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Bush 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 yesterday.

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 butt.

* 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.

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