Remember How Great is was before 9-11? No? Of course not. This reprinted From Crapshoot, April 20, 2001

Arsenic & Old Lays

April 20, 2001

Here's a thought:

If you take a socio-etymological hand and shove it all the way up the ass of the social descriptor "Orwellian" and grab, pull, and turn it inside out, you get something like "Warholian." Orwellian, of course, refers not so much to the author as to his two most popular books, "1984," and "Animal Farm."

Warholian is a shorthand for some of the bits gleaned from the late Andy, specifically the one about everyone being famous for 15 minutes but even more so the idea that celebrity for celebrity's sake has replaced fame for accomplishment's sake.

If the fact that our elected reps uniformly exhibit unplumbed shallows were the only result, we would still be in relatively good shape, but unfortunately, the problem goes deeper than that, even if they do not.

The way this plays out in the corridors of power is that, for the most part, our elected officials seek to be performers instead of managers. Their patriotic battle cry is "Hey, look at me!" And as the engines of social management are completely obstructed by a bunch of spotlight-hungry babies who don't seem to have ever heard of, let alone read, the Constitution, we get social chaos.

They hate government but want us to vote them way up high for 2, 4, or 6 years (for no other purpose I can discern but their ability to smile and say, "Hey, I can see my house from here."). I suppose we must then have some debt of gratitude to Michael Huffington for having spent 26 million dollars a few years back to provide the punch line for an already-bad joke: "Vote for me. I won't do anything. Look at my record. I didn't do anything before."

We have come to a thoroughly deconstructionist government in which two truisms dominate action:
The first: Since I don't have a clue, a principle, or an idea, no one has one. So why shouldn't I just say anything that will sell and cut loose and pay off the people who paid to get me here. My ball, my White House, my country.

The second: We used to have principles and customs and we were happy, so we need to resurrect the prejudices and depredations of the past. They may have been bad, but we liked them and believed in them. The press tells us that everyone has done all those bad alternative things with sex and drugs, even Liberace, so the press must be bad. The government tells us we can't just dump our dirty motor oil down the sewer to wash away to the sea, so the government must be bad. (And the press, no innocents they, tells us that Woodward and Bernstein got an important story by behaving like rabid weasels so they, too, have a right to behave like a pack of feral dogs.)

Junior Bush learned how to deal with that press in Texas by denying access to anyone who writes critically of him or his administration. As Molly Ivins put it, "The relationship between the press and governor Bush was identical to the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton." (Damn, that fine lady can turn a phrase.)

The need for shallow celebrity makes us look to our top dog the way the Brits look to the royal family which is bred, brought up, and trained to administer shallow celebrity. But we don't care to look at the acts of management making actual governance a covert thing, so those who care about those things must work on them privately and late at night, after or between sound bites.
And sound bites do preserve the essence of Orwellian meaninglessness, do they not? "Slavery is Freedom," "Arbeit Macht Frei" "Working men and women are special interests," "Corporations are NOT special interests." A snappy phrase in hand is worth two actual ideas in the bush.

An opposition congress can spend some $50+ million on a meta-analysis of William Jefferson Clinton's dick – where has it been, what's it been up to, and what has he said about it. Historically, we went from the Watergate investigation ("What did the president know and when did he know it?" to Clinton investigating ("Who did the president lay, and when did he lay them?") And this devaluation of significance has destroyed some important things, like authority.

Those same Willy-obsessed guys now control the White House, the House and the Senate, and they're STILL going on about it William's Willy while they declare the Clinton presidency to be "the tragedy of missed opportunities."

As I recall, Bill Clinton managed to get some things enacted into law like Compassionate Leave, portability of health insurance from one job to another, and more. While Poppy Bush's claims to fame included introducing an anti-flag burning amendment and going back on his word to lobby for a cut in the capital gains tax while being up to his skinny ass in scandal concerning an illegal war in Latin America, consorting with an enemy prior to election, and huge payoffs via the Banco Lavoro and BCCI. There was a good chance that re-election might have won Poppy the seat of honor in an impeachment, one involving real threats to national security.

Dubya Bush (it's becoming more apparent daily that the W is for Wanker) has so far managed to piss off all our allies by uselessly damning the Kyoto Accords concerning CO2 emissions and global warming; drawing a stupid line in the sand with China ("No Apology"), having his associates tug their forelocks and shuffle and mumble, "Sorry," then running away like a chickenshit kid to a safe place and yelling back, "Nyahh, nyahh, I didn't really apologize." As he is right now trying to convince us. (I used to think of Poppy Bush as the sort of man who would have his friends drag someone into an alley, beat the crap out of him, then come in and throw a few safe punches while his buddies hold the fellow back, then leave before the man was set loose. Junior seems to be willing to merely shout from the street, "So there!")

Additionally, Junior wants to eliminate salmonella-testing for school lunches and allow health-threatening levels of arsenic in drinking water (cancer, heart disease, etc) to continue, reversing the Clinton-Gore long-overdue reduction of allowable levels. (Arsenic, by the way, is one of the side products you get from the most environmentally destructive form of gold mining, i.e., pouring huge amounts of sulfuric acid into a decapitated mountain, something Armand Hammer was doing in new Mexico, which now has seriously high arsenic levels in the water, and a rate of stomach cancer that should impress even our current Secretary of Health and Human Services. This is the same Armand Hammer Poppy Bush later pardoned for illegal financial dalliance with the Soviets.)

No one cares that Junior is paying off his friends by allowing them to continue poisoning us, even at an increased rate. But they still yell and shout about Bill Clinton's dick. Obviously, Clinton's shortcoming was that he didn't smear arsenic on his member, thereby eliminating surviving witnesses who would brag on their political mouthings.

As to that authority thing: Power is guys in the streets with machine guns. Authority is bobbies with sticks. Power certainly does grow out of the barrel of a gun, but authority grows out of respect, trust, and a sense of community. So years of chipping away at meaning and accountability gets us to a place where we have a president whose only accomplishment has been to lower our expectations so far that we're delighted and congratulatory when he passes a crisis without saying or doing anything to screw it up beyond repair.

Colin Powell (at least back in the My Lai and Iraqi Massacre days) is power-based authority. Mother Teresa was moral authority. And Jesus, as I write this on Easter Sunday, is the most non-power-based authority one can imagine – the Helpless God. Possibly because His lesson wasn't about power but transcendence. (Obviously, when you see the bumper sticker: "Jesus is coming back – and is he pissed!" you know you're in the presence of someone who didn't get the message.)

Of course, being perceived as dumb IS Wanker's talent. Back in the early 60's, a mentor of mine, explaining the popularity of California governor Pat Brown, told me "There's never been a man who met him who didn't come away thinking he was smarter than Pat. And then, the afterthought, 'Damn – I'm smarter than he is, and he's governor. I must be ok myself.'" Well, the same can be said about Dubya.

But Al Gore, well there was a man who never met anyone without Al trying to show that he was smarter than everyone, present company included. That's usually political death (although, even with all that against him, he still won the election, if not the White House).

The Bushies have it all figured out, how those damn intellekshuls love to make fun of dummies, so let's put a man out front who has that role down to perfection, and let 'em laugh. Does it occur to anyone that there's something curious about the fact that Dubya himself has come up with better jokes about himself than we have? Cause we're out here making fun of him, while his Minions of Mammon are in the back room eating our (salmonella-laden) lunches and getting rich.

Do the words, "Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain" ring any bells? No? How about "You can't fool all of the people all of the time, but if your brother's governor of Florida, you can pretend you did it once, and it lasts for four years." And as the sun slowly sinks below the western horizon, and the focus on Billy's Willy is gradually supplanted by attention paid to Bush's Blunders, an image keeps running through my mind: Bill Clinton is watching an episode of "I Claudius," the same scene, over and over. The scene is the one where Tiberius, widely and publicly castigated as a sexual degenerate, is sick and about to die. He looks up from his bed at Caligula and says, "With you as emperor, they'll make me a god within a year." And Tiberius laughs. And Bill Clinton laughs.
The rest of us may find it a little more difficult to laugh.

Howard Pearlstein


eXTReMe Tracker