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August 12, 2005
Bush's $2 Million Barbecue

Remember that "regular guy" poll from last year that found that "voters would rather flip burgers and drink beer at a backyard barbecue with President Bush than Sen. John Kerry"?

The poll made perfect sense, of course -- who wouldn't like to get drunk with a teetoler whose wife made him quit drinking decades ago? That'd be a lot of fun.

Until today, however, I never noticed any opportunities for regular guys to make their Bush barbecue dreams a reality. The Associated Press reports:

He arrived before noon, local time, at a neighbor's ranch for a barbecue where he was expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee, said RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

Some 230 people attended the fund-raiser at Stan and Kathy Hickey's Broken Spoke Ranch, a 478-acre spread next to Bush's ranch. All have contributed at least $25,000 to the RNC, and many are "rangers," an honorary campaign title bestowed on those who raised $200,000 or more for Bush, or "pioneers," those who have raised $100,000 or more.

Good to see that pesky elitist Cindy Sheehan isn't completely spoiling Dubya's vacation plans to "shed the coat and tie and meet with folks out in the heartland and hear what's on their minds."

Posted by Greg Beato at 12:24 PM
First Camp Casey Celebrity Sighting

Yesterday, Viggo Mortensen visited Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, TX:

San Francisco Chronicle: "Among the supporters was actor Viggo Mortensen, co-star of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. He spent a few moments privately with Sheehan, thanking her for her protest.

Mortensen, a longtime activist and one of the first actors to wear an anti-war T-shirt on national television, gave Sheehan a raft of gifts: a handful of "No Blood for Oil" T-shirts he had painted; a copy of George Orwell's "Animal Farm"; a book by author and activist Howard Zinn; and "Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation," a book co-written by Jodie Evans, who is a top organizer with Sheehan's vigil."

Granted, Mortensen is no Sean Penn, but he did appear in Penn's excellent directorial debut, The Indian Runner. And he's certainly had a lot more box office success than Penn over the last half decade. Also: Orwell, Zinn, first actor to wear an anti-war T-shirt on national television? Plus this great visual of Mortensen kissing Sheehan's hand like she's the Queen of Anti-America?

How come Bill O'Reilly hasn't accused him of treason yet?

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:53 AM
August 11, 2005
Ride 'Em, Cowboy!

At the White House Correspondents Dinner last April, Laura Bush lampooned her husband's efforts to milk a male horse at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Never before had same-sex bestiality jokes seemed so homey and demure, but as the news media marvelled at the First Lady's way with a raunchy punchline, one aspect of the gag went completely overlooked: Do they even have horses at the Western White House? You've seen photos of Dubya in his cowboy hat, petting his trusty pickup truck or liberating oak trees from cedar insurgents, but have you ever seen him saddled up on an actual stallion? Or even within ten yards of one, much less milking distance?

At Crawford, the real milking action involves squeezing every last drop from the notion that the aristocratic Bush, who looks so at ease in a well-tailored suit, clutching his fussy Scotch Terrier to his breast, is at heart, a man of the dirt and bramble. Every August, he's drop-shipped into Dubyaland to sweat authentically in the hot Texas sun, and like the 5000 largemouth bass that inhabit his fake lake there, the press are always quick to bite.

"He attacks the cedar with gusto, felling the dense trees by chain saw and chopping them up," the Associated Press noted in August 2002. "The president of the United States was utterly unconcerned about his own safety as he edged toward the precipice of a rocky 90-foot cliff," the LA Times gushed in 2003. The reason for such breathless prose? "Despite the morning chill, Bush set a [hiking] pace that in no time had most of the reporters panting."

Wait -- is this the same guy who was nearly assassinated by a pretzel?

Bush and his aides insist that the images of masculine competence that emanate from his hobby ranch are just a happy byproduct of the time he spends there. The real reason for his Crawford sojourns? "I love my job, but I'll always remember where home is," Bush told a crowd of Crawford locals in 2001, shortly after his first inauguration. "I'm going to come back as often as I possibly can for a lot of reasons and one is I want to stay in touch with real Americans."

In 2001, that sentiment was just mildly amusing: Bush had only owned his ranch for a year and half at that point, yet he spoke as if it'd been in the family for generations. Four years later, with grieving war mom Cindy Sheehan camped outside the president's hideaway, determined to obtain an audience with him, that sentiment is faintly obscene.

And yet the Bushies still invoke it. "Spending time outside Washington gives the president a fresh perspective of what's on the minds of the American people," press secretary Scott McClellan exclaimed earlier this month. "It's a time, really, for him to shed the coat and tie and meet with folks out in the heartland and hear what's on their minds."

If Bush's ranch were actually accessible to the American people and their minds, that might occasionally happen. But apparently there's no need for Minutemen volunteers in Crawford, Texas. Signs on the road leading to the President's ultra-exclusive compound read "No stopping. No standing. No parking." Secret Service agents patrol the perimeter, keeping the American people safely at bay. (American deer, on the other hand, are sometimes allowed to penetrate the enclave.)

Cindy Sheehan recognized how much territory there was to occupy between the President's rhetoric and reality, and now, she's exploiting that; the longer Bush refuses to meet with her, the more her power grows. Indeed, the Bushies could eliminate the let-them-eat-cake frisson that is the source of her story's media appeal with a simple half-hour summit. Afterwards, Sheehan would still be grieving and dissatisfied, but what could she do? Camp out on the side of the road for a few more days and demand another meeting? Ignored, she's unimpeachably brave and principled. Access would only tarnish her righteousness.

But while Bush and his advisors must obviously understand this, they're choosing to ignore her. Why? When Hollywood celebrities stopped protesting the war so emphatically, the neocons lost one of their greatest assets for promoting our adventures in Iraq. Cindy Sheehan is no Dixie Chicks, alas, but at least she's a start. The more followers her vigil attracts, the bigger the backlash: One photo of Sean Penn standing in solidarity with Sheehan would do more to burnish the president's image amongst his supporters than a hundred photos of him beating up cedar trees, or dodging enemy gravel on his Trek Fuel 98, or communing with his favorite pile of real American rocks. And, thus, it's unlikely Sheehan will be getting her audience with the president any time soon. While America's Cowboy-in-Chief may be congenitally indisposed toward horses, he loves to ride scapegoats as far as they can take him.

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:58 AM