Gets a Shot
January 9, 2003
By Kevin Dawson
We know the holiday season is over because the opinion pages
no longer debate whether a manger scene in a public square
violates separation of church and state (the Washington
Times did one better by publishing the story of the Nativity
as an editorial; tacky, tacky, tacky*)
and have gone back to Trent Lott.
The apologists are running true to form: "off-the-cuff remark
made to humor an old man on his birthday" (this from the people
who were so outraged over Paul Wellstone's memorial service),
"quote taken out of context," and - Sean Hannity's favorite
- "Yeah, but Clinton..."
Let's face it, Lott could have said "Heil Hitler!" and we'd
still get "Yeah, but Clinton..." In fact, Republicans immediately
came back with Clinton's praise for segregationist William
Fulbright, Robert Byrd's use of the "N word," etc. But that
kind of childish "They did it first!" defensiveness isn't
exactly seemly for the party that claims the moral high ground.
Then there's the free speech issue: the voices upholding
Lott's right to speak his mind were the same ones demanding
that "Baghdad Sean" Penn shut up and go away. (To be fair,
the notion that actors should stay out of politics is not
entirely without merit, considering the actor who occupied
the White House for much of the nineteen-eighties.)
The irony, of course, is that if Mr. Lott had been able to
confine himself to insulting homosexuals, he'd still be Leader
of the Republican Party.
Even Our Great Leader denounced him. As well he should: Trent
stole the spotlight from the other big event of December 2002.
In the same spirit of the photo-ops on September 11, 2001,
that got him proclaimed Great Leader in the first place, George
Wonderful Bush underwent a smallpox vaccination. Let's hope
they gave him a lollipop afterward for being a big brave boy.
He took this courageous step, you see, because he didn't
want to ask anyone to take a risk that he himself wouldn't
be willing to take. You've seen those commercials for medications
- the ones which no longer require prescription because they
don't work - warning about possible side effects, many of
which sound worse than what the pills are supposed to be curing.
Not that that means he'll be joining the boys and girls on
their way to Iraq, or anything like that. A gesture is one
thing; let's not go nuts.
Bush's approval rating is still on the high side (staying
in the 60 percentile), but nowhere near reaching the post-9/11
stratosphere. We're also expected to believe that 75% of citizens
polled support the incipient Gulf War II (Harry Potter
and Lord of the Rings sequels also meant big box office
recently). But that's a misleading statistic unless you include
the qualification: 75% support the war effort, but only if
the U.S. is assured to win. We're also not told how many of
those people surveyed are of military-service age. Like men
sounding off about abortion, it's easy to decide what everybody
else should do.
But - wouldn't you know it? - just when Bush was literally
giving his publicity a shot in the arm, Trent Lott had to
go open his big yap and sum up (rather eloquently, actually)
the right-wing agenda of leading the country forward into
Smallpox supposedly was eradicated in this country in 1980.
But it seems that the terrorists have a big batch of it stashed
away somewhere ready to dump on the free world when it least
expects it. Just because the weapons inspectors haven't found
any, just as they've yet to uncover any of the weapons of
mass destruction Saddam Hussein is alleged to have stockpiled,
doesn't mean there isn't anything to find, right? In fact,
in a splendid display of black-is-white logic, the inspectors'
failure to find anything has been offered as "proof" that
the weapons - chemical, biological, and nuclear - are there,
only more cunningly concealed than had been thought.
You may have heard that "weapons of mass destruction" - not
"compassionate conservative" - has been selected by whomever
decides these things as the defining phrase of 2002. I bet
"liberal bias" was a close runner-up. And next year, with
war still raging on and the economy threatening to sink into
a depression that would make the 1930s look like Lifestyles
of the Rich and Famous, the defining phrase probably will
be "it's Clinton's fault."
Biological warfare poses little threat to Americans. This
is the country that sues illness away. Still, for the sake
of presidential dignity, it's nice that the axis of evil isn't
planning to use hepatitis. Hepatitis shots you get in the
On its December 24 editorial page, the Washington Times
also printed "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus" (1897),
which is considerably more appropriate as it reflects the
paper's usual nineteenth-century mindset.