Monday, September 12, 2005

Clearing Brush

You know it’s photo op time when the president dons his “everyman” attire. Bush could be seen striding around Louisiana in his familiar dark jeans and blue button down with sleeves rolled up, ready to work. Thanks to others, the situation is largely under-control., but our leader has that look in his eye again asking, “Got any brush I can clear? I’ll back my truck up and we’ll throw that brush right in the bed. See these fore-arms of compassion? I love clearing up brush.”

Brush, as everyone knows, is a metaphor for problems. When Bush puts on that blue shirt, and rolls up those sleeves, he’s telling everyone it’s time to clear some brush.

Bush, visiting hurricane recovery sites for the third time, stayed right on script surrounding himself with a choir of fire fighters, police officers (fellow brush clearers) and victims (people who have a lot of brush to clear). The White House, eager to show the president displaying hands-on, empathetic leadership in the storm effort, decided to go with the photo tested blue shirt—again.

“This blue shirt has been a huge hit for us,” said Stephen Smith, White House fashion advisor. “Once we decided to roll up those sleeves, wow! We had a real working man on our hands. A real doer! Look out! We’ve dubbed it: The Blue Shirt of Compassion. We break it out any time the President has to go fix a major national disaster. And it’s a good thing we have it on-hand, because it’s been used a lot.”

The Blue Shirt of Compassion was made famous in the photograph of President Bush hugging Ashley Faulkner, who lost her mom in the Sept. 11 attacks. “That photo really put Blue on the map, as far as we were concerned.” Smith explained. “After that, every disaster we had the president in that shirt at least for one photo-op.”

The Blue Shirt of Compassion has also been used in photo-ops ranging from brush clearing to golf outings. “It’s a real team player,” Smith continued. “And, it’s an iron man. It goes in disaster after disaster. We wash it and it comes out looking good as new.”

The history and science of Presidential, business casual attire can be traced back to Teddy Roosevelt. The rough-ridding president appealed to the aggressive, rugged, everyman carving out this country’s manifest destiny.

“Before Roosevelt, presidents were seen as boorish stuffed-shirts, suits,” said Dr. Henry McCormick, who teaches a class in political fashion at Columbia University. “Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. He put on a stove-pipe hat and that was the look for presidents for the next forty years. Then Roosevelt came along, and we’re still feeling the effects. Being studious and serious might have been cool during Reconstruction, but these days people want a Brush Clearer, a cowboy, a drinking buddy as president.”

This effect was capitalized on nicely by the Republicans when another man road a horse into the White House—Ronald Reagan. Reagan, in an attempt to win the Cold War, was widely photographed in western garb—slacks, denim shirts, cowboy hat—to show that he was a western everyman, a cowboy who was not above shooting Russians first, and asking questions later.

“Reagan was perfect, “McCormick noted. “First of all, he was a cowboy in movies, which gave him instant celebrity credibility. Any questions about his cowboyishness were neutralized. Secondly, he was from the west. You’ll notice that for the last 30 years every president has either been from the South or from the West. People love the brush-clearing, sheriff type.”

Although from Texas, George Bush Sr. proved to be no brush-clearer. He was widely portrayed as a nasally wimp, rather than anyone who could or wanted to clear brush. He was rarely ever seen in blue shirts of compassion. His son George has since picked up this fumble and ran back a touchdown for the Republicans. He is seen at least once a week in rolled up sleeves, doing everything from kissing babies to sawing down trees.

McCormick noted, “The Republicans knew they needed another president who could clear brush. People know what that means. What they’re asking of any candidate is: ‘can this man clear my brush?’ Could Gore? Could Kerry? Can Hillary?”

The Republican strategy has paid off. After numerous disasters, the brush clearing president can emerge with sleeves rolled up, ready to begin doing some work. He can make short, declarative statements of a brush-clearing nature, and settle everyone’s mind. Indeed, after Katrina it looks like The Blue Shirt of Compassion is back, and paying dividends. Everyone on the beltway knows what this means: it’s time to clear some brush.

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