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December 28, 2005-January 3, 2006

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George W. Bush Cartoon

Seal of the President

Of all the images of America the U.S. public saw in 2005, the one that stuck was a drawing of the president in a bubble. Here's why.

By Stett Holbrook

REMEMBER The Boy in the Plastic Bubble? The 1976 made-for-TV movie featured a young John Travolta as a teenager with a rare illness that confined him to a hermetically sealed chamber that insulated him from life-threatening germs. He yearned to experience the outside world but his condition would expose him to illness or even death if he ever stepped outside the walls of his translucent prison.

President Bush lives in a similar cocoon—or at least we discovered in 2005 that Americans believe that he does. And why shouldn't they? He goes about life in a carefully controlled environment where he's spoon-fed information from handlers Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld. Inside the bubble, he's sealed off from distasteful things like "opposing viewpoints," "real people" and "grieving parents of dead soldiers." And like the Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Bush's public appearances are as scripted as made-for-TV events held before hand-picked, sympathetic crowds on military bases and Republican strongholds.

Now, Newsweek magazine is not typically known for capturing the national zeitgeist, but they nailed it with a Dec. 16 cover depicting Bush haplessly floating in a bubble. The president then tried to deny that he lives in a bubble, which of course only cemented the image in the minds of the American public. It was a symbol of the Bush presidency whose time had come.

Of course, Bush's isolation is nothing new. It's just that now, after a particularly bad year, the 51 percent of the country that voted to re-elect him has finally gotten hip to the fact that their guy is criminally out of touch with reality. 2005 will go down as the year that America at large saw Bush for the isolated zealot that he really is.

What separates Bush from the original bubble boy, however, is that W likes it just fine in his insular little world. He doesn't want to leave. But when you've had a year like he has, can you blame him? Let's review.

  • In January, inspectors concluded Iraq had no WMDs and thus the ginned-up pretext for the war was exposed as bogus. That's OK, Bush said, the ruinous and costly war was still justified because, because ...we're promoting democracy.
  • Rather than address growing disaffection for the Iraq war and meet with a woman whose son died in Iraq, Bush ignored Cindy Sheehan this summer and hunkered down at his ranch, helping to inflame antiwar sentiment.
  • Bush's bumbling and slow response to Hurricane Katrina in August shoved Bush's already falling approval ratings irretrievably over the cliff. Meanwhile, the cronyism rampant in the Bush administration was laid bare by the incompetence of FEMA Director Michael "Brownie" Brown. Heckuva job, George.
  • In October, Bush nominated a nonjudge for the Supreme Court so supremely unqualified that even typically lockstep religious nuts broke ranks and sank his nomination of Harriet Miers.
  • With memories of Abu Ghraib still fresh and new reports of abuses at Guantanamo Bay and secret torture facilities around the world, Bush declared, "We do not torture," in November. Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney lobbied Congress to oppose an amendment that would prohibit torture. Smooth! The amendment ultimately passed with Bush's reluctant support.
  • Ending the year with a bang, Bush lashed out at the media for revealing he'd authorized illegal wiretaps of Americans, skirting a 1978 law enacted to curb the abuses of the paranoid Nixon administration. Bush scolded a skeptical nation for questioning his ability to police himself, making clear that he believes security and liberty are incompatible.
  • So Busy!

    Bush is so out of touch he's even unaware that people think he's out of touch. In an interview with NBC anchor Brian Williams earlier this month, Bush responded to the bubble charge.

    "No, I don't feel in a bubble," Bush said. "I feel like I'm getting really good advice from very capable people and that people from all walks of life have informed me and informed those who advise me ... I'm very aware of what's going on."

    Regarding the Newsweek cover that Williams held before him, Bush admitted it was the first time he'd seen it. (Remember, Bush doesn't read; in the bubble, aides provide tidy summaries of the stuff he needs to know. Sometimes, apparently, they even make neat DVDs of news clips as in the aftermath of Katrina to convince their boss that things were really bad on the Gulf Coast.)

    Bush babbled on about how if he were in a bubble, his mom would be the one to penetrate it.

    "I'll tell the guys at Newsweek," Williams replied archly.

    "Is that who put the bubble story?" Bush asked, already retreating from the laws of ordinary speech, back into bubbleland.

    Maybe it is safer for Bush in his bubble. But with three years until this national nightmare is over, what's going to keep us safe from him?

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