It’s been a strange two weeks since I wrote a column. I skipped last Monday’s installment because my girlfriend, O., was due to return the preceding Friday after spending the summer abroad with family. (She’s a legal resident, Mr. Ashcroft, and from a coalition country, no less). After arriving in New York that afternoon, she was to hop a quick flight to New Orleans. But the most populous segment of the world’s most powerful country happened to be without power at the time, so no planes were leaving JFK.
Well, almost none. When O. called collect in tears around 5:00 PM, already 20 hours into the trip from her provincial home, she mentioned that a few flights were departing for passengers with no luggage. This puzzled me why would they get priority? until I remembered that X-ray machines don’t run on batteries. Oh, yeah, national security. Say, how’s that War on Terror going?
My frustration mounted during the evening news. Very little useful info, plenty of autoerotic backslapping: Manhattanites had made it a whole day sans electricity without resorting to cannibalism, proof that America (especially its enlightened Northeast) is a civilization unsurpassed. Then there was George W. Bush, who has already spent more of our money on Iraq than was needed to "modernize the power grid," crowing that he’s been warning of such a failure for years. My mood lightened only when, after some D.C. lifer blamed the outage on Canada, Toronto’s feisty mayor chirped, "Tell me, have you ever seen the United States take the blame for anything?" Y’all N’Yawkers ought to consider swapping commissar Bloomberg for this guy.
Anyway, by late evening, O.’s earliest departure was estimated to be the following Wednesday. Wednesday! Every thought of Bush, Cheney, and their corporate-welfare energy pals was drawing me closer to the Dershowitz view of torture. (Artistic license, Mr. Ashcroft, artistic license.)
All of which is to say, in an inversion of the old Sixties ethos, that the political is personal. What our rulers speak of in abstract terms is better-known to us as our lives. Thus, as my petty inconvenience dragged on, as 50 million Americans caught a faint whiff of life in Iraq, the most intriguing war story that week was an act of vandalism in a Baghdad slum. A U.S. Army helicopter crew, oblivious to the local Moral Majority, removed a Shi’ite flag from a tower. The offended thousands stormed the streets, leading to a death and several injuries in what had been a calm neighborhood. Shouldn’t our "pragmatic" warriors have seen this coming? Maybe they did. The only undisputed purpose this war has left is to advertise our power to do whatever we damn well please.
We needn’t wonder any longer why this administration watches paintball enthusiasts so closely the game encompasses the entire Bush philosophy of war and diplomacy. Shoot all the guys on the other team, capture their fort, pull down their flag and run yours up the pole: that’s victory, and victory is everything. Hey, they have the best weapons deficits can buy; if only they had the sophistry to match! Condi, honey, ya gotta give us a break with the "We Shall Overcome" shtick. Even Al Sharpton knows that bit is played, and no one trusts him with anything deadlier than a butter knife. We Americans haven’t had to endure the violence and humiliation that the Iraqis have suffered, but at least the Iraqis have their pride. What pride can we possibly retain after years of being scammed by imbeciles? When will our long national blackout end?
As for that other blackout, my story has a happier conclusion than is likely to come in Iraq. After "only" 24 hours delay, O. made it back. I felt as content as a malcontent can, ignoring the grim big picture in favor of my bright tiny vista. When I got home, my spirits were high. Then I checked the mail. Lying atop the standard pile of Saturday junk was a dumb bomb straight from Bush 2004. No postal error, either; it was addressed to me, with "Dear Mr. Barganier" for a salutation. "Your early support with a contribution would be a strong vote of confidence in my leadership," it read, "and would help get my campaign off to a good start." Then I felt even better.
The same people who told us they knew Saddam had nukes, the same whizzes who now aim to micromanage the planet, thought that I would be a good bet to send them money. Isn’t laughter wonderful?