Calm Before the Swarm
By Raul Groom
I am driving on East-West Highway on a Tuesday evening.
This is usually an egregious error, one that will get you
nothing but ride on a four-lane parking lot, with thin, shrewd-looking
men and plump, sensual women skipping by as you baste in your
two-ton steel furnace, getting lightheaded from carbon monoxide.
The sight of six feet of empty space leads to a mad flash
of honking and squealing and engine noise, and more than a
few accidents. People are overcome by the urgency simply of
living in this city where something VERY IMPORTANT could be
going on while they are stuck waiting six cycles to cross
16th street. They lose their minds with fear and greed and
hold on for dear life as they plunge toward the only thing
in this crazy burg worth fighting fora Better Place
But not tonight. Washington, D.C. has been shaken in recent
weeks, and we have fallen into a bit of a lull. No one knows
quite how to proceed through the maze of contradictions and
black-comedy hijinks that suddenly revealed itself when the
Bush Administration pulled back the curtain on their New American
Century, a creature so hideous and ridiculous that not even
Bush himself could bear to look at it. He wisely booked a
flight to the ranch in Crawford to contemplate the upcoming
football season and field questions about his golf swing.
The rest of us are stuck here trying to make sense of it all,
and we're having a tough go of it. There is nothing more disorienting
to a DC resident than getting the inkling that maybe, just
maybe, the head of the line isn’t quite what it’s cracked
up to be, and when the National Security Advisor and the CIA
Director are on the short list to have their underpants run
up the flagpole, vertigo is already setting in.
Me, I think I'm going to hole up in the place for a few days,
drink gin, and draw up some counter traps and draw plays for
William Green. If Bush can take his mind off his problems
by thinking about the Texans or whatever no-hope Lone Star
team he's pulling for this season, I ought to be able to get
a little mental health mileage out of my Brownies.
"I, too, I have been under the spell. For me
it has been a street leading into the unknown."
Personally, I am getting very worried. Not by world events,
heavens nocalamity is a staple of my existence, like
motor oil or burritosbut by the fact that I have finished
Generation of Swine, and I have no other Hunter S.
Thompson in the house. I've been thinking for days about buying
something, anything to keep me plugged in to that mysterious
river of absurdity and gluttony that runs beneath the world,
bubbling up at times to maim, drown, and destroy. To try to
fight the battle on the surface is a sucker's play, and Mama
Groom only raised sharks.
But I've just bought a condo, and there's a wedding coming
up, and I can't just be running around buying new copies of
old books when my shelves are stacked with ones I desperately
need to read because I've been telling people for years I've
already read them. As such, there are only two choicesI
can start shrieking in the rain and guzzling turpentine like
an honest lunatic, or I can finally take another stab at reading
Nostromo. If there is direct line to the polluted,
viscous ichors that ooze through the veins under our happy
American masks, it is the merciless dagger prose of Big Joe
Conrad. Not even T.S. Eliot can help us now.
Though it may seem like only yesterday to John Poindexter,
who just today was referred to in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
as "the retired rear admiral who helped design a plan for
illegally diverting Iranian arms sales proceeds to Nicaraguan
rebels," it has been almost 20 years since a presidential
administration has been in such serious danger of blowing
the entire operation on some crazy dead-draw pot of drugs,
gambling and fascist thugs. With our buddies selling opium
by the metric ton just to try to keep up with the Taliban
we’ve supposedly routed in Afghanistan, and American troops
digging in for a long, expensive struggle a couple of doors
down, things are starting to get black-tar sticky. Comparisons
between the current President’s adventures in Central Asia
and Bush I's assault on Iraq are inevitable, but the Big Story
of 2003 is going to be just how close the Bush clan has come
to giving its enemiesthey are many, and not all of them
wear donkey cufflinksanother bite at the apple that
slipped tantalizingly away from their inept drunken head-bobbing
in the winter of 1986-87.
The players may have different names, but they are playing
the same old roles. This time it's Bush himself as the brain-dead
actor, with none of the style or plastic grace that Reagan
brought to the role, but all of the plausible deniability
and then some. When all is said and done, few of us will believe
Bush knew what was going on, and nobody will think he understood
any of it. He's as safe as Reagan, though he forgot the part
about getting reelected before the administration had to face
up to its demons.
Cheney takes the role of Bush's old man, the Head Spook,
and in this case the sequel may even be better than the original.
It never occurred to Poppy, a lifelong company man, to sell
out the CIA Director when the heat got too close, but Cheney,
an oil-soaked greedhead whose loyalties lie quite elsewhere,
never hesitated. If the Argonauts manage to navigate this
particular pass, which makes Scylla and Charybdis look like
a couple of banana-scented tropical breezes, they owe Uncle
Dick an orienteering merit badge, a harem of $300 hookers
and a lifetime supply of nitro-glycerin.
As Richard Cohen pointed out last week, there seems to be
a long line of stooges ready to take the fall early and slink
back to the private sector before things get too dangerous
and people start using words like “subpoena.” Unfortunately
for Condi Rice and the two-bit CIA underling who supposedly
bowed to the White House pressure to clear the State of the
Union speech, they aren’t cut out for the role of short-term
scapegoat. Hadley’s loyalty to the Administration is questionable
at best; he can't be cut loose. Rice just can’t seem to open
her mouth without saying something incriminating, and without
Karl Rove around to hold her hand, that would only get worse.
Thus Bush has undercut everyone’s Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card
by going on TV and accepting some vague and toothless form
of responsibility. This is no time for people to be abandoning
ship, and Admiral Dubya is battening down the hatches.
The bit players in this saga have yet to fully emerge, and
the storyline is still very muddy, but as we look back through
history and remember Iran/Contra and all it taught us about
how to react when you discover the White House is full of
thieves, con artists, and power-mad sociopaths, we can make
at least one prediction.
The stuff that went on out in the openhalf-baked intelligence
about uranium in Africa, misrepresented reports about aluminum
tubes, or any of the rest of the fun pap that’s been in the
news latelyis Not The Story.
The Story has yet to be discovered. It’s hidden somewhere
in a forgotten pile of documents, waiting for the right set
of hands to come along and hold The Story up to the right
pair of eyes, who can pass The Story along to the right editors,
with just enough swagger and reckless machismo to think that
they can be the ones to finally break The Big One. A receipt
for a security system, perhaps, paid for on the wrong credit
card. A note about raw opium being loaded on a plane, written
in language just a little too blunt or explicit to be explained
away as a political allegory or an idle daydream.
We won’t know it until we see it. But when we do, it will
be like that moment on a busy highway when you see an opening
and instead of sliding into a closer, hotter, more confusing
mess than you were in before, you actually somehow find a
way through to daylight, punch the accelerator, and roar past
a slow-starting MetroBus to freedom. It doesn’t happen often
in this city, but there is an eerie calm on our streets this
week, and the scent of The Story is growing riper by the day.
The next generation of scandalmongers and low-lifes has discovered
the word processor, and if the folks in the cushy seats aren’t
afraid, we will in time at least teach them to hate us, and
curse our names.
The weasels are in the tunnel, and the hog is slow, and getting