Under the best of circumstances, whatever they may be, the subject of assassination is a dangerous and distasteful one. Even if very low, human life has value, and it's intentional and premature cessation is, if occasionally wistfully desired, still repugnant and at odds with the fanciful ideals of modern society. When mentioned in the context of the President of the United States of America, it is even more dangerous, if not more distasteful. Aside from the admittedly inherent risk of early-morning visits from the Secret Service, in a society where mere criticism of the President, his electoral legitimacy, cognitive ability, and political actions are strongly denounced as stridently un-American, then surely even mentioning the assassination of the President is, indeed, not just un-American but anti-American. Be that as it may, this discourse is, broadly speaking, about the assassination of the President of the United States, with brief asides on a handful of barely-related subjects, like the media in America. Consider yourself warned; if these sorts of things are upsetting to you, please leave now.
The office of President of the United States is, for better or worse, one of immense and unequaled power. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, "A President has a great chance; his position is almost that of a King and Prime Minister rolled into one." The constitutional restrictions on the powers of a President are few, vague, and, as we've seen recently, all too prone to abuse. The interpretation of the role of President, according to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, follows two main schools of thought: First, that without specific grant of statutory or constitutional power, the President should, and indeed may, not act. Secondly, and quite contrastingly, that the President should act and exercise his power, authority, and influence to the furthest extent possible unless clearly prohibited or limited in doing so. Until recently, the former view has prevailed, but Dubya and the American Taliban are clearly enthusiastic fans of the latter, until the point where it becomes too restrictive.
In 1960, Gottfried Dietze wrote of the rise in power of the presidency as a result of the office's standing as a symbol of democracy itself:"This aggrandizement, which by the standards of the Founders can only be called revolutionary, was most obvious during the most revolutionary periods of American Constitutional development, mainly during the administrations of Jackson, Lincoln, and progressive presidents; periods that were characterized by a growth of democracy."
He points out that the election of President Jackson by almost universal male suffrage served to increase the de-facto power and stature of the presidency, and that Lincoln was the first heir to this new level of power. Presidents of the first part of the twentieth century added to the democratization and popularization of the office, and thereby it's power, by assuming, with greater or lesser success, the role of chief legislator. This hubris was not without it's price:"The increases of assassinations ever since the aggrandizement of the Presidency became obvious makes us wonder. Before the Civil War, none of the fifteen presidents was killed; four of [the first] twenty have been assassinated since then. We bewail the fact that over eleven percent of American presidents would be assassinated. A more proper evaluation of this dilemma would be offered by saying that the percentage of Presidents killed was zero before the aggrandizement of the Presidency, and rose to as much as twenty percent afterward. Furthermore, it should give us pause that in recent decades, the only objects of assassination were personalities such as Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy, whose strong desires to carry out ambitious social programs made the Presidency appear in it's full strength, while Presidents under whom the institution appeared weak, such as Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and Eisenhower, were not objects."
In more recent memory, the last American President to suffer a credible assassination attempt was the charismatic and much beloved Ronald Reagan, which nicely supports Dietze's theory just above. His argument is not, however, perfect; it neither accounts for attacks upon Presidents Garfield and McKinley, nor those strong individuals who escaped attack, such as Wilson and, most recently, Clinton.
Every bit as important a factor paralleling the frequency of assassination attempts against incumbents of the office has to do with the role of the media in our society. One of the most important factors in the rise of the Office of President as a symbol of America itself is the relationship that exists between the President and his followers as it is filtered thru, or indeed distorted by, the mass media. In their 1969 report on assassination and political violence in the United States, the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence notes that Americans are not, or rather were not, interested in politics purely as politics, but required a degree of human interest to hold their attention. Though it seems hard to imagine today, they state that the media in this country was "no longer controlled by partisan considerations" and containing "an absence of a rigid partisan tone in the depiction of the everyday activities of the presidency", with the emphasis on "objective news reporting", and their is no reason to believe they were being anything but sincere, and not, as when Fox News uses the phrase, patently tongue-in-cheek.. Media objectivity aside, by removing the political and partisan aspects of the President from public view, and concentrating on the sacredotal, Presidents then became "guardians of national morale" and, indeed, living symbols of this country, the personification of national character itself. Thanks to the media, no longer was the President a partisan occupant of national office but a symbol of American society. It wouldn't be that way for long, of course, but it must have been fun while it lasted.
There were drawbacks to this approach, though; notably, rather than concentrating on the politics of the Presidency, the emphasis was on the personality and character of the Presidency. For such charismatic and likeable Presidents as we once had, this meant that their role as a leader of world affairs became coupled with the role of a likeable, approachable, and altogether human individual, little different from one's relatives or coworkers. This position leaves a President vulnerable to individuals who seek out public objects upon which to displace their very private hatred in the guise of "public interest". Harold Laswell noted in his 1969 book "Psycopathology and Politics":"The prominence of hate in politics suggests that we may find that the most important motive is a repressed and powerful hatred of authority, a hatred which has come to partial expression and repression in relation to the father, at least in the functions of biological progenerator and sociological father."
Though the holders of the office have to this point been exclusively male, there is no particular reason to suppose a female President would be exempt from misplaced, indeed displaced matricidal urges. For that matter, many of the redneck, NASCAR-loving Republican crowd are, for other reasons, violently opposed to the idea of a woman as President, regardless of her role as mother-figure to America.
Now, the actions of the most recent holder off the Presidential office have created no end of powerful hatred of authority, repressed or otherwise. Taken alone, his unpopularity would seem to make him a considerable risk for assassination, or as some of his more radical critics might contend, euthanasia. His actions, and those of his administration, coupled with the crumbling stature of the American President as a symbol of this country, its morals, morale, and character, have very possibly made the Great Deceiver the most hated man in the world since Adolf Hitler. Statistically speaking, assassination attempts against Presidents occur at eight-to-twelve year intervals, making us, purely mathematically, overdue for such an attempt since early in the Clinton presidency. It is, however, a virtual certainty that the Great Deceiver will not suffer so much as an assassination attempt. As the Commission so thoughtfully points out, barring whacked-out fruitcakes, of whom the Republicans have the clear majority, I'm afraid, there are certain criteria that need to exist for a political assassination to take place:"Where there is oppressive rule, comparative studies suggest three antecedents to assassination: (1) the existence of a political party with an ideology and technique of direct action; (2) perception of oppression; and (3) presence of activists, i.e.; persons willing to respond with violence to the conditions of oppression. In a democracy, however, where physical oppression is absent, its equivelant must be created through (1) a weakening of shared democratic values, or a crisis in which the democratic institutions are incapable of taking effective remedial action; and (2) a pre-assassination process of defamation and vilification of democratic politicians and institutions. The remaining preconditions are also shared with the oppressive rule situation - (3) the existence of a party or groups with an ideology and tactics of direct violence, and (4) the presence of persons with propensities for violence once the antecedents are present."
Now, it's debatable whether America today, in the wake of the Patriot Act and other erosions of civil liberties by the Bush administration, is truly a case of oppressive rule. Certainly there are many who would argue so, but the line between "less free" and "not free" is difficult to pinpoint, and when compared to truly oppressive nations of the world, many of which we have recently or will soon be invading upon false pretext, it is hard to state objectively that ours is an absolutely and unqualified oppressive state. Oppression real or perceived, though, the authors go on to state:"A number of the preconditions for assassination are latent in the United States. Some groups may perceive the government as oppressive, in which case the model describing oppressive rule is applicable. It is, however, a reverse sentimentalism to distort the overall picture of political conditions in the United States by dwelling on it's admitted imperfections. The United States is a remarkably free country. Most of it's citizens enjoy perhaps more real freedom, including the freedom from hunger and other material deprivations, than any other nation. Thus, it is the second model, preconditions for assassination in a democracy, which is of particular interest to us. Specifically, the rhetoric of vilification of political leaders and the advocacy of violence may have a more profound effect than we had realized."
On the surface, this would seem to suggest that Dubya should be hiding in an undisclosed location for the remainder of his lame-duck presidency. His administration has unquestionably overseen, and indeed brought about, a "weakening of shared democratic values". The imminent economic collapse is already clearly a "crisis in which the democratic institutions are incapable of taking effective remedial action", were they so inclined. The Great Deceiver, and indeed most of the current administration have and continue to be (quite rightly) vilified online and in what little independent media remains. The Democratic party, however, while a party of direct action, is not a party of violence; that dubious honor belongs to the Republicans, or at least their leaders. No, the ideology and tactics of violence, direct or otherwise, are the sole domain of the Republican party, as seen in recent comments by Republican Congressional leaders.
But all that aside, the current President is basically safe, at least for the next two years. His idiocy, illiteracy, and utter lack of both character and personality prevent Americans, indeed, anyone, from identifying with him, and make it repulsive for anyone with ideals to view him as a symbol of our country. The Democratic party has been effectively demoralized and even emasculated; the big hope progressives have their eye on is the 2006 Congressional elections and, if they manage to wrest control of the Senate from the Republicans, removal of Bush by impeachment.
For all that he is vilified, Dubya is the successful culmination of a long-term Republican strategy to create an assassination-proof President. The partisan corporate stranglehold on the media ensures that he is covered more for his politics than his (lack of) personality. It is hard to imagine any sort of actual human interest aspect of the President today, and the media doesn’t even try, keeping him a distant and vague figure lacking in public interest. With their cessation of government control to corporate and other special interests, the Republicans have undone decades of growth in the position of President, and rendered it little more than a figurehead or puppet of sorts. Emphasizing the newfound state as a figurehead is the obvious and much-publicized control, even manipulation, of the President by his long-time “handler”, the Prince of Darkness, one Karl Rove. Even better (for the Republicans, anyway), the Administration is so filled with loathsome small-minded conservative nutjobs no more attractive to progressive Americans than Dubya, that a squad, nay, a platoon of assassins would need to inhume close to two dozen members of the administration before reaching an individual noticeably less loathsome than Bush or Cheney. It’s masterful, you have to admit, how well the Republicans plan their chokehold on Liberty against all possibilities.
If you’ve made it thru the entire page to this point, then I hardly need state the obvious - aside from a miraculous stroke, heart attack, or anyeurism, the last, best hope for removing the Great Deceiver from office is impeachment, and, really, that’s such a long shot it’s not even worth getting excited about. We’re pretty much stuck with the little bastard for, as the wingnuts like to scream, four more years!. Oy, I need a drink…