the Recall, and Other Remnants of a Sad Old Year
By Kevin Dawson
Odd-numbered years are supposed to be good for champagne,
but this last one wasn't good for much else. Was 2003 good
Did you keep your job? If so, that's nice, but a lot of
people didn't, and are still expected to rejoice in the so-called
economic recovery. At year's end, it was reported that jobless
claims were down. That, it seems, is the only barometer in
this country of who's working and who's not. Nothing's mentioned
about how many people's unemployment ran out in the meantime,
or how many people just plain can't get a job.
But Who cares? was the mantra of 2003.
Who cares if President "Bring 'em on - but not on
me!" lied about the motives for starting Operation Desert
Sequel? We won, didn't we? Who cares that Saddam Hussein
posed no direct threat to the United States so that the pre-emptive
war essentially was the moral equivalent of a nine-year-old
beating up a six-year-old? We caught him, didn't we? In fact,
if the woodenheaded liberals - to use a Sean Hannityism -
had their way, Saddam would still be in power because all
they wanted to do was appease him. (One thing Dan Rather forgot
to ask Saddam in his notorious prewar interview with the dictator
was, with U.N. inspectors breathing down his neck and the
eyes of the entire world on him, whether Saddam felt very
After all, Hussein had twelve years to abide by U.N. resolutions.
Funny, it didn't seem to bother all those Republicans in the
intervening years when all they could think of to investigate
was Bill Clinton's sex life. In fact, if they'd been as eager
to bring down Saddam Hussein as they were to bring down Bill
Clinton during the Naughty Nineties, this current unpleasantness
might have been averted. Even when President Clinton struck
Iraq in '98, there was no "God Bless America, Let's Stand
Behind Our President to Rid the World of an Evil Dictator"
Saddam Hussein's plight certainly does send a powerful message
to other evil dictators: be an enemy of our enemies and
we'll make it worth your while. That "lesser of two evils,"
"that was then, this is now" rationalization for Hussein having
been Uncle Sam's pal twenty years ago is small compensation
for the downtrodden, oppressed Iraqis Americans claim to care
so much about, who suffered under Hussein's regime during
the weighty eighties.
Letter-to-the-editor writers have been amazingly cavalier
about the continued loss of American lives even after victory
was officially declared. So much for Support the Troops. If
U.S. soldiers lost their sight, use of their limbs, or even
their lives, the consensus on the home front seems to be:
yeah, yeah, it's tragic and all that, but it's a small price
to pay to Liberate the Oppressed Iraqis and Make The World
a Safer Place.
Whether those lofty goals actually have been met, it will
take a lot more time than has elapsed to tell, but it's easy
to talk about a "price" when you don't have to pay it yourself.
Last summer brought on a lot of national grumbling over rising
gasoline prices. In the fall, Seattle coffee drinkers overwhelmingly
voted down a ten-cent surtax on latte. But eighty-seven billion
bucks to fund a questionable military campaign? Again, who
cares? Drop in the bucket. Small price to pay. If that
87 billion had come directly out of individuals' pockets,
they might have felt differently.
Who cares if 2003 was a banner year for right-wing hypocrisy?
Rush Limbaugh is an OxyContin junkie, gulping down thirty
at a time before a National Enquirer story shamed him
into rehab. His colleagues defend his actions as a poor sick
man taking medication. That's how the late Judy Garland
used to refer to her myriad pills, too. Oh, and Limbaugh doesn't
want his medical records examined. Whatever happened to the
"I have nothing to hide!" PATRIOT Act?
Moralist William Bennett blows eight million dollars on video
poker (not even real poker with a dealer and other players),
but Pete Rose's mea culpa has been roundly rejected
- perhaps Rose should have said that acknowledging his gambling
addiction hasn't made him a "linguini-spined liberal."
Strom Thurmond has an illegitimate child, the apparent result
of Thurmond having raped a 16-year-old black servant. To date,
Trent Lott is not going there, but columnist Kathleen Parker
suggested we look the other way. Hey, things happen, okay?
And of course, conservatives still hang on to those three
magic little words which supposedly absolve them of any and
all impropriety: yeah, but Clinton...
The president who waged his campaign on being "a uniter,
not a divider," has managed to inspire the largest ideological
chasm in this country since the Civil War. The bestseller
lists in nonfiction, once a place to find celebrity tell-alls
and Calvin and Hobbes collections, is now dominated by political
jousting. Mr. Bush has not caused this unilaterally, of course;
he is the first American president to benefit from a media
cheering section in the form of that 24-hour chip on the shoulder,
Fox News Network. Every time George Wonderful Bush ties his
shoes, we're told what a great leader he is. The various victories
of the war are spoken of as if the so-called Commander in
Chief brought them about singlehandedly. In culinary terms,
he's being hailed as a master chef when all he did was order
take-out. (The food analogy brings to mind the president,
invited to dine at Buckingham Palace, tactfully bringing over
his own kitchen staff. If I'm ever invited to the White House
for a meal, remind me to stop by Jack in the Box and pick
up a few burgers on the way.)
Anyone who criticizes the president's policies is accused
of doing so out of irrational, vicious hatred. Conversely,
invective from the right wing - like the remarks which got
Michael Savage fired from MSNBC - is supposed to be accepted
as colorful candor. Apparently, Ann Coulter is an absolute
sweetie-pie when she isn't calling people who disagree with
her stupid idiots or monkeys, or calling for Muslims either
to be killed or converted to Christianity. And evidently Club
for Growth's "body-piercing, Hollywood-loving left-wing freak
show" is meant as a term of endearment.
There was a time when the idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger
holding high government office would have been a joke. Then
again, the studio audience laughed in 1978 when Archie Bunker
yelled, "Yeah, well, you're gonna get Reagan in '80, buddy!"
The lesson from the October election in California (or, "we
were only kidding when we re-elected Gray Davis less than
a year ago") was: it's handy to have someone to blame our
life's problems on. (Naturally, the new Republican governor
has the president's full support; when Davis went to Bush
over California's energy crisis he was told, "That's your
problem.") Perhaps we'll live to see a relaxing of that silly
rule that you have to be a native-born American in order to
Two hot-button issues managed to escape the Who cares?
classification. The very notion of single-gender marriage
has been blown to panic-in-the-streets proportions. Jerry
Falwell, undoubtedly alarmed at the idea of Tinky Winky subscribing
to Macy's bridal registry, has called this "worse than abortion."
The faithful suddenly ran biblical Google searches to find
the anti-gay parts to quote to justify their position that
gay marriage is the single worst threat to the sacred institution
of marriage; conservative politicians, many of them in childless
second or third marriages themselves, went on record as asserting
that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation. When more
conventional threats to marriage such as divorce, adultery,
children born out of wedlock, spousal abuse, and "Who Wants
to marry a Millionaire?" were brought up, they had a classic
answer: oh, well, nothing's perfect.
Gay rights hit some heights in the form of the hotly-contested
election of a gay Episcopal bishop and an ancient law against
sodomy being rescinded. But these were mitigated by Queer
Eye for the Straight Guy, which reassured straight America,
"Don't worry: gays don't really want to get married. They
just want to decorate the wedding!" And Boy Meets Boy, in
which "contestants" debased themselves by competing for the
favors of a blandly handsome young man who had the personality
of a sponge and the intellect of a paper towel. One contestant,
in an interview portion of the show, said, "I'm glad [straight
America] has a chance to see what gay men are really like"
- cut to the contestants on stage lip-synching I Will Survive
in a drag bar.
Then there was The Reagans. The made-for-TV movie was trashy
and historically inaccurate; in short, par for the course
for miniseries based on public figures. If it had been any
other American president's biopic, it wouldn't have mattered.
(If it had been The Clintons, depicting Hillary actually masterminding
9/11 while Bill chased Monica around with a chainsaw, we'd
have heard "Lighten up, it's only a TV movie.") And if the
objectors hadn't made such a fuss, the movie would have been
forgotten the day after it aired. But fuss they did, based
on second-hand or no information (at the same time, when controversy
began over Mel Gibson's theatrical Jesus movie, conservatives
were quick to defend it with "Why can't they wait until the
movie's released to complain about it?") and gloated over
their "victory" when CBS pulled the film from schedule and
sold it to cable network Showtime. Actually, the movie benefits
in the long run: the notoriety will only spur sales.
Now we're a week into 2004 with American soldiers still
being injured in Iraq, despite the capture of "the Butcher
of Baghdad"; the country being so much safer that the terror
alert was raised to High; people hired for temporary seasonal
jobs, which occasioned so much economic optmism last fall,
being let go; the national deficit reaching epic proportions
and the dollar continuing to shrink against the euro; Mad
Cow disease; Britney Spears's fifty-something hours of holy
wedlock furthering of the sanctity of heterosexual marriage;
and the re-election of George W. Bush (whose response to the
illegal immigrant problem is to wave his wand and make them
legal - this after Gray Davis got canned for giving them driver's
licenses!) popularly believed to be a shoo-in. Pat Robertson,
who once said that the deadly floods in Florida a decade ago
were the result of gay flags in Fort Lauderdale (though he
was oddly silent about the tornados that ripped through the
Bible Belt last year), has it on good authority from God that
Bush's re-relection will be a "blowout." It can only go up