In the first State of the Union address of his second term, President Bush is expected to warn Americans to prepare themselves to confront three cartoon “evildoers” in their midst: SpongeBob, Buster and Winnie the Pooh. But despite tough talk from the White House, insiders say that the administration is deeply divided on whether to open a new line of attack against Buster before declaring victory in its campaign against SpongeBob SquarePants, the openly homosexual underwater cartoon icon.
Small group of influential officials within administration advocates for 'culture war on two fronts'
By Russell D'Arby, Arts and Entertainment Correspondent
WASHINGTON, DC—In his State of the Union address tonight, President Bush is expected to identify a new ‘axis of evil’: SpongeBob SquarePants, Buster the Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh. The threesome, whom the president will blame for “an all out assault on our values as a freedom and liberty-loving people,” will replace the original trio that Mr. Bush made infamous in 2002: Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
But despite the tough talk—and the appearance of a unified White House—insiders say that the Bush administration is actually deeply divided over the newest front in the culture war: the campaign against Buster launched by new education chief Margaret Spellings last week. Spellings is demanding that PBS refund any taxpayer money used to fund an episode of “Postcards with Buster,” in which the cartoon mammal visited with the children of lesbian parents in Vermont.
While key figures in the administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, and Chief of Staff Andrew Card, are said to back Spellings, others close to the president are reported to be reluctant about taking on Buster while the White House is still engaged in a culture war against SpongeBob SquarePants.
(Click thumbnail, above, to enlarge page from Buster's Blog, removed from PBS's website under pressure from Spelling.)
Culture wars on two fronts?
In a White House that is famously tightlipped about dissent within its ranks, the split over Buster vs. SpongeBob is a rare indicator of disunity. But sources close to the Bush administration insist that whatever divisions may exist over tactics and strategy, the White House remains committed to fighting the larger culture war.
"This is a war on behalf of traditional values, and the attacks on Buster and SpongeBob are just fronts in that campaign," said one former official. "We've declared war, and the bad guys, whatever children's show they're on, are the enemies. We've got four years, and we want to come out of this saying we won the culture war."
Buster: the next strategic target
While the White House is said to view Buster, who has made no public pronouncements about his sexuality, just as unfavorably as the openly homosexual SquarePants, the intra-administration conflict points to a deepening dispute over how the culture war—which differs from a traditional war—should be fought. Bogged down in the current skirmish with SquarePants, some within the administration are reportedly reluctant to divert White House resources to the campaign against Buster.
But the minority view—that the White House can support two simultaneous operations in the culture war—appears to be gaining ground. Of the six Bush cabinet members who stayed on for term two, three—including Transportation chief Norman Mineta and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao—have joined with Margaret Spellings in arguing for quick and decisive action against Buster.
"Everyone is saying 'you can't be serious about targeting Buster. Look at what happened with SpongeBob,'" said the former White House official. "But Spellings and the other neo-toons say 'we've learned some lessons. We're not going to rely on religious nuts like Dobson this time.' They insist that it's not necessary to put SpongeBob to bed before they try to take down Buster."
A new axis of evil?
At a gathering of congressional Republicans over the weekend, President Bush gave a preview of the State of the Union address he will give this week, hinting at just how prominently the three declared enemies of the US will figure in his speech. "I will remind the country that we're still fighting a culture war," the president told the friendly audience. "In this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace table, but make no mistake about it, we are winning and we will win," Bush declared. "We will win by staying on the offensive."
It was in his State of the Union address in 2002 that Bush introduced the now infamous phrase "axis of evil" to refer to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Sources close to the president anticipate that he will use the occasion of the 2005 national address to introduce the American people to three new "evil-doers”: Buster, SpongeBob and Winnie the Pooh. Sources close to the president say that as he practiced the speech with Chief of Staff Card and chief speechwriter Michael Gerson, several names were been floated as part of the "terrible triumvirate,” including Bob the Builder and the Rug Rats, before Bush ultimately went with Pooh.
The president is constitutionally required to report to Congress "from time to time" on the "State of the Union." The State of the Union address that has evolved out of that constitutional requirement gives the president an opportunity to report on the domestic and international condition of the country, to layout his legislative agenda for the coming year, and describe his personal vision to the country.