SIX YEARS into the Bush administration, are there any new depths to which the Bush-haters can sink?
George W. Bush has been smeared by the left with every insult imaginable. He has been called a segregationist who yearns to revive Jim Crow and compared ad nauseam to Adolf Hitler. His detractors have accused him of being financially entwined with Osama bin Laden. Of presiding over an American gulag. Of being a latter-day Mussolini. Howard Dean has proffered the "interesting theory" that the Saudis tipped off Bush in advance about 9/11. One US senator (Ted Kennedy) has called the war in Iraq a "fraud" that Bush "cooked up in Texas" for political gain; another (Vermont independent James Jeffords) has charged him with planning a war in Iran as a strategy to put his brother in the White House. Cindy Sheehan has called him a "lying bastard," a "filth spewer," an "evil maniac," a "fuehrer," and a "terrorist" guilty of "blatant genocide" -- and been rewarded for her invective with oceans of media attention.
What's left for them to say about Bush? That they want him killed?
They already say it.
On Air America Radio, talk show host Randi Rhodes recommended doing to Bush what Michael Corleone, in "The Godfather, Part II," does to his brother. "Like Fredo," she said, "somebody ought to take him out fishing and phuw!" -- then she imitated the sound of a gunshot. In the Guardian, a leading British daily, columnist Charlie Brooker issued a plea: "John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. -- where are you now that we need you?"
For the more literary Bush-hater, there is "Checkpoint," a novel by Nicholson Baker in which two characters discuss the wisdom of shooting the 43rd president. "I'm going to kill that bastard," one character fumes. Some Bush-hatred masquerades as art: At Chicago's Columbia College, a curated exhibit included a sheet of mock postage stamps bearing the words "Patriot Act" and depicting President Bush with a gun to his head. There are even Bush-assassination fashion statements, such as the "KILL BUSH" T-shirts that were on offer last year at CafePress, an online retailer.
Lurid political libels have a long history in American life. The lies told about John Adams in the campaign of 1800 were vile enough, his wife Abigail lamented, "to ruin and corrupt the minds and morals of the best people in the world." But has there ever been a president so hated by his enemies that they lusted openly for his death? Or tried to gratify that lust with such political pornography?
As with other kinds of porn, even the most graphic expressions of Bush-hatred tend to jade those who gorge on it, so that they crave ever more explicit material to achieve the same effect.
Which brings us to "Death of a President," a new movie about the assassination of George W. Bush.
Written and directed by British filmmaker Gabriel Range, the movie premieres this week at the Toronto Film Festival and will air next month on Britain's Channel 4. Shot in the style of a documentary, it opens with what looks like actual footage of Bush being gunned down by a sniper as he leaves a Chicago hotel in October 2007. Through the use of digital special effects, the film superimposes the president's face onto the body of the actor playing him, so that the mortally wounded man collapsing on the screen will seem, all too vividly, to be Bush himself.
The assassination scene from "Death of a President"
This is Bush-hatred as a snuff film. The fantasies it feeds are grotesque and obscene; to pander to such fantasies is to rip at boundary-markers that are indispensable to civilized society. That such a movie could not only be made but lionized at an international film festival is a mark not of sophistication, but of a sickness in modern life that should alarm conservatives and liberals alike.
Naturally that's not how the film's promoters see it. Noah Cowan, one of the Toronto festival's co-directors, high-mindedly describes "Death of a President" as "a classic cautionary tale." Well, yes, he says, Bush's assassination is "harrowing," but what the film is really about is "how the Patriot Act, especially, and how Bush's divisive partisanship and race-baiting has forever altered America."
I can't help wondering, though, whether some of those who see this film will take away rather a different message. John Hinckley, in his derangement, had the idea that shooting the president was the way to impress a movie star. After seeing "Death of a President," the next Hinckley may be taken with a more grandiose idea: that shooting the president is the way to become a movie star.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)
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