Monday, August 22, 2005

Image Guru Takes on Burning Bush

"There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept." Ansel Adams

Does the name Karen Hughes ring a bell? If you're a Right Wingnut, I bet it does, and that you're already salivating. For the rest of us, it should be setting off serious alarm bells: Republican Spin Alert! Obfuscation Warning! Beware of Rhetoric. Objectivity is Lamer Than It Appears.

It was Hughes, I'm also betting, who had a hand in the new Bush terrorism slogan last month. Because it was definitely Hughes--for those who thought it sprang full born from the head of an elephant--who came up with the "Compassionate Conservative" image for a president who is anything but. She's been the Bush Be-More-Moderate Message Maven and now she's got a new mandate.

Karen Hughes is a former Texas newspaper reporter, current spin expert and unlikely longtime confidante of George W. Bush, since his days as Texas governor. Why unlikely? Quick, besides Condoleezza Rice, name even one powerful woman in the Bush--or any other--Conservative Republican administration. Okay, speechwriter Peggy Noonan, but she was a behind-the-scenes phrasemeister, not a real power broker crafting or hiring those to massage Bush Senior's message.

Hughes, on the other hand, played a major role in George W's election campaigns and as a senior advisor in the Bush White House. She hired and supervised top Bush media guns Mark McKinnon and Ari Fleischer to set the course for Bush Mania. Hughes resigned in 2002, over the president's strong objections, to spend more time with her family. (Yet another piece of hypocrisy pie for the Hughes-created Family Friendly president.) But now, with her son leaving for college, she's back -- and ready to take on the world on behalf of her good old buddy and boss.

Billeted in the State Department as Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy, Hughes is tasked with rehabbing and defending America's--i.e. President Bush's-- tattered image abroad. And not incidentally, here at home too. Theoretically she reports to Secretary of State Rice, but as the president's pal, it's clear she'll have his ear, and his attention.

Hughes was appointed in March and confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late July. Here's my first question: Why does Hughes still have such an incredibly low profile? My three-part answer, in reverse order of importance: 1. Condi doesn't intend to be upstaged. 2. A politically powerful white female doesn't fit the Conservative Republican stand-by-(and behind)-your-man philosophy. 3. Openly bringing in the Calvary forces the Bush Administration to publicly admit it's in desperate straits, image-wise.

So my next question: How is Hughes planning convince the world in general--and Muslims in particular--that George W. Bush is their best friend? The mind boggles. Where are her international credentials? And how in Allah's name is she going to communicate with people who have an even more primitive view of women than Conservative Republicans?

America and its president are reviled at home and abroad for an unprovoked war with no coherent exit strategy. We're the most powerful country on the planet, yet we can't seem to stay even a half step ahead of poor, illiterate fanatics who can somehow read well enough to communicate their terrorism plans on the Internet. We spend billions on defense contracts and we can't figure out how to adequately protect our own troops. We're raping global markets and energy reserves, causing an obscene rise in gas prices, while wooing big business and Arab princes.

Karen Hughes has a big job ahead of her. But you know what bothers me the most? Her son is alive and well and off to Stanford, so she goes to Crawford to meet with the president ... who has more than enough time for his newly minted Image Doctor.

And Cindy Sheehan, mother of a dead soldier, can't even get in the back door. That's the image we should all keep in mind.



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