My Pet Goat Redux
The Peach thought there was something distinctly odd about news accounts of the small plane that strayed into restricted airspace over Washington on Wednesday. The plane, which came within three miles of the White House, raised immediate fears of a potential terrorist strike and set off a wave of emergency actions by homeland security authorities that included scrambling military jets, evacuating thousands from government buildings and coming very close, according to accounts, to shooting the plane down. The situation was described by White House press secretary Scott McClellan as "a red alert."
What has the Peach scratching its fuzzy head in bewilderment, is the fact that apparently, the president -- who was at that moment enjoying a fitness-building bicycle ride at an off-site location -- was not informed of anything that was taking place until after the plane was safely on the ground; nearly an hour and a half after it was first picked up on FAA radar. According to McClellan, the president did not need to know because "he was never in any danger, and the protocols that were in place were followed."
Right, The Peach is thinking. Why tell the president that the vice president and indeed, his own wife, are in the process of being evacuated from the White House? He's not personally in any danger after all. Why let the commander in chief know that an American city -- the nation's capital, no less -- is possibly under airborne attack by terrorists? Why interrupt the leader of the free world's bike ride with the unpleasant news that authorities are taking the possibility of an attack so seriously that they are considering shooting a civilian plane down? After all, the plane isn't going to hit him, is it?
The more we thought about this, the more aghast we became. Shades of My Pet Goat, after all. We could just imagine Bush, with that placid, dumb face, tootling doofishly along on his bike, ignorant and blissful as his countrymen are about to become a smoking pile of collateral damage. And after we read the transcript of McClellan's press conference on the topic, we were not sure if we should chortle along with the rest of the revelers over at Daily Kos, or simply admit that we are living in some sort of surreal movie where cynical and unconvincing PR-speak is allowed to pass uncontested for the truth.
Heartening was the fact that for once in recent memory, the SCLM attempted to hold the administration's feet to the fire on this one. John Roberts of CBS News found it "extraordinary" that the president was not informed of the situation, and in the press conference, we hear reporters pressing McClellan for a complete explanation. In reply, he uses the word "protocol" literally dozens of times, and harps on the fact that there was no imminent threat to the president's personal safety, apparently not realizing that most Americans expect their safety to be the top priority under these circumstances. As another reporter so aptly put it, "Scott, I think there is a disconnect here."
Also emerging from press conference exchanges is the fact that the evacuation, for which the government immediatly gave itself a public A+, may not have gone so well after all. And the White House may have also lied about how close the small plane got to it.
It would be nice to think that McClellan's shallow and inept defense could not possibly snow anyone. But we live in a world where our president makes speeches in which he sounds like a complete idiot, incapable of stringing a coherent sentence together, substituting lame PR-machine catchphrases for real thoughts, and 59 million of our fellow countrymen say, "I love the guy. Look how real and authentic he is." For that reason, the Peach is not that optimistic that this incident will become any kind of nail in the coffin of Republican one-party rule. But we are keeping our fuzzy fingers crossed anyway.