Friday, July 27, 2007

Bush - Ledger - Bush as Agent 86 or Maxwell Smart

Published in the Star-Ledger, Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Is he President 43 or Agent 86?


Just about everybody has someone George W. Bush whom calls to mind, a lookalike or someone with similar characteristics, a figure from the movies or the stage or sports. I've had the sense for some time that I've seen Bush before, in another incarnation, as it were. Now it's come to me. I know just the guy.

Bush is another Maxwell Smart.

You remember Max. He was the ditzy star of the 1960s comedy "Get Smart," a lovable bungler, a klutzy American intelligence agent out to save the world by searching out bad guys but who, in reality, couldn't track an elephant in the snow. Never thought we'd see his like again. Then along came Bush.

The similarities are remarkable. There's the clumsiness with words and facts, for example. In Max's case, it came out with one of his regular lines -- "Would you believe ...?" -- when he was caught in a glaring misstatement, such as his assertion that he could break eight boards with one karate chop, a claim scoffed at by everyone, including his "chief."

"Would you believe six boards?" Max asks. "No? Would you believe three boards? How about a loaf of bread?"

In the Bush version, it comes out this way: "Would you believe weapons of mass destruction? No? Would you believe we'll be received as liberators? How about the insurgents are in their last throes?"

Like Bush, Max is involved in a fight to the death with a secret organization. In Bush's case, it's al Qaeda; in Max's, it's KAOS. Both employ terrorism in a bid to destroy America and the West. KAOS, like al Qaeda, features a diverse set of leaders, among them "Mr. Big," who's actually a dwarf. Ditto al Qaeda, one of whose main men, Osama bin Laden, is a 6-foot-4 Arab. You can see the similarities.

Like Bush, Max is an irrepressible optimist. When he blows an assignment to bag a bad guy, Max tries to get off the hook by explain ing that he almost pulled it off but got a bad break -- "missed him by that much," Max invariably explains.

Bush might well have said the same thing when he let bin Laden slip from his grasp. He had the hard-to-miss bin Laden trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan but pulled U.S. troops and special ops teams off the hunt to concentrate on his misbegotten Iraq invasion. In a mindless blunder, he turned the search over to Afghan tribal leaders whose loyalties were never clear. Naturally, bin Laden escaped. We missed him "by that much," you might say.

Max was always in a sweat about nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the bad guys, much as Bush is today about the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Asked by his sidekick, Agent 99, how he'd handle the matter if the offending country re fused to forgo nukes, Max came right to the point: "Then we may have to blast them. That's the only way to keep peace in the world," he declared. (Let's hope the similarity doesn't extend that far.)

Bush is audacious in a Maxwell Smart sort of way, too.

Remember when Bush in a press conference all but dared al Qaeda's turbaned terrorists to at tack American troops and installations? "Bring 'em on," Bush boasted. Max had that kind of boldness. Asked to take a job that put him in constant danger, with the prospect of torture and even death, Max jumps at the chance -- "loving it," as he tells the chief. What a spy! What a president!

The similarities don't end there. Max, like Bush, was security-conscious to a fault. Think of the "Cone of Silence."

Whenever Smart had anything sensitive to discuss, matters of national security or some top-secret operation in the making, he always took "the chief" or Agent 99 into the "Cone of Silence." Nothing said there ever became public, in part because Max usually couldn't remember what was said there.

Well, the Bush White House has its "Cone of Silence," too. It's Vice President Dick Cheney's office.

Almost nothing discussed in Cheney's inner sanctum -- energy policy, tax cuts, illegal wiretaps, prisoner renditions to foreign coun tries, permission for "harsh" interrogations (a k a torture), the latest twist in Iraq policy -- ever gets out to Congress or the public no mat ter how important to the national interest or the public welfare. It might as well be hermetically sealed.

There's even a bit of physical resemblance between Bush and Max. The close-cut hairstyle, for example, and the unfortunate smile that too often seems more of a smirk. Then there's this description from Max's Class A Control Identification Card: "sex: male; hair: black; height: 5-feet-9 (close enough); eyes: beady."

For all his blundering, it was hard not to like Maxwell Smart and to hope that just once he'd win one for our side. I feel that way about George W. Bush. He seems a nice guy who, like Max, just got in over his head. But there's one thing he could learn from Smart.

Max understood his job was to oppose KAOS, not create chaos. On that score, Bush sometimes seems confused.

John Farmer may be reached at

Link to online story.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.