this concern about the little people, and he doesn’t have any time for her. She’s some lib-lab. Isn’t that what he’s saying with that smirk? I thought it was." ("Hardball with Chris Matthews," CNBC, January 11, 2000)
"Okay, what about the smirk? Is it a smirk, or is it just a facial expression? Is it . . . an attitude of condescension or an attitude of nothing? . . . . I think what people mean by that is . . . obvious public self-satisfaction in your response to the point of, ’I’m better than you’." ("Hardball with Chris Matthews," CNBC, December 14, 19
Bush often smirks when he talks about his war on terror, trying to explain what happened to all those Weapons of Mass Destruction, how EVIL Saddam was, and how he brought Democracy and Freedom to Iraq. Every time he comes up with a new lie, he smirks. And because his religious base has bought his lies, (lock, stock and barrel,) he smirks. The Bush smirk may be giving the back of his hand to those who don’t buy his lies
He smirked when he landed on an aircraft carried in full flight suit and codpiece and declared MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. He smirked when he gave Millennium Corporation control of all the oil in Iraq. He smirked when he appointed a regent to rule Iraq and then declared that sovereignty was established.
He smirked when his huge tax cuts for the rich were passed. He smirked when he removed many environmental restriction corporate polluters and exploiters, and renamed his programs Clean Air, Clean Water, etc. He sometimes has the classic smirk of a used car salesman that just unloaded a car that had been on the lot too long. Bush smirks when he is feeling pleased about himself.
The Wall Street Journal mentioned that Bush “froze in a grin as a counselor at a Christian pregnancy center told the sad tale of her secret abortion. Earlier, Tucker Carlson of Talk magazine described the smirk Bush wore as he mimicked convicted murderer turned Christian Karla Faye Tucker begging, "Please don’t kill me," Bush displays little capacity for feeling empathy and compassion towards human suffering so he gives a smirk of derision.
Bush’s smirk is the opposite of the deer-in-the-headlight look that characterized Bush in his early Presidential campaign as he exposed his ignorance of world affairs. And yet he was able to smirk because his handlers kept reassuring him that “it’s all been arranged. You’re going to be President.”
He often smirks through his foreign policy speeches, after he praises himself. He often smirks when he spouts some religious balderdash. Bush smirks when reporters try to box him in, and he evades their questions. Bush smirks when he is being self-deprecating. He frequently smirked when debating with Al Gore. Bush sometimes smirks inappropriately on discussing serious matters., Over the course of the debates, the President’s body language was inappropriate when faced with harsh criticism from Kerry or tough questions from moderators or town-hall meeting participants.
Mark Crispin Miller, author of The Bush Dyslexicon says he found in studying Bush’s habits of language that “under the surface of the funny, backslapping, glad-handing, nicknaming, cheerleading guy, who is somewhat goofy and not particularly cerebral, there is another much darker, more determined, cagier personality lurking. It is the right side of the face where you can see a flicker of the soul of Nixon.”
"When there was serious subject matter, he would [occasionally] flash an inappropriate smile. He’d show fear on his face," says Hill. "His eyebrows go up and he gets ’bug eyes’ -- his eyes go wide for a moment." When challenged, Bush often lapsed into an upside-down smile, which, Hill says, reflects "a combination of anger, disgust, and sadness."
Hill states that there were “social smiles, combined with a smirk....which created the impression that Bush was saying ‘this job is starting to get to me’” "He showed an upside-down smile connoting anger mixed with sadness," says Hill. "At the end of his answer, his mouth hung open, signaling a mix of fear and surprise, meaning, ’I hope you will buy that answer.’"
The smirk could be a nervous tick or could be construed as whining because he has an underdeveloped capacity for empathy. When dealing with events that aren’t going well Bush stammers, nervously smiles, and gives dry laughs. He tries to minimize any bad news and often appears insincere or shallow when reciting scripted bits for interviews. Sometimes Bush smirks at the TV camera as if daring it to decipher one of his deceptive bits.
Bush characterized condemned murderer Karla Faye Tucker’s plea on Larry King not long before she was executed by the State of Texas: "’Please,’ Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, ’don’t kill me.’" Bush often smirks about his religious beliefs and when shrugging off evidence of corruption or incompetence he smirks.
After Bush’s failure to respond to Katrina, with the great outcry of incompetence, the legendary Bush smirk seemed to be disappear, as did his confidence. When Bush announced he was appointing John Roberts to the Supreme Court, he smirked constantly. When he met with the Roberts family he smiled at the antics of Robert’s son, a relief from smirking.
Bush smirked when he appointed John Bolton as diplomat to the United Nations. Good sarcasm really brought out his smirking, a smile of derision or scorn for critics whom he has just bested.
“When asked if he thought Harriet Miers was the best qualified person for the open seat on the Supreme Court of the United States, President Bush, smirking from ear to ear, said "Yes, otherwise I would not have put her on." She’s the perfect candidate for Bush: friendly, obedient, and with no actual legal ideas of her own. Bush appointing his own lawyer, a confidant, almost a sycophant, as a judge over his future actions is a very good reason to smirk.
The President recently had the idea of using military troops to quarantine cities in the event of a pandemic of avian flu. That means martial law and mighty presidential power. Smirk.
Bush made a war speech about Iraq saying he would stay the course, and he called for sacrifice. He asked the public to trust him. Smirk.
So when Bush is feeling pleased with himself, he smirks. When he thinks he has pulled the wool over the public eye he smirks. Reporters frequently mention his smirk, and Michael Moore made a movie based on it.
After Bush failures in Katrina, he made many photo-op trips to New Orleans, pressing flesh, hugging people, taking pains to look serious, and then he got back his confidence and let Millennium Corporation reconstruct New Orleans. The smirk then showed that whatever Bush did, despite all the corruption and incompetence, his religious base stuck with him and the rest of the country could go suck eggs. He knew he had weathered the storm, was still President, and his Republican Congress would not impeach him. Corruption, incompetence, and religious tampering with the constitution does not affect his base.
His smirk may be construed as being playful, trying to break the ice, self-deprecation. Once former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers asked, "What do the poll numbers say?" The famous Bush smirk came out as he said: "In this White House, Dee Dee, we don’t poll on something as important as national security." Again, when discussing the estate tax before an audience, Bush smirked and said, “Be sure to tell your senators.”
Here are some blogger’s comments on the Bush smirk:
“Nobody who realizes they have to fight to keep up with the everyday knowledge of the world will ever do a permasmirk.”
“I have wondered if Bush had a slight stroke and this is the way he keeps the left side of his face from wilting.”
“You don’t even have to see him to know he’s smirking. I won’t listen to or look at him because I can hear the smirk, never mind seeing it. Blech.”
“Bush has the same smirk that a half-drunk frat boy gets when his brothers arrange for him to get laid.”
“The constipated look.. Hmm, I’ve seen Bush give that look, perhaps I can find a study about people who do their best thinking while sitting on the toilet. (Not that in Bush’s case it would be GOOD thinking, but the best he can do perhaps.)
“It’s that same half-smug, arrogant, slightly disbelieving look OJ Simpson had for a moment when he pretended to struggle with the leather glove and realized, "Holy shit, they’re buying this."
“So far I’ve only seen three expressions from him: the smirk, the faux "tough guy" scowl (this from an AWOL "warrior" and a "cowboy" who’s a-skeered of horses, so how could it be anything else except fake?), and the bemused "what the fuck is he talking about, and where’s my Game Boy?" look. With variants on the above. I can’t wait to see the fourth -- total shocked disbelief -- as he’s hauled away in shackles.”
“I think the constipated look is supposed to be concerned/compassion, or perhaps "thinkin’ hard" -- but it looks like straining on the crapper.”
“I watched Bush smirk on the BBC documentary and I think he is laughing that he as president can get away with such whoppers, and that most people believe him. This feeds his delusions of grandeur, and makes him smirk even more. It is and expression of utter contempt and "see me, I’m presnit now, sucker, (or a**hole)". This is alright for a stand up comedy routine, making a parody of (fill in the blank), but a total desecration of the oath of office, and shirking of responsibility (another reason for the smirk)”
"See, I’ve gotten away with all this before, loser, and so I know what I’m (not) doing".
“There’s something disconcerting about a "man" who smirks when he talks about killing and bombing and suffering and misery and probably when he talks about frogs, firecrackers, and cats with the likes of Bill Frist.”
"There was this expression that’s one of his favorites. It’s that hand-in-the-cookie-jar, love-me-Mommy-because-I’m-a-rascal look. It’s A.U. twelve, fifteen, seventeen, and twenty-four, with an eye roll."
“I’m still amazed that they haven’t done anything about Bush’s smirk; the way that his proclamations on war and corporate responsibility are completely undercut by the dull grin of schoolboy who thinks he’s getting away with something.”
“There’s an odd expressional theory that one half of your face represents your constructed social personality, and the other shows your inner self. The Smirk of Bush becomes even more weird and sinister when you cut his head in half.”
“He’ll say something, then look across the audience, with a curled half smile on the right side of his face. If I were his political handler, I would train him not to do that. It reads as ’smartass’ to me.”
I feel like most of the top dogs in this regime are laughing at us all. They spout ridiculous lies and sort of chuckle, thinking - I can’t believe I’m getting away with this! Smirk”
“Yes Construction jobs. Of course, he made sure that those jobs could pay as little as possible... Smirk”
When Bush creates his own fantasy without recourse to facts or evidence he smirks. When Bush quotes ancient religious authority to support his attacks on the constitution he smirks. When Bush passes tax cuts for the rich he smirks.
When Bush denies that he is thinking of invading Iran or Syria he smirks. When Bush has a scheme to rob the poor and give to the rich he smirks.
When Bush is going to attack the environment, to give his corporate friends the ability to pollute and degrade the planet, he smirks. When he talks about making good progress in Iraq, but insurrection is spreading, he smirks.
When Bush talks about “going on with his life” rather than address national problems, he smirks. When Bush reminisced about getting drunk in New Orleans, when dead people were still lying in the streets, he smirks. When he talks of inflicting pain, punishment, destruction and death on Iraq, he smirks.
When he mentions terrorists are about to attack our subways, based on fake reports from some loony informant, he smirks, when he establishes a commission of inquiry and appoints himself its head, he smirks.
When Bush cronies openly steal money from the government for services in Iraq, and then openly steal here at home, Bush smirks. When Bush was asked to fire Karl Rove for outing a CIA agent but instead he appointed Rove to reconstruct New Orleans he smirked mightily.
When Bush sent Vice-president Cheney to the ravaged Gulf coast to assess recovery operations, and remove “any bureaucratic obstacles that may be preventing us from achieving our goals” his smirk nearly paralyzed his jaw.
Some people connect Bush smirking with unseemly hubris, excessive pride or arrogance, immense ambition, shamelessness, effrontery, hutzpah which indicates immense egotism. In Greek tragedy this would lead to the downfall of some hero whose reach exceeded his grasp and was punished by some Olympian God. This character flaw shows his inability to relate to others needs, and in turn lets him treat with contempt those he sees as inferior.
So far I have indicated some of the circumstances where Bush smirks, and indicated some of the possible reasons behind the smirks. But in the past few days I have seen reports that Bush gets his advice straight from the Supreme Creator of the Universe.
Evidently the Jewish Christian Bible Old Testament God told George Bush to invade Iraq and George Bush obeyed. This is tremendously alarming as Bush does not heed counsel, the Constitution, any legalities in favor of the Divine Voice.
This makes Bush the most sanctimonious President in history, ready to substitute his Biblical beliefs for legal opinion at any time without warning. He listens to the Bible thumpers.
If his God says Bush should spread Shock and Awe and kill thousands of Muslims, then so be it. As for the 2,000 American troops dead, well, God did it. Whatever God wants, Bush will give.
So when Bush smirks, it may be because God has spoken with him and Bush knows that despite all obstacles God’s Will be done. And if God wants us to invade any country, then so be it.
At any rate, the coming apocalypse, the End times, will destroy this petty world anyway, and it is important to obey God’s word if one is to be among the chosen few to ascend to the golden streets of their Heaven. That is the only issue worth considering.
Then I remembered a book I read many years ago
John Dewey’s The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action a series of Gifford Lectures were delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 1929. Dewey says that rigid doctrine or dogma can be a response to the quest for certainty. Bush in his born-again confusion needs certainty, and he thinks he has found it when he hears the voice of his God. As Dewey says: “After a while, though, the liberation itself is experienced as a burden, precisely because of the aforementioned yearning for certainty. At that point the allegedly liberated individuals become susceptible to any offer of renewed certainty. This susceptibility leads to a potential for conversion to any doctrine that comes along with an absolute claim to truth. The convert now embraces a pose of unshakable certainty. Not to put too fine a point to it, he becomes a fanatic.”
Bush believes that regardless of circumstances the outcome is predetermined, so he can proceed with unshakeable faith. To make a point of it “to stay the course” even though it seems to be failing will nevertheless succeed in the end. This is fundamentalist truth.
This explains why Bush can smirk. He knows the outcome and can scoff at critics and demean people of little faith. He has contempt for any other view, because he is absolutely right. He will be saved while the world around him crashes.