I don't know if George W. Bush ever studied or read any T.S. Elliot when he was an undergrad at Yale. After all, Elliot [1888-1965] was a Harvard man, not an Eli. If not, then George missed out on the chance of immersing himself in some indelibly muscular, intelligent poetry; poetry that taught more than a few profound truths. If W. had managed to read or study any of the Nobel Prize winner's most memorable pieces, he would likely have remembered the opening verse to Elliot's depressive magnum opus, "The Wasteland:"
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
I don't know if the president considers April to be "the cruellist month" [Yes, Elliot, a world-class Anglophile, did spell the word "cruellist" in the British manner]; I do know that August hasn't been all that kind to him. Consider what the past four weeks hath wrought:
- The loss of his "brain," Karl Rove
- The resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez
- The two-year anniversary of Katrina
- The possibly foreseeable mining disaster in Utah
- The I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapse in southeast Minnesota
- The forced "retirement" of Arizona Representative Rick Renzi
- The announcement that former Speaker Dennis Hastert would not seek reelection due to questionable ethics
- Congressional investigations on virtually everything under the sun
- The news that General Petraeus' long-awaited surge assessment has actually been vetted -- if not written -- by the White House political staff
- The ethical cloud surrounding Alaska Senator Ted Stevens
- The Senator Larry ["I'm NOT Gay"] Craig scandal
Of course, July wasn't too kind either; last month was the scandal in which another champion of "family values" -- Louisiana Senator David Vitter -- was found to be frequently frequenting those whom Shakespeare delicately referred to as "victims of frail sisterhood."
I would imagine that in retrospect, April never looked so good.
For most partisan Democrats -- and more than a few independents -- all of the above could easily -- and understandably -- make for one long, sustained guffaw of glee . . . "Just wait for November 2008, we'll show all those holier-than-thou hypocrites who's boss!" Yes indeed, the blood, as they say, is definitely in the water. But that kind of response, although perhaps understandable, would be wrong -- terribly wrong. And for at two reasons:
First, political scandal and embarrassment tends to swing on an eternal pendulum. This week, this month, this year, the muck and mire is sticking to the Republicans. But just as sure as God made little green apples, the pendulum of perversity will one day swing back and begrime the Democrats. Need proof? When queried about Senator Stevens' ethical lapses, Republicans lash out viscerally and viciously with "and what about the ninety grand stashed away in William Jefferson's freezer?" When faced with the Larry Craig scandal, Republicans mouth the words "Barney Frank," and "Gerry Studds. And in exchange for Senator Vitter and his trollops, the Republicans bring up the catch-words "I did not have sex with that woman," and "Monica Lewinsky."
Second, what one might call "The Steve Irwin Factor." Irwin, you will recall, was TV's "Crocodile Hunter," who suffered a tragic death at the "hands" of a frightened stingray. If nothing else, Irwin's death should serve to remind us that there is nothing more dangerous, more lethal than a frightened or wounded animal. And if nothing else, George W. Bush and his cohorts are both.
In the past several days, we have seen and heard the president make comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam; vainly trying to convince us that a precipitous withdrawal from the former will inevitably lead to the carnage of the latter. It would seem that what he is laboring to say is that just as we should have remained in Vietnam a lot longer, so too should we remain in the Iraq a lot longer. This is indeed a frightening prospect. But wait, there's something even worse.
The president has also been ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran, issuing warnings of dire consequences if they will not "mend their ways." Unless I am like the Who's "Tommy" -- that "deaf, dumb and blind kid" -- what he is gearing up for is yet another war. This is enough to make even the most ardent teetotaler want to down two or three dozen fingers of Glen Garioch, Glenfiddich or Glenfarclas. Is the man mad? Has he lost all sense of reason? Or is he, like the proverbial wounded animal, lashing out in a feral attempt at self-preservation?
One might assume that a man who has been suffering his own "cruellest month" might have the sense, the decency to tone down the swagger; might recognize that he is indeed, the lamest of lame ducks. But no. The president still has a few aces up his sleeve, a few more arrows left in the executive quiver. If ever there was a time to make our voices heard, the time is now. We must -- through ever channel at our disposal -- remind Congress that they have the power to remove Bush's aces, to break his arrows . . . to finally take the lead in restoring a modicum of sanity.
More and more, I hear a haunting Bob Dylan refrain rattling about in my brain:
When you've got nothin', you've got nothin' to lose
You're invisible now, got no secrets to confuse
So laugh all you like. Point all the derisive fingers you wish. Compare Bush et al to Elliot's Hollow Men,
". . . the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw . . . .
Shape without form,
Shade without colour,
Paralyzed force, gesture without motion."
Laugh all you want, but do remember that whatever the "cruellest month" may be, it spares no one.
©Kurt F. Stone 2007