Fowl and Phoenix
By Raul Groom
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
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
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
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 ½ 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.