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Of Fowl and Phoenix
November 25, 2003
By Raul Groom

"I say my prayers
Then I just light myself on fire
And I walk out on the wire once again"
- Adam Duritz, "Goodnight, Elizabeth"

It's been an interesting month, to say the least. Personally, I've discovered that I can unlock a secret superhero identity by consuming enough eggs before 9 a.m., brazenly stood up a paying publication on a story, and suffered my first truly serious case of writer's block. But never mind all that. We have important matters to discuss, and time is growing short.

Veteran's Day came and went without a flake, but don't think D.C. is getting off easy just because we got clobbered last year. It don't work that way, no matter what the old timers tell you. The Hammer of God is coming, and if it's not two feet of snow, it'll be an ice storm, and you can take that to the bank. Enjoy the balmy weather this weekend; it's the last we'll have for a good long while.

Sofia in her kerchief, and I in my cap, are just settling in for a long winter's primary season, and it may just be the most exciting one either of us ever has the privilege to be a part of. The writing is on the wall for the Bush clan, and no matter how many conservative rags scream he's doing fine, there's a sickly pallor to the Boy King's face on the rare occasions when he appears in public, and the pancake makeup that used to transform him into a smirking golden god now only helps him to resemble a rotting pumpkin.

We're told the President doesn't pay much attention to the news, and in his condition, that's probably a good policy. It's been a while since any glad tidings crossed the AP wire, and there's been no shortage of bad moons rising over the House of Bush. As if helicopters that unexpectedly transform into smoldering graves and multiple daily rocket attacks weren't enough, some of the people closest to the President have taken to doing incredibly foolish things in incredibly public places.

The earth shook this week as Richard Perle, a leading architect of the U.S. pulverization of Iraq, went completely off the reservation and told a suddenly thunderstruck audience of Britons that Dubya's war was indeed illegal after all, but that the U.S. had to invade anyway because, well, he didn't quite get to that. Just because. It's fine, though, because international law, in this case, was getting in the way of some good old-fashioned ass-kicking. Can't have that.

Until Perle's weird moment of public honesty my researchers are poring over transcripts even as we speak, desperately trying to unearth any precedent for such a thing the idea that a U.S. invasion of another country could be an illegal act was a matter beneath contempt for anyone expecting to be admitted to mainstream discussion. In conceding the illegality of the U.S. bombardment and subsequent occupation of a sovereign nation, Perle placed himself, in a certain sense, to the left of E. J. Dionne, Paul Krugman, and William Raspberry, to name only a very few "liberal" contributors to our nation's newspapers of record.

In a saner world, this might cause us to pause and examine what, indeed, the mainstream media is for, and perhaps more frightening still, what it does. We can forget that idea right away, of course. The writers and editors of the Washington Post and the New York Times will no more stop to consider their own culpability in condoning the murder of tens of thousands of Iraqis than switch their party affiliation, en masse, to the Socialist Workers.

That goes double for the ones who half-heartedly "opposed" the war on the grounds that it might cost too much, or get too many American soldiers killed, and despite the growing influence of the Internet on modern journalism, the power of print media is still such that if a story is not going to get play in the major dailies, it is hardly worth the effort to discuss it at all. So we prudently, if reluctantly, leave that topic behind. For now.

There are other lessons to be drawn here, however, perhaps just as important. The most obvious is that Richard Perle is a dangerous monster. A lot of us knew that already, of course, but it's worth recalling now that Deadeye Dick still sits on the Defense Policy Board despite resigning from its directorship in disgrace not too long after the U.S. illegally invaded Iraq. If anybody in George W. Bush's inner circle can read, here's a message for you maybe it's time to fire this guy once and for all.

One might think it a little harsh to can somebody for saying something that everyone he works with obviously believes, deep down inside. After all, it's always been a given among serious, whiskey-drinking right-wingers that international law is nothing but a club you use to smack around countries you don't like. It doesn't apply to us, it only applies to people we are trying to knock off. Fair enough. I have a certain grudging respect for such unabashed realpolitik, as all serious players must. You don't get too far in this business without realizing that in the end, winning is the only real objective. Morality is for acid freaks and religious fanatics. We must be serious.

But Richard Perle has clearly failed to grasp a key prong of this paradigm - you don't go around saying these sorts of things in public, certainly not at the exact moment that your President, who went to war largely using a blueprint you designed, is across town trying to convince people that the war was not only legal but a smart move.

The only thing that would have made Perle's outburst any dumber would be if, say, a couple days before, a huge bomb had exploded inside the borders of another key U.S. ally, killing dozens of people and heightening anti-American sentiment in a country that was already about to split apart at the seams, torn down the middle between the one percent of the population that supports President Bush and the 99 percent that hates his guts.

That did happen, of course. A bomb went off in Turkey last Saturday, prompting a huge chorus of "We told you so" from the huge majority of the population that has consistently opposed Turkish involvement in, and support for, the U.S.-led destruction of Iraq. In Turkey, the state once held a virtual monopoly on slaughtering its citizens, but since they dipped a lukewarm nod toward the American military's latest misadventure, the country has become a target for freelance murderers as well.

Given Turkey's, shall we say, nontraditional democracy, any destabilization has to be viewed as an incredibly dangerous development. A Turkish civil war along pro-U.S./anti-U.S. lines would be an ugly, seething affair, especially considering the fact that the one percenters happen to own all the tanks, most of the guns, and enough bullets to hold out until the streets of Istanbul fill with the blood of a million martyrs. This can't have been part of the plan. Even Wolfowitz isn't that crazy.

Of course, we're used to operational screw-ups from the idiot savants in the Bush regime. Lunkheaded missteps are sort of their stock-in-trade, but they can usually be counted on to paper over the blunders with some brilliant Machiavellian spin control, the sovereign domain (at least since Karen Hughes' ignominious exit from the ranks of The Project) of one Boy Genius, Karl Rove.

It's hard to see where the sheriff of Mayberry is going with his latest move, though. The RNC is rolling out a TV ad this week that calls upon viewers to hearken back to the 2003 State of the Union address delivered by George W. Bush before he waged an illegal war to rid Iraq of its vast arsenal of imaginary weapons of mass destruction.

Let's revisit that last sentence again, shall we? The RNC is rolling out a TV ad this week that hearkens back to the 2003 State of the Union address. Is that the best move? I don't live in a so-called "red state," so maybe I don't have a strong grasp of just how bad the news media is in these places. I have a lot of friends who live more than three hours from a beach, though, and every single one of them knows by now that the 2003 State of the Union was basically one big hairy warmongering lie after another. Even the Republicans know it they just don't like to think about it.

Well, now they are going to have to think about it. When you put something on national TV, a lot of people are going to watch it, no matter how stupid or unpleasant it is. If the Joe Millionaire generation has an epitaph, that might be it. So starting next week, every home in America is going to be forced to look back upon the memory of Our Great President, standing in the hallowed halls of our cherished bicameral legislature, raising his tinny West Texas voice to the rafters and lying his dry-drunk ass off.

Worse still, the point of the ad isn't just "Look how pretty Dubya looks when he fibs." Rove is actually calling out the Democrats for criticizing the fruits of a speech everybody in the whole world now knows was not true. He's asking his adoring fans to follow him down a road where telling an obvious truth is treason, and telling an obvious falsehood is patriotic. He's doing what Richard Perle did in London he's lifting the curtain. Maybe Rove, like Perle, thinks America is ready to embrace the idea that might makes right, and that if you can get away with it, it can't be wrong. It's hard not to detect a whiff of desperation, though, emanating from Rove's uncharacteristic overplay of the political equivalent of Aces and Eights. When the 2003 State of the Union is the strongest card in your hand, well, there's a saying about knowing when to fold 'em...

It's time to rethink things when your likely opponent in the general election launches a fundraising campaign based around your own advertisement. Howard Dean is going to bust right through his $360,000 goal in the first ten days this howler is on the air, and there will be no looking back for the bad boy of the Democratic party after that. If he really is the next McGovern, he's going to go through a lot of fine caviar on the RNC's nickel in defeat. There are worse ways to spend 11 months, that's for sure.

Of course, I could be dead wrong. There's a reason I'm a volunteer columnist and not a highly paid political operative. My predictions are notoriously unreliable (hello, Governor Arnold!) and my credentials as a campaign strategist are exactly none. Karl Rove, on the other hand, is a serious contender for the title of the Most Powerful Man in the World. We are operating on different planes of existence, a shark in the Pacific and a Betta in a mud puddle.

But Rove and I have at least one thing in common this week we're back out on stage alone once again, baring our souls for all to see. We've cast our lot the only way we know how. One of us is embarking on a remarkable comeback. The other has jumped the shark, and is spiraling down to certain doom. Who can say which of us is phoenix, and which of us is just the charred carcass of some turkey not lucky enough to be pardoned by a merciful President?

Unquestionably, though, by next Thanksgiving we'll know for sure. In the meantime, at least we'll both keep warm through the long Washington winter ahead.

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