Sunday, October 29, 2006

Our Cross-Promotion to Bear

Cross-promotion is a great, unacknowledged evil in our time.
I'm referring to the practice of using of one product to promote another unrelated product, usually because both share a corporate parent.

Some of you will remember an incident from a few years ago when this gargantuan beast, normally unnoticed by virtue of its very size and ubiquity, forgot itself and clumsily reared its ugly head (quite literally, read on) for all to see. I speak of course of when a television network, using the technology that enables the insertion of computer generated advertisements into the body of television broadcasts (allowing them to, for instance, change the ads on the home run wall each inning for the television audience) projected onto the backstop behind home plate—in a World Series game, mind you—none other than Ally McBeal. McBeal's startling, oversized visage loomed just over the shoulder of the batter, as if she were about to devour him right before our eyes and spit him back out as a made-over, queer-eyed, Oprah-approved New Man who adjusts his cup only in private and would sooner promote cannibalism than be seen with a pinch of tobacco in his lip.

There was small, but not insignificant, consolation in the thought of both George Will and Ron Shelton recoiling in horror at the sudden sight of the giant, disembodied head of McBeal, like some cinematic monstrosity, emerging from the commercial ooze that had up to that point been contained and inobtrusive. But mostly it seemed that a definite line had been crossed, or, more like, we were only now made aware that the line had been crossed long ago. Years later when members of the newly crowned world champion Boston Red Sox appeared on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, it didn’t even raise an eyebrow (queer or straight, plucked or uni-).
I personally took some consolation in the fact that I haven't cared about baseball for a long time. You, my baseball loving friends, will someday reach this point. Perhaps it will happen when you are watching a game and realize that not a single player from the home team is from the team's home. Or, you'll be listening to some writer or celebrity drone on about baseball as a metaphor, or baseball as a sacrament, or baseball as a--you get my point.

But then, what is the pabulum of those who rhapsodize ad nauseum about the transcendence of baseball but the opportunistic crossing of a decent boundary, an attempt to sanctify the banal (just as commerce would make banal that which should be sacred)? And aren’t these really the same sin? It seems that everyone is trying to hitch a ride on someone else's train; cross-promotion, in other words. Religion is religion. Baseball is a game. You pretentious, windy bores.
So if baseball’s corruption brings at least the benefit (in my imagination, at least) of exposing the stench of a few literary and cultural equivalents of the dung beetle, it must be that there are places where the forces of continual cultural leveling would not gain admission, where even the most short sighted and greedy marketing school hotshot wouldn’t dare tread. Some barriers will stand, surely.
But no. Even the mighty and masculine NFL would have to yield to Mammon (yes, I know it's professional football, big business, all that; work with me here), as we all witnessed with horror the intrusion into Monday Night Football of the most effete and trite work this side of the execrably chipper and comsumerist Sex and the City: the abominable Desperate Housewives. A program about—brace yourselves—the seamy underside of the suburbs! How very audacious! Why didn’t I think of that?
Damn them. Damn them to whatever circle of Hell is reserved for the unoriginal, just below that marked out for those of you who enable these miscreants by watching their blather. You know who you are; you’ll repent now if you know what’s good for you.

But back to the NFL's disgrace. If you have the stomach for it, allow me to refresh your memory. MNF had devised a clever way to introduce the program. The first one I recall went like this: It’s six o’clock and the commercial bank is interrupted not by the familiar strains of MNF, as the viewer is conditioned to expect, but by Matlock. We are dropped into mid-episode and Andy Griffith is addressing a jury; just as you’re wondering out loud what is going on, he turns to the screen and says enthusiastically, “are you ready for some football?”
If they could be that clever every time I probably wouldn’t be boring you with this lament. But of course, that’s the problem with cross-promotion. It cannot be contained; it will never say enough. It is as much uncontrollable momentum as it is an idea. It floods every void and finds nothing inviolable; it is as mindless and inexorable as water’s tendency to find its own level.

The brutality of corporate competition ensures that cross-promotion will not be restrained. No one can afford to back down, because if Arid Extra Dry doesn’t collar you in the department store queue, well, Speed Stick will have you all to itself in the pay phone booth. So each is trying to head you off at the pass before the other; meanwhile you can find no peace. Cross-promotion is the desperation of a million Willy Lomans armed with the latest technology, all jockeying and elbowing each other for our attention.

I have digressed. The Incident. The network had by now abandoned their earlier model, which was to fake their eager football audience into thinking that some other program was airing and end with the punchline are you ready for some football? On this eveining they thought to try their hand at sketch comedy, with predictably grim results. Thus they gave us the great T.O./Desperate Housewives incident of whatever godforsaken year it was.
It opens with Terrell Owens at his locker before the game; one of the Housewives shows up wearing only a towel, flirts for a moment, and convinces T.O. to forgo the game long enough to, well, use your imagination. The piece ends with her leaping into his arms. Cut to the rest of the Housewives, saying (over a phone if I remember correctly—who knows why): Are you ready for some football? Well, I was a moment ago. Now I'm ready for a stiff drink.

No doubt the frustrated comedy writers behind this anticipated some controversy over the sexual nature of the spot, and that this controversy would be complicated and magnified by the predictable-as-clockwork reflex action of others who could be counted on to charge racism on the part of the offended because T.O. is black (and widely disliked) and the actress is white. A good week or more (eons by promotional standards) of Housewives saturating the airwaves. The writers’ guile at manipulating the public is as expert as their comedic talents are rudimentary.
But I was dismayed to find no one making the point that the yentas from Desperate Housewives intruding on Monday Night Football is, if not a crime, at least a considerable misdemeanor. It begs the question: where does it all end? In the name of decency, where? Is there no space that will not be intruded upon?
Every unguarded moment must be utilized to compel consumption of one sort or another; computer generated monstrosities projected onto the bare stretch of green wall behind the batter in the box, video screens in the supermarket check-out line and at the self-service gasoline pump, product placements in film, celebrities making clumsy mention of products in interviews. Soon all public speech will sound like an interview with a victorious stock car driver, making sure to mention every sponsor.

Because what is cross-promotion after all but the same homogenizing, corporate disdain-all-boundaries and take-every-advantage mentality that has infected all aspects of American life, bringing us politicians who must prove their everyman cred by answering the boxers or briefs question, the smirk of Keith Olbermann, Tucker Carlson’s phony irreverence, an inexhaustible font of second-rate slasher films, political media managers, Anderson Cooper airing insurgent videos of snipers killing American boys, fan sites, pop-up ads, celebrity news coverage, junk mail and spam, telemarketing; all the effluvium that is filling the space between us and reality with hallucinatory haze and shrill noise?
What are the consequences then, when these things spilling over onto one another are products not only of commerce but of culture? Isn't one thing lessened when it is pressed into the service of another?
It is inevitable. I know. I won’t stop it. Nothing will stop it; giving it free reign is preferable to attempting its regulation. But I do wonder if the boosters of ever more homogenization and the trashing of any and all remaining boundaries (because we all know that boundaries of any sort are bad, very, very bad) think through the process and where it will leave us.

Recently I read that some are working on ways to take advantage of the public urinal. This once inviolable space will be exploited soon, with electronic ads activated when one bellies up, so to speak. It's probably too much to hope they'll do us the favor of projecting the screen where we might express our disapproval non-verbally. I just dare Ms. McBeal to intrude there.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

In the Bunker with Barney, Laura, and Me

I will not withdraw even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me.
George W. Bush

The following diary fragments were found by rebel forces of the breakaway American states near the ruins of President George W. Bush’s secret bunker at the close of the Second Civil War in May of 2008. The author is unknown, signing only his initials, “D.D.”

Various explanations abound for D.D.’s identity; all speculative, some wildly fanciful, such as the legend that he was an obscure “blogger” (a phrase for professional and dilletante writers, political activists, exhibitionists, and others who used the Internet for self-publishing before the UNITUS Act of 2020 solidified the Second Republic's absolute control over the media, ushering in the Long Repression of the mid-21st Century).
By this account, after abandoning his early opposition to the Administration D.D. became a fervent supporter in its last days and somehow, with the zeal and determination of a convert, managed to insinuate himself into the upper echelons of the Administration just as it descended into confusion and madness.

All indications are that his role was that of a domestic servant. The diary makes obvious the other residents considered him an insignificant dullard. This likely explains why they were unguarded in his presence, allowing this invaluable document of the bizarre death throes of the Bush Regime.

April 5
I think the stress is starting to take its toll on the president. Earlier today I went to clean his quarters; I was surprised to find him standing before a full length mirror, practicing his oratorical hand gestures and muttering under his breath.

I gaped in shock. Hearing the sound of a muffled cough, I looked to see the first lady sitting across the room watching, sullenly taking long drags from a cigarette. She smashed it out violently in an over-full ashtray and, turning to withdraw another, caught sight of me. I pretended I’d just walked in, saying:
"Mr. President? I found that copy of Rebel in Chief we've been looking for."
He didn't seem to hear, but when he caught sight of me in the mirror he said:
"How long you been in the service, son?"

Before I could reply he returned to his muttering, delivering a one-liner and mustering a sickly version of his familiar chuckle. It was frightening, seeing him like that. I hurried out, feeling the first lady's eyes on the back of my neck. I’m beginning to suspect that things aren’t going as well as the President says.

April 9
Today Rove caught me, again, as I tried sneaking past his quarters.
“D____. Would you come here for a moment please?” He said in that unctuous voice he uses when he wants something. I braced myself and went in; I was appalled to find that awful green silk bath robe—all he’s worn for days now—was left open, revealing what had to be a thong. He was covered in oil and reddened from lying in his tanning bed.
“I wonder if you might help me; I need to apply this lotion and I can’t quite reach…”
“I have to feed Barney.” I stammered. "Mrs. Bush—I mean the first lady—will kill me if I don’t—"
“Women.” He said, shaking his head, advancing on me. “Why do we bother? Well, the dog can wait. Barney I mean, not Laura." He gave that creepy little laugh he uses when he thinks he's said something clever. "You won’t tell that I said that, will you? Our little secret?” He said the last part in a low, conspiratorial tone. As he came near I backed away, bumping into the wall; I slid sideways until I fell out the open door.

“Gotta feed the dog.” I said nervously over my shoulder as I hustled away. “Gotta feed Barney.”
“Okay then, maybe later.” He said casually, pretending not to notice my discomfort. Damn that guy’s persistent.

April 12
As I was passing the conference room this morning the president called me in.
“D____. C’mere. Check this out.” He said cheerfully. I allowed myself the hope that he was going to say we'd be leaving the bunker soon. “Have I shown you this?”
He had been leaning over a scale model of a city. He stepped back and smiled proudly, spreading his arms in presentation.

“What is it sir?” I said, disguising my disappointment. The room was a shambles; everything had been hastily cast to the walls to make room for the model's well-lit preeminence in the center of the squalor.

“It’s Baghdad.”
“Oh, of course.” I said, still feigning.
“See, here’s the airport; here’s the road to the airport; see the cars? Everything’s safe and secure. See the people? They’re voting.”
“What’s that sir?” I was sorry the moment I asked, but the futuristic structure on the outskirts of the city was out of place, cobbled together with what appeared to be the modified parts of a child’s toy.
“That’s the Bush Freedom and Liberty Mosque.” He said, his enthusiasm quickening. “It's going to be open to Muslims and Shiites alike. Let me show you—“

“George!” The First Lady called sharply from behind me. The look of a chastened boy came over the President’s face. I instinctively came to attention. I shifted to the side and, careful not to make eye contact, excused myself with a mumble.

I hurried down the hallway before stopping in my tracks. Rove’s door was open; a muted, down-tempo R&B beat and the scent of marijuana emanated from his room. I turned about on my heel. Too late.
“D____!” It was the Vice President. “Get in here.” He motioned at me from the other end of the hallway.
I had to pass Rove’s open door to reach the V.P.'s quarters. I looked deliberately ahead; out of the corner of my eye Rove's leer taunted me through the dim resolution of the black-light. Worse; I thought I saw Bolton’s white moustache glowing in the darkened recess behind him, over a constellation of glinting studs that would have to be one of his leather get-ups. They would be at it for a while. Great. Another shitty night's sleep hiding in the pantry.

“C’mon. Double-time!” The V.P. barked impatiently, going back inside.
When I came in I saw General Pace and General Casey standing at attention before a folding table covered in maps.
“See this idiot?” The Vice President said, pulling me into the room with what felt like a claw. The two stared straight ahead. “Look at him!” He thundered. The two sheepishly complied. There was an awkward, embarrassing moment as we stared dumbly at one another. The room was colder than ever. The steam from our breath pawed at the air between us like ghostly forelimbs.

“This moron can do a better job than you two!” He gave me a rough shake. “In fact, he’s about to replace you incompetent bozos! What do you think of that?” Pace began to speak, then thought better.
“Go ahead, Miss, let’s hear what you have to say.” The V.P. growled.
“I—we’ll try harder sir; we just need another six months to turn this thing around.” Pace’s voice quavered on the verge of one of his legendary crying jags.
“Get the hell out of here.” The Vice President said without looking at me, shoving me back out the door.
I'm starting to wonder what I've gotten myself into.

April 15
When I went to clean the conference room today I found Ledeen bent over the Baghdad model; using one of Goldberg's Star Trek toys he was pretending to strafe and bomb the city, spraying the streets with spittle as he mimicked the sound of bombs and gunfire, punctuating here and there with the anguished cries of the wounded. I managed to slip back out before he saw me.

April 19
I sneaked out into the garden today, against the V.P.’s orders, just to escape the relentless drone of the ventilation system. It was shrouded in silence and a cool mist; an incredibly peaceful contrast to what was going on inside. It was so still for a moment I swore the war wasn’t real.
The impulse to flight welled up, terrifyingly. Then I heard something: barely perceptible, but clearly the sound of a hushed, urgent voice. I followed it, my accelerated heartbeat sending a hot pulse through my temples. I thought the enemy had found us; I half-expected to find a commando whispering into a headset, setting up a raid.

Then I heard a phrase I recognized. Following the voice I came upon the president, bundled against the chill and reclining in a lounge chair. He was facing away, revealing his profile. He was speaking just above his breath, reciting the programmed phrases that had been the boilerplate of his speeches to the nation, in a maniacal, urgent tone. He spat the words out as if to purge himself of them. Occasionally he would punctuate a sentence with an exaggeration of one of his stock facial expressions; now gross caricatures. It was only then I realized how lost we are. Too overcome to turn away, I looked down in shame.

“Not exactly what you signed on for, is it?” He said.
It was a voice that I didn’t recognize; it was relaxed, unguarded, natural. He was looking at me over his shoulder; the mask that was the man I thought I knew was revealed in its absence. This man was more familiar somehow; he could have been anyone. He had the look of a wearied penitent resigned to fate with gratitude. I came closer so I wouldn’t have to speak up.
“No, I don’t think any of us signed on for this, sir.”
I worried he'd take my my fellow-feeling for a complaint; his look conveyed an instant, grateful understanding.

“Well, sorry anyway.” He turned away. Just as I was about to leave he said, “You know, I was almost baseball commissioner once.”
“I know.” I hesitated a moment. “You would’ve made a good commissioner, Mr. President.”
He faced me, grinning a wan thanks, before looking down into his lap, lost in thought. He caught himself and looked up, in the same old jesting bravado:
“No, I would’ve made one hell of a commissioner, D____.”
I straightened up and nodded, forcing a grin
"Yes sir. I would have liked to be there."
Turning around I nearly walked into the First Lady; I came to attention. She stilled me with a light hand on my shoulder and brought her face before my lowered gaze. Her look had softened. She had been listening to our exchange.
“Thank you, D____. For everything.”
It was the first time she addressed me by name.

“Yes ma’am.” I said, embarrassed. “I better get back inside.”
“Be careful. Dick is chewing out the guys from The Weekly Standard. You might want to steer clear of the conference room." She paused, indulged: "Of course, I think you've earned the right to see Kristol throwing himself at the VP's feet.”
"I'll pass. I saw that last time he was here."
Our eyes met for the first and last time; we smiled conspiratorially and parted.

My hand was heavy on the stairwell hatch. Gathering my strength, I looked back at Laura, pulling George’s blanket closer about his neck, stroking his hair at the temple lightly with the back of her fingers, as if to a child. From here they might as well have been at home, on an identical afternoon, he content and she beloved, some other time, some other place. Any two people. I came back down the hole.

April 20
Everyone is gathered in the conference room. It’s the V.P.’s birthday. I can hear them singing a forced and shrill Happy Birthday right now. I know exactly what he looks like: his thin, mirthless grin drawing the fearful air like a gill; I can see his beady eyes as they furtively scan back and forth with reptilian satisfaction, obscured behind the reflection in his glasses of the terrified, contorted faces of the false revelers.

Well, this is it. Now's my chance; I’m leaving the bunker.
Barney has come in; he looks miserable, wagging his tail plaintively. He seems to understand. No, I'm sure he does.
"I gotta go, pal. Take care of yourself." I tell him, surprised to hear my voice cracking with emotion as I pat him on the head. "Don't worry."

The grim, insincere singing; the dog's helpless, imploring eyes. I have no choice.
Oh alright.
Come on boy, let's go home.
D.D.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sitting in a Bar in Granite Falls

“Hey, if it isn’t the diehard partisan. How’s tricks?”
“Screw you.”

“Buy you a beer?”
“I’ll buy my own. Hey Mike, Jack straight up.”

“Whoa. Worse than I thought. Buck up, amigo; I’m sure Saddam’s death sentence will enliven, so to speak, the base, no?”
“He gassed his own people!”

“How about that Foley character?”
“Ain't it just like a fag!”

“I wouldn’t know. Bad timing though, wouldn’t you say?”
“October surprise! Where’s the outrage?”

"Indeed."
"Pages Gone Wild. That's what it is!"

“I was more interested in the details of the recent NIE.”
“Another leak scandal! Mike, gimme another.”

“Slow down there, friend. I hate to say I told you so, but--”
“How about that lower than expected deficit!”

“Afghanistan is even a mess now. Couldn’t you just see that one coming?"
“The Dow hit 12,000!”

“Got any stock?”
“That’s personal.”

"Looks like the Senate's in play, hmm?
“The tax cuts are working!”

“Can you imagine what the hearings are going to be like?”
“Cut and run! Cut and run!”

“Iraq is a disaster. What the hell are we going to do?”
"Stand up! Stand down!"

"Or perhaps kneel in prayer."
"Religion of peace!"

"Wow. North Korea. Scary, eh?"
"Clinton strikes again!"

"Have you been following events in Baghdad? Looks like it's coming apart."
"How about those Cardinals!"

“Have another drink?”
“Stay the course and make it a double!”

Sunday, October 08, 2006

To Awaken, Perchance to See

The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.
—Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Hoisted by their own petard.
Sometimes when we dream the sound of the waking world intrudes. Once (and I swear this is true), home on leave and fresh from boot camp, sleeping on the couch with the television on, I jerked awake to the sound of reveille, as I had been every morning at 0530 for the previous three months. The bugle call was emanating from the television I had left on, now broadcasting an old movie about the cavalry.
I used to sleep with the radio playing, so I’ve had dreams with soundtracks, some incongruous, sometimes by chance perfectly apt. They always seemed to intrude just before awaking. Sometimes a hopelessly trite or silly song would interrupt the most fearsome nightmare; welcome, but with an unsettling, ironic effect.
I have felt, like so many that I encounter, that the last few years of the Bush miasma resemble an unrelenting nightmare. Is this latest scandal, with its familiar and sordid nature, like a frivolous pop tune that intrudes on the slumber of the nation, awakening some from a grim reverie, others to a grim reality?

I confess to feeling no significant sense of outrage at those sordid details of Rep. Foley’s misdeeds that have managed to penetrate the flimsy mental barrier that I’ve erected against them (I really do like to sit these things out). Neither, though, am I amused.
Similar to the Monica Lewinsky farce, I can’t help but feel nothing so much as embarrassment for the nation as a whole, that we have made this the current focus of our national dialogue. I have the same feeling of wanting only to be done with it. I will say this much: the outrage of the Democrats is as artificially augmented as the breasts on a stripper (excuse me, just trying to keep in the seamy spirit of the thing). But then, when the nation was treated to lurid details about cigars and blue dresses, the outrage of the Republicans and their outlying mandarins was just as affected. Same as it ever was.

Thus, I was going to write that the Foley scandal (hopefully) bringing down the foul reign of Karl Rove was unsatisfying. Why couldn’t they be called to the dock for their bloodier crimes? It would take a sex scandal, would it? And one has to lament, it is more the nature of such a scandal to quickly and completely capture the public's attention with titillating details than any real outrage felt about abuses of power and sexual immorality that makes this the blow that may take down the fearsome Rovian beast. Our political process is largely determined by late night television. And Jack Paar is nowhere to be found.

But on further reflection, I can’t help but draw some perverse satisfaction. Rove, Bush, et al. have skillfully shanghaied social conservatives into the service of empire, with a level of deviousness that brings to mind the charlatans who led into slavery the waifs of the Children’s Crusade. I don’t mean to compare the average traditionalist to a child, but to an orphan; he is similarly abandoned, by his culture and political class.

The promises of the current “conservative” class of politicians have always been false, their personal behavior always strikingly hypocritical. The real sacrifices necessary to preserve some semblance of a coherent culture and moral code are an extremely hard sell, especially when they conflict with the aims of the Republicans' and Democrats' true patrons: the vested interests that bankroll the entire political enterprise. I’m reminded of a line from the film Boogie Nights, when the director, with droll understatement, tells the young actor, of the funding provided by the producer: “it’s an important part of the process.”
It may of course be that culture, community, and common morality are doomed by modernity and commerce. And politically, that is plain brown wrapper, behind-the-counter material.

Karl Rove has always recognized that all the great center of the nation wanted was that the ruling elite take them seriously, and for someone in power to address their concerns regarding our headlong flight from traditional morality into secular decadence; to frame these concerns as something other than rank bigotry. He knows how to make a show of it, and the opposition has made his job easy.
I remember reading a story in the New York Times about socially conservative voters before the election of 2004. It began something like this: John Smith is scared to death. What scares him is gay marriage. At the time I could only think to myself that with an opposition like the Democrats, the Republicans could very nearly phone it in. And in a sense they did, faxing talking points to the various corners of the mediasphere, with gay marriage prominent, I'm sure; right up there with the war and the failing empire, therein described as the "war on terror."

After the election, I was talking to a liberal friend, both of us stunned and saddened that Bush had won re-election, and I angrily said that the Democrats were hopelessly negligent for making an issue of gay marriage. For a week afterward, I was deluged by forwarded emails, each something about alleged gay-bashing crimes. It would have been no use arguing that the connection between violence and gay marriage was specious; the indulgent sense of moral security my friend felt for being on the "right" side of the question was more important than anything else.
Here then was the manipulation viewed from the other side: conjured up tales of a terrified homosexual underground continually hounded by pick-ups full of leering, murderous thugs who can only be thwarted if civil unions become the law of the land. A nighttime horror story of monsters under the bed; the phony specter of a near threat to distract the childlike rabble from the reality of the daily slaughter destroying the republic from half a world away.
I can almost hear an IED exploding, punctuating the stomach churning black comedy of it all.

Sexual morality has always been hopelessly beyond the control of any secular government, thank goodness. All a conservative leader can offer is resistance to the excesses of rights activists and educators coupled with a plan for rolling back government programs that tend to engender the social pathologies of illegitimacy and irresponsibility; welfare, for instance. Add a principled opposition to abortion and you’ve nearly completed the slate of realistic and legitimate legislative goals for the traditionalist.

Of course the Rove/Bush cultural movement hasn't done a thing to arrest any particular decline, nor has it offered any real opposition to either the welfare state or the durable system of race and sex preferences, offering only token resistance to tokenism when not joining in wholeheartedly. And where do they dump their most egregious example of an emblem promoted well beyond her merit? Atop the State Department.
A sound conservative tenet is to value deeds, and while domestically the Bush Administration has offered little more than tax cuts, profligate spending, and the occasional bullying gesture such as denying funding for stem cell research, abroad it has been very ambitious indeed.

Support for this so-called conservative agenda at home subsidizes the most aggressively interventionist agenda abroad. And few recall or even ever knew that there once was little connection between militarism and conservatism. The president seems to give speeches as often as not from the confines of a military base, and no one seems to mind; we are continually exposed to images of him with a uniformed formation behind him, like a minor dictator. And like many a minor dictator, his is a thoroughly incompetent military mind: his aggressive adventurism has been as poorly conceived, planned, and executed as it has been unprovoked.

But unlike the tinhorn despots he emulates, he is not an overpowering central figure surrounded by lackeys but an empty vessel into which a disdaining cabal of swaggering bureaucratic bullies pour their own ambitions and designs. Is it any wonder it seems no one is in charge?
And what tells this atheist observer that Bush is a pretender at piety? That he hasn't the humility to know he has no business being president.

Rove and Bush have long benefited by the sense of unrelenting cultural siege felt by those who have no place in the Democrats' hierarchy of grievance, those on whom it is always open season: traditionalist white Christians. People generally too immersed in the day to day business of work and family (that is to say, perpetuating the life of the nation) to be expected to invest the necessary time to unravel the ever increasing layers of Fox News bullshit disguising the true nature of current foreign policy. They trusted their leaders; that is, the ones who weren’t telling them they were hopeless troglodytes consigned to historical obscurity because they have misgivings about the post haste dismantling of any and all moral tradition.

Bush addressed their most exigent concerns, not with substance certainly, but with words. Then again, where else were they to go? The Democratic Party has abandoned them to the predations of corporate power and globalization with as much enthusiasm as the Republicans and, when it isn’t ignoring them completely, portrays them as the bogeyman with which they stir up the fears of their rubes. And all the while, the global designs of imperial conquest abroad and cultural dissolution at home proceed unheeded.

Of course the Democrats have lately been as inept at their particular form of demagoguery as the Republicans have been skilled. Relying on the phony populist rhetoric of the buffoonish Howard Dean, clumsily characterizing the middle class conservatives he's trying to woo as rednecks in pickup trucks; revealing he's never had a real conversation with either, and suggesting he holds each in equal disdain.
But then this appears, and we realize that it was inevitable that a highly placed hypocrite would be exposed. But the timing, it seems almost--providential.

But we’re nearly all hypocrites to some extent. That never did argue against the importance of a common morality to civilization. One might say it argues for it; we are all imperfect. Fallen, yes, like Mr. Foley, who I can't help but feel a bit sorry for; at least until I consider his support for the war. Then it's for the whole of us that I feel sorrow.
Chastity and temperance are vastly more appreciated when exhibited by the other guy. I can't resist dusting off an old standard:

I want my attorney, my tailor, my servants, even my wife to believe in God, because then I shall be robbed and cuckolded less often.
—Voltaire

There is a legend often related along with this quote, that Voltaire once excused his servants before engaging in a frank discussion of religion that he feared would erode their faith.
The elected are our servants; let's dismiss them so we may speak freely about their god, power.