Neo-Confederates’ Last Laugh
It’s no joke: President Bush has a new Iraq War adviser.
“Stay the Course” Yields to “Get-R-Done”
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, October 25, 2006
“Stay the course.” A phrase with a long and exasperating history. It has value as a navigational tool—if you’re captain of a ship or piloting a plane. It has zero value as a rhetorical tool except as a cliché designed to numb questions and expectations, to project a resoluteness that the phrase itself puts in doubt, projecting instead an element of trouble: there’d be no need to worry about “staying the course: if there wasn’t something worrisome ahead. The phrase has naturally been the Bush family motto since around the time of Prescott Bush because trouble has been following the Bushes like a shadow. Imagine Barbara Bush exhorting Poppy George in those pre-Viagra days, as she must have: “Stay the course George, Stay the Course!” Speaking of ensuing disasters: W, Jeb, Neil, and sooner or later, Marvin.
The first George Bush birthed the phrase anew. The second Bush has been using it compulsively. Even Jeb Bush used it, of all times, when defending his colorless university admission policies in Florida universities (“ We’re going to stay the course on race-neutral admissions and expand our programs to reach all Florida students who yearn for higher education,” he said in 2002.) The phrase is a barometer of the proverbial effluents hitting the fan. The latest Bush, the Bush to end all Bushes (that we should be so lucky) has supposedly been distancing himself from the phrase, but only to replace it with another, even more pernicious one. I’ll get to that one in a moment. First, an unfond look back, for the record.
President Bush, October 27, 2003 news conference: “It’s in the national interest of the United States that a peaceful Iraq emerge. And we will stay the course in order to achieve this objective.” Dec. 15, 2003 news conference: “We will stay the course until the job is done, Steve. And the temptation is to try to get the President or somebody to put a timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We’re just going to stay the course…. I’ve told that to the Iraqi citizens with whom I have met on a regular basis.” April 5, 2004, remarks with reporters: “I just met with Specialist Chris Hill’s family from North Carolina. You know, I told the family how much we appreciated his sacrifice—he was killed in Iraq—and assured him that we would stay the course...” Formal message, April 6, 2004: “We will stay the course. The Iraqi people don’t have to fear taking the risk toward freedom and democracy because America won’t turn and run.” April 13, 2004 news conference: “And, yet, we must stay the course, because the end result is in our nation’s interest.” At the Utah Air National Guard, August 30, 2006: “We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed, and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21 st century.” There’s plenty more where all that came from. Just go to whitehouse.gov, enter “stay the course” in the search function, and out come gobs of results.
Poppy Bush used the phrase repeatedly during his run-up to the Gulf War: “There can be no pause now that Saddam has forced the world into war,” he told the Reserve Officer Association on January 23, 1991. “We will stay the course, and we will succeed—all the way.” The phrase had such a storied history in Poppy’s phraseology, going back to his campaign days in 1988 against Dukakis, that Dana Carvey made fun of it in one of Saturday Night Live’s mock debates: Carvey, playing Bush: “ Well, let me just sum up. On track, stay the course, a thousand points of light. Stay the course.” “Governor Dukakis, rebuttal?” Jon Lovitz, playing Dukakis: “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”
Now it’s over. Staying the course is being replaced by a new catch-phrase: “Get the job done.” It’s another meaningless phrase. Get what job done? The administration hasn’t been capable of building bathrooms properly in Iraq, or guarding inmates without terrorizing them, or even letting the oil flow home to SUVs (Iraqi oil production is still relatively moribund, and there's no telling how much Halliburton's KRB has replaced Saddam's skimming-of-the-top scheme a-la-oil-for-food, or in this case, oil-for-dividends). The administration isn't about to get any “job” done. But that’s not the significance of the phrase. The significance is in the phrase’s origin—in its revelation of who, and from where, the Bush junta is now slurping inspiration for its foreign policy: Larry the Cable Guy, whose famous come-on and all-purpose punch-line is the unfortunate “Git-R-Done.” If you want to understand the hollowness and proud idiocy at the heart of Bush’s core, you have to understand Larry the Cable Guy.
Larry the Cable is to Southern backwardness what Stephen Colbert is to Bill O’Reilly and Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat is to Kazakhstan, with this difference: Colbert and Cohen use their send-ups to devastate the bigotries they characters satirize. Larry the Cable Guy, with a touch of the bully about his Holstein frame, revels in the bigotries, the anti-intellectualism, the homophobia, the joy of stupidity and simple-mindedness, the pretend piety. His American audiences have made him a top-rated comedian because they hear in his act an echo of their own bitterness over things liberal, “PC” and any un-white, un-Christian plurality that dares speak its name. He’s that other kind of neo-Con, the kind that pre-dated the foreign policy, conquer-the-world neocons and will outlast them: he’s a neo-Confederate.
He can be hellishly funny: “I just wrote a Nascar joke about the Viagra car being the only car with windshield wipers on the inside.” And honest: “I consider my jokes to be very jeuvinille [sic.]. Stuff a 14 year old would laugh at because thats [sic.] the sence [sic.] of humor I have.” And proove it: “They were great parents and the only blemish was when my dad beat me after reading my 7 th-grade pamphlet Boogers Are Good Eatin’.” He’ll make you laugh in spite of yourself (if you’re honest with yourself). But succumbing to vile humor isn’t that much different form succumbing to a mild form of perversion—the helpless staring at someone’s deformities, at a wreck, at another’s misfortune. That he’s compelling doesn’t diminish the vileness of his get-up. His success is of a period that’s as obvious as his fake southern accent (he’s Nebraskan) and fake blue-collar personality: His success depends on the reactionary mood of the country, which makes Larry the Cable Guy is the comic-relief embodiment of two other American phenomena of this early century: Dr. Phil and, of course, George Bush.
You can picture either of them sitting on their bully whips after a day’s shoving and lording, and watching Larry the Cable Guy skewer tree-huggers, gun haters, “retards,” Arabs (“Let me ask some of these commie rag head carpet flying wicker basket on the head balancing scumbags something!”), Muslims (“The Republicans had a muslim give the opening prayer at there [sic.] convention! What the hell’s going on around here! Is Muslim now the official religion of the United States!.First these peckerheads ( Ironically, “peckerhead” was a derogatory word slaves and their offspring used to describe white people) fly planes into towers and now theys [sic.] prayin’ before conventions! People say not all of em did that and I say who gives a rats fat ass! That’s a fricken slap in the face to New York city by having some muslim sum-bitch give the invocation at the republican convention!”) And then his famous line, which sends his audiences into orgasmic squeals: “Get-r-done.” You can picture President Bush, too, watching his “television set” with Laura and probably Barbara, squealing along every time Larry rips another one (he’s into fart jokes, too).
You can picture the president summoning his chief of staff, or the butler, and telling him in full earnest: “I know just how to get the American people on my side.” Sure enough. By making Larry the Cable Guy an honorary member of his cabinet, as if he hasn't been already. And a phrase is born-again.