Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Work Song
There can’t be too many points on which RuPaul and President Bush agree but our President’s obsession with hard work is uncannily close to “You better work,” RuPaul’s admonition in his hit, “Supermodel.” A musical expression of our president’s obsession is “Hard Work,” Harry Shearer’s brilliant and hilarious remix of soundbites from the 2004 presidential debates — more than 20, according to one source — with a smooth jazz groove. And who could forget the compliment to former FEMA head Michael Brown: “Heck of a job, Brownie.”
Darned if he isn't at it again. We learn from news reports from Katrina—The Anniversary Tour that President Bush is out there working hard and praising those who are hard at work. In her Wednesday, August 30, New York Times column, Maureen Dowd reported that Bush told a crowd at a high school in New Orleans, “I’ve been on the levees. I’ve seen these good folks working.” He amplified that observation in the speech he gave in New Orleans on the anniversary of Katrina’s Landfall, saying, “The Army [Corp of Engineers] has been working nonstop — and I mean nonstop — to repair the damage and make 350 miles of the system stronger. … They’re extensive. They require a lot of work, including rebuilding I-walls with T-walls. That strengthens the foundations of levees.” I’m sure we’re all glad to have that cleared up.
It’s a real concern of his, that people work hard, because if they’re working hard then progress is being made. Or something. It also establishes their bona fides, because if they weren’t serious, good people, they wouldn’t be working hard. They’d be slacking off, goldbricking, and generally goofing around. Lost in this chain of reasoning is that it is possible to work hard and get nowhere, work hard and reach a dead end, work hard and fail miserably. Even evildoers work hard, after all.
Did Bush work hard at Harken Energy, or later as a shareholder of the Texas Rangers franchise? As governor? Maybe he did. Maybe that’s where he learned the value of hard work. But it sounds more like something he reaches for when he has nothing else to say, something to accompany a slap on the back or a shoulder punch, a good-ol’-boyism he picked up in Midland. What puzzles me is how his advisers can have such a set of tin ears that they don’t hear that this meaningless verbiage is evidence of a mouth stuck in fifth gear while the mind spins helplessly in neutral.
It’s great that our President read Camus’ The Stranger on his vacation, but when he latches onto the Hard Work mantra he seems a lot more like the one of crowd described in the Texas saying “You buy ’em books and buy ’em books, and they just chew on the covers.”

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