I can’t believe how easy it all has been. We true-blue conservatives chose a candidate — thank you, Poppy! — shoehorned him into the White House, took our lumps as he demonstrated that he’s, how shall we say, a bit short on lunchmeat; survived the Jeffords debacle (damn you, Karl!), and got everything back on track again as a result of 9/11.
True, there have been some notable bumps in the road, with more to come, but on the whole, it’s been a cakewalk. Ladies and gentlemen, in accepting this award I need to thank a number of folks, without whom none of this would have been possible: Ralph Nader, Kathleen & Jeb & Jim & Karen, our HighFivers on the Supreme Court, Daschle & Gephardt for keeping their troops in line, Osama & the Suicide Bombers (not a bad name for a rock band, dontcha think?), Afafat & Sharon and India & Pakistan (those bloodthirsty idiots kept our scandals off the front page, thank you very much), the anthrax dispenser, and so many more. Including Clinton; whenever our supporters need a political punching bag, Bubba is always usable for a few more jabs.
And last, but by no means least, the media. Who woulda thought they could be so easily bought, coerced, manipulated, fooled, comfortably in our pockets? Thank God for the multimedia mergers of the ’90s. Now our corporate friends own the largest papers and chains and TV networks. No more investigative reporting a la Watergate these days, thank God. And besides, and this is the best part, ordinary citizens are not the least bit interested!!!!! It can’t get better than this.
And whatever our side can’t control outright, we can control with one word. In the Cold War days, it was “communism.” Today, all we have to say is “terrorism.” In neither case were we making it up out of whole cloth; there were dastardly communists and there are maniacal terrorists. So we barely have to do anything, except keep reminding folks of how awful and dangerous these fanatics are. Once we do that, the media and the public just go into fright mode. (Rather looked positively ridiculous early on as he covered his liberal ass with patriotic fervor!). Ashcroft, despite his naked ambition and spotlight-hogging, makes a formidable bogeyman: Watch what you say and do and think or Big John will come getcha and lock you away in a black-hole detention camp. That guy scares even me; no wonder he lost his re-election race to a dead man.
This terrorist-fright thing is working like a charm. Everybody is so scared to come at us with a frontal attack — the Democrats are like confused pussycats confronting a giant rat, with no earthly idea how to proceed — and so they just chip away at the edges, which we can handle easily, since the public is taking no note of anything we say or do, no matter how outrageous. Like I say, it’s a cakewalk.
Want to know my favorite part, diary? I’ve virtually disappeared from sight, and nobody’s put two and two together; even comedians’ jokes about me have no relation to what I’m really doing. They make cracks about my being “hidden away in a bunker.” When you can avoid getting slammed frontally by Leno and Letterman and Maher and Stewart, things are going just fine. Either they (or their writers) are blind, or they’re frightened; either way, their horns get pulled in.
Lynne and Lieberman made sure the liberal professors got the message, and so the campuses are basically silent as well. And the lawyers. And the Nobel Prize winners. No full-page ads in the Times and Post denouncing our policies, or even the direction we’re going. We’re home free. All we have to do is to pick on one notorious lawyer or journalist or campus, and everyone then understands what the limits are on dissent. (And the same goes for our allies abroad; we can do whatever the hell we want to do. Oh sure, they grumble and complain, but who are they? We’re the only — can you hear that, Frenchies, the ONLY! — superpower and they’d better behave themselves. God, this is a wonderful time to be an American! And to be President, if you get my drift.)
Fright is a dynamic motivating force. We planned on its working for us, but had no idea how well it would work. Thanks to the bin Laden air force, of course. We thought he would hijack an airplane or two and crash them into something symbolic like the Statue of Liberty or Golden Gate Bridge or something, or maybe even into the top floors of the World Trade Center. In other words, a few hundred dead Americans and lots of damage. But they must have done their homework well; even they were surprised at how easy it was to collapse the Twin Towers once the steel got melted by the fireball. Suddenly, a few hundred turned into thousands of dead. That, and the Pentagon, were terrible tragedies, but, as it turned out, good for us. Upped the fright level considerably.
Bush could then declare a State of Emergency (which we’ve never rescinded, of course); Ashcroft could ram the PATRIOT act through the Congress in a few days — those fools didn’t even have the brains or guts to call for full hearings on how the Constitution would be affected! — and off we went. A few namby-pamby liberals and civil libertarians complained, of course, but nobody was listening. Everyone just wanted us to get the bastards.
Nobody seemed to notice that the plans for that war already had been drawn up, and, within a few weeks, bombs were raining down on Afghanistan. Get those bastards. A piece of cake.
Not that we’re out of the woods. There are hurdles to get through. Some Democrats and moderate, sell-out Republicans are starting to ask pointed questions. Usually, all we have to do is to remind them how it will look to be seen as “unpatriotic” or “pro-terrorism” come election day, and they back off.
Enron could still blow up in my face; the word is out that Libby sold energy stocks while I was formulating the policy with the energy companies, and there’s the Afghan pipeline deal, and so on. If we can keep them away from the documents, and the Halliburton stuff, we might bravado it out. So far, we’ve been able to keep the anthrax facts contained, but scientists are starting to point fingers at the culprit, and it isn’t good for our side. (Nor is the fact that my staff and I were given Cipro to take on September 11th…a week before the anthrax letters were even mailed. But our spin is that it was “precautionary” because of “the terrorists.”)
The big one, of course, is pre-9/11 knowledge. There’s too much out there, especially on the internet, revealing how much we really knew a huge attack was coming and how we prepared in advance for its impact so that we could get our program implemented once fear permeated the nation. It’s all so confusing to the general public, and our “it’s-the-fault-of-the-system” approach and our story-diversion program are working like gangbusters. (The “dirty bomb” story was a classic; we were off the hook again, as the media and Congress swallowed the bait. Didn’t matter that it was old news, and really no news — the guy hadn’t even done anything yet.)
America WANTS to be in denial, I tell you; talk about a Teflon effect: NOTHING sticks to us! I have a theory that if the public knew what we were really up to, they’d have to think about drastically shaking up the political system — I’ve even heard the “impeachment” word being used on the internet — and they just don’t want to deal with any more chaos right now. So we get a free ride — what a country!
I’m starting to understand how Clinton must have felt in the latter days, bouncing like a pinball from one potential disaster to another. But his scandal involved sex and everyone was riveted; ours is just the tired, old Republican profit motive, and nobody seems to give a good goddamn about constitutional niceties. Just give us some peace and quiet, get the terrorist bastards.
I think we’ll be OK, if we can get through the next few months. Then, sometime before the November elections, there probably will be — in fact, I’d say we can pretty much guarantee it — another terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland. (Along with our own attack on Iraq.) And, guess what? We’re the war party, going after the bastards, Bush looks good, the GOP candidates grab onto the coattails and we’re back in power in Congress, and those Democrats go back to their caves and have to figure out another way of getting us in 2004. But, guess what? The war on terrorism will still be playing, and we’ll still be the ones in charge. Hot damn, this is fun!
Bernard Weiner, who was the San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic for nearly 20 years, is a playwright and poet. Holder of a Ph.D. in government & international relations, he has taught at various universities, and published in The Nation, Village Voice and CounterPunch.