Rumsfeld Worship: The Here-Today, Gone-Tomorrow Fickleness of the Drive-By Press

Speaking of the New Republic, I noticed that Jonathan Chait’s “Rummyache: The SECDEF Cult: A Tour Through the Hilarious Bygone World of Rumsfeld Worship” in the October 23 edition re-writes history a bit by implying that post 9/11 “Rumsfeld worship” reporting was limited to rightie publications.

Says Chait:

…it seems hard to believe that, just a few years ago, Rumsfeld was hailed as a visionary war leader. Among conservatives, in particular, he was treated to the sort of over-the-top hero worship that the right customarily bestows upon its standard bearers in flush political times. And so it seems as good a time as any to reexamine the wave of Rumsfeld hagiography that was in vogue for about two years following September 11, 2001. These documents offer a prime window into the pathologies of conservative thought in the Bush era…

If admiring Rumsfeld is a pathology, it has been a fairly widespread one, as these examples indicate:

A Warrior In One Battle, Manager In Another…Rumsfeld has emerged as the public face of the U.S. war on terrorism, a celebrity status he has handled with a blend of humor, charm and curmudgeonly candor. He is impersonated on Saturday Night Live, invited to watch the Washington Redskins from the owner’s box and labeled a sex symbol by talk show host Larry King…

One advantage for Rumsfeld is that the same pundits, politicians and reporters who had pilloried him as being ineffectual a few months ago are now praising him for the way he has managed the military campaign in Afghanistan and the public relations campaign at the Pentagon podium.

Part cantankerous professor, part lovable grandfather, part take-no-prisoners warrior, Rumsfeld has projected a public persona familiar to those who know him.

“He doesn’t try to fool anyone,” says former president Gerald Ford, who in 1975 made Rumsfeld, then 43, the youngest Defense secretary in U.S. history. “He’s straightforward. He’s frank in admitting he doesn’t know all the answers. On the other hand, he gives strong answers, like ‘Either they’re gonna surrender or they’re gonna be killed.’ The press likes it. The public likes it.”

It’s straight from Rumsfeld Rule No. 1: Have the courage to say what you think “with the bark off.”

-Jonathan Weisman, USA Today, December 21, 2001

Do Ya Think He’s Sexy? He’s Vigorous. He’s Direct. At Nearly 70, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Is TV’s Newest Stud

“…The sexiest man on television is a grandpop with a throaty laugh and a confidence so overpowering it’s made entire countries go weak in the knees.

No doubt about it, Donald Rumsfeld is a stud muffin.

Oh sure, he’s a bespectacled government bureaucrat pushing 70. But the secretary of defense has a quality that many women adore.

He’s as self-assured as a bull in a cow pasture.

Next to this ex-Navy flyboy and self-made millionaire, humorless careerists are but empty suits, doubt-ridden heroes are boring, and sensitive New Age males look like big whiny babies.

Rumsfeld, in contrast, looks like a good time.

In a recent interview, Larry King asked, “Secretary Rumsfeld . . . do you like this image? You now have this new image called sex symbol.”

Rumsfeld laughed heartily and replied, “Oh, come on.” But he seemed delighted, and later allowed that he could be a sex symbol “for the AARP.”

He’s direct, plainspoken, full of that quality John F. Kennedy so admired: vigor.

He enjoys sparring with reporters at news conferences. Exuding bonhomie, he gets his points across while revealing very little of what everybody is there to find out. These performances are among the best on television, depicted by political cartoonist Mike Peters as “Must See TV.”

Rumsfeld is decisive, a quality Saturday Night Live recognized in a recent skit: The President is in a meeting, taking a call from boring Al Gore, who drones on and on while Bush’s advisers point impatiently to their watches and Bush, a prisoner of his breeding, seeks a polite end to the conversation.

Rumsfeld strides in. Grasping the situation immediately, he grabs the receiver and barks, “Get off the phone, Al. Now!” A startled Gore hangs up.

Talk about a man of action…

Classical Roman virtues such as courage and determination, so passe in the high-flying ’90s, are again in vogue.

Steely confidence is admired, in burly firemen, guys who attack armed hijackers with their bare hands, 19-year-olds who parachute into battlefields in the middle of the night – and straight-shooting Rummy, the senior with swagger.

Manly men, every one. It’s good to have them back.”

– Beth Gillin, Phildelphia Inquirer, December 29, 2001

Straight Shooter – How An Ageing Bureaucrat Became America’s Hero

…He’s been branded ‘the media star of America’s new war’ by CNN.

The network even quoted a woman calling him ‘the newest sex symbol.’

Famed Washington columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that he outcharms George Clooney and Brad Pitt with his gruff but witty style that he uses with brutal effect on hapless journalists….

– Damon Johnston, Sunday Mail (Queensland, Australia), January 6, 2002

I’ve written before about the drive-by media’s attitude toward Don Rumsfeld, which can be summed up in one word: Fickle.

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