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Recall the Recall, and Other Remnants of a Sad Old Year
January 8, 2004
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 for you?

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 appeased.)

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" about it.

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 be president.

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 from here.

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