Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner

Monday: You can now purchase Maureen Dowd's Bushworld for a dollar. Published just two years ago by G. P. Putnam's Sons at $25.95, it instructs us about the longevity of political books composed of old columns. Still, at the current price, it's a bargain. Visiting George Bush's salad days in the late 90s, when he was cranking up to run for the presidency is educative. The reporters who covered him then knew how ignorant he was of foreign affairs and weren't afraid to joke about it among themselves. And George, himself, reveled in the joke, regularly bragging that if the "East Timorians" decided to revolt he would be right on top of it. I wonder if the East Timorese had actually provided the crisis of our time we would be better off than we are now. Probably. We Americans are so whimsical, promoting an empty brain to the presidency as a lark, perhaps just to see whether we need a president at all. Some joke!

Tuesday: Despite all his attempts to cover up, Mr. Bush continues to reveal his character through his language. His remark that a cease-fire in Lebanon would be "stopping just for the sake of stopping" lays out starkly the condition of his imagination. It has not occurred to him to think what it would be to have bombs falling on the bodies of loved ones. If he had, he would see that banishing bombs is a substantial act. He might even stop to reflect on the difference between a body, at one moment, whole and healthy and that same body seconds later sliced into strips by shrapnel. But such visions are beyond his grasp. There are mountains of evidence showing that any thought, image, or vision of significance remains outside his range. The presidency has not deepened him. He may be the most shallow person ever to draw wide scrutiny. And he is the man the American people, in their wisdom, selected to conduct their political affairs. It will be a travesty of democracy is some responsibility is not assigned to that choice.

Wednesday: The eternal boy, Chris Matthews, hosted a debate in Rockefeller Center about whether the American people care more for the destruction of Lebanon than they do for what Mel Gibson said when he was arrested for drunk driving in Los Angeles. Nobody in the audience would admit to favoring the significance of Mel. Still, it was asserted, with panache, that almost everyone does. It is summer after all, we were reminded recently by Bill O'Reilly. In this kind of weather people don't want to hear, over and over, about distant war. It's so boring. Many members of the media have assigned themselves the task of assuring the mental comfort of Iowans and other segments of the population who are said to represent the true American stuff. It's not right to upset them or make them think hard, particularly not as temperatures and gas prices ascend. The cognoscenti should hold troublesome questions among themselves and allow the popular genius to focus on whether copious alcoholic consumption excuses bigoted expression.

Thursday: I was pleased to see Hendrik Hertzberg, in the latest New Yorker, take up the shabby habit by third-rate Republican politicians -- including the President of the United States -- of refusing to voice accurately the name of the opposition party. These sly-minded hacks refer persistently to the "Democrat" Party, an insult which appeals to their sense of cleverness. They view themselves as wonderfully subtle. My advice to Democrats -- or to anyone else annoyed by callow behavior from grown men -- is to employ the opposite tactic of bluntness by asking firmly, any time this silly locution is uttered, "What did you say?" This, by itself, would probably be sufficient to place it back beneath the rock it crept out from under. But if it should then keep on slithering from those witty mouths, follow up with "Is "democrat" treated as an adjective in any dictionary you know?" This will give pause because they'll be startled by the thought of anyone's consulting a dictionary. While they're struggling with that novel thought, push on with "I've never found it used that way." That should do it.

Friday: Way back in ancient times, before the world changed forever -- actually on May 13, 2001 -- Maureen Dowd wrote that Mr. Bush's first term agenda  was unbreathable air, undrinkable water, uneatable food, and unaffordable gas. It's hard to establish, precisely, how successful the president has been. If you were a literalist, you could say we're still breathing, after a fashion, still eating and drinking something, and still finding ways to purchase gas that formerly would have been thought unaffordable. With those truths at the forefront, we would have to say that Bush has been a big failure. There are other ways of viewing things, though. If you were a progressive, you could say that substantial progress has been made on the agenda and that things are moving along pretty well. The summer's weather suggests the president has been fairly successful. Even Pat Robertson has got hot enough to become a convert to global warming, which has to be seen as the principal support structure for the whole agenda. It's not that if the president had turned back on himself -- a thing unthinkable for one so resolute -- and made a genuine effort to reduce pollution, the recent heat wave could have been avoided. But the wave itself suggests that we're sailing along smartly towards his vision. And we can all reside in perfect faith that as the world degrades, Mr. Bush's allies will find ways to make money off the decline.

Saturday: The Economist, in a short piece designed to be at least mildly humorous, says the fabled battle between the sexes is over, and that women have won. That's because the things men do better have been offset by technology whereas the things women do better are at a premium in the modern world. Management, for example, which calls on skills like "how to undermine somebody's confidence while pretending to boost it" or "how to turn an entire lunch table against an absent colleague without saying a mean word" is clearly a woman's preserve. In truth, the only members of maledom likely to be successful in the coming age will be 'girlie men." It will be less violent in the future but nastier, as it always has been in the world of women. I'm not perfectly sure about the Economist's wisdom. I've known some women who fit the magazine's feminine profile but I've also known many who didn't. My own observations tell me that men and women are different, but not with respect either to ability or morality. The main difference has to do with finding things. Women appear to dig into their purses with a greater sense of awe and uncertainty than men show when reaching into their pockets. But I don't know what metaphysical value to assign to the propensity.

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