Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Witness to History

Last Wednesday night, I happened to be walking past the Shubert Theatre on 44th St. in New York City and I can personally verify that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice did, in fact, attend a performance of “Spamalot” in the midst of the ongoing crisis in New Orleans. Actually, if I'm being totally honest, all I can truthfully verify is that she walked out of the theater where "Spamalot" was being performed during the ongoing crisis in New Orleans. What Condoleeza Rice did or did not do while inside the Shubert Theatre I really can't say for sure. For all I know, she had her driver stop outside the theater so she could use the restroom. Not exactly sure why she'd want to do that since the restrooms are pretty tiny and the lines can get pretty long, especially during intermission. But as I like to say, to each his own.

Anyway, I'll be the first to admit that being there to witness Condi Rice leaving the Shubert Theatre isn't exactly on par with, say, being at the Polo Grounds when Bobby Thomson hit “the Shot Heard Round the World” or being inside Independence Hall to witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence or something really historically important or significant like that.

All I am saying is that I was standing on the curb with my daughter (she and I had just seen the most delightful performance of “Avenue Q” – oh my stars and garters, those puppets say the filthiest things!) when word spread that "the Mayor" was inside and about to come out. Given that the most exciting thing I'd seen that day was Jason Alexander at a corner deli picking through the salad bar wearing a fanny pack, I decided to stick around and see what developed.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when it wasn't Mayor Bloomberg but the Secretary of State herself who minutes later burst through the theater's large double doors and was immediately whisked into a waiting black SUV by a bunch of big, beefy guys. Now, I'm assuming here that the big, beefy guys were Secret Service agents and probably weren't just some really helpful New Yorkers who happened to be dressed all in black, were talking into earpieces and appeared ready to punch my lights out if I got even one step closer. Then again, it was New York City so who the hell knows.

Anyway, when the crowd milling about realized who had just stepped out of the theater, it caused an impromptu anti-war protest to break out, if two or three people shouting “Get out of the war!” qualifies as an impromptu anti-war protest. In any case, the two or three get-out-of-the-war types were immediately answered by two or three pro-war types who started shouting “Shut up!” in response, though if I'm being fair, I shouldn't automatically label them "pro-war types", since there is the possibility that the “shut-uppers” weren't so much defending the Bush administration’s war policies as not wanting New Yorkers to come off as boorish, ill-mannered hosts who didn't know how to treat visiting dignitaries and heads of state.

In any case, I'm aware that Condi has gotten some criticism for attending a light musical comedy when the disaster in New Orleans was still going on. Personally, I understand the argument that the Secretary of State's bailiwick is foreign policy and that the woman really shouldn't be required to don sack and ash cloth every time there's trouble on the domestic front.

On the other hand, there's trouble and then there's trouble… and at the end of the day, L'Affaire de Spamalot does seem to have been kind of an unbelievably stupid (or if I'm being generous, an unbelievably insensitive) picture to present to the American public. So stupid (or insensitive), in fact, that I'm really quite shaken by it. Because for the past six years, I feel there have pretty much been two constants in my life. The first being that I've pretty much come to expect that I will consistently disagree with the current administration’s politics. Whatever they think, I pretty much hold the opposite to be true. Whatever legislation they propose, I'll undoubtedly find myself on the other side. Not because I reflexively need to disagree with them but because they're always wrong.

The second constant, of course, is the Administration's masterly ability to charm, manipulate and bullshit their way out of any situation, no matter how dire things appear or how contradictory the messages they put out. I may not like it but I sure have to hand it to them. Evil genius is genius nonetheless.

So what I find myself asking now is... what the hell has happened to them? When did they lose their game? When did the magic suddenly disappear from the wand? Because it's been months now of getting everything exactly wrong on the p.r. front. I mean, if you think of Bush and his people as carpenters (and I often do), it’s like they keep whacking themselves on the thumb with a hammer over and over and over and over again. It's one thing if I keep smacking myself. It's another if a master craftsman keeps smacking himself.

Here's what I mean. Take Condi going to see “Spamalot”. Like I said, on its own, not such a terrible thing. The woman's got a high-pressure job, she has a right to go out, enjoy herself once in a while, doesn't she? Not only that, the awful truth is... I was there, too. What I mean is, neither one of us was out that night collecting clothes or passing the hat to raise money for the newly displaced population of New Orleans. No, we were both taking in a frivolous but enjoyable night of theater. (Granted, I'm sure she had way better seats than me but I suppose that's only fair. If there was suddenly a crisis in, say, Borneo or the Middle East, it's probably in the country's best interest that Condi have an aisle seat down front so she can get out of there quickly so she can go put a fire out. All I really need to do is get back to let the dog out and he's a golden retriever so he has a pretty big bladder.)

But it's not just Condi's night out at "Spamalot" that's the problem. There’s also that picture of Bush playing the guitar and before you go nuts, yes, I’m aware that the shot was supposedly taken shortly after he gave some deadly earnest speech about how he intended to help the hurricane victims. But come on! What clown let that happen? Short of sticking him in a toga and putting laurel leaves on his head, how much closer to “Nero fiddles while Rome burns” can you get?!

Then of course there was the Cindy Sheehan fiasco, where the most relaxed president in the history of the presidency refused to leave his relaxing dude ranch vacation to meet with the mourning mother of a dead soldier. The woman had been sitting in a dirty ditch for god-knows-how-long and I'm telling you, Bush gives her five minutes and the goddamned thing is suddenly history. Hell, he could have rolled down the window of his limo and waved and Camp Casey shuts down pronto. But no -- the whole situation was dealt with so ham-handedly that I actually started feeling sorry for the… okay, so I never started feeling sorry for the guy. But thing could have been so easily defused that it made me, a liberal, want to tear my hair out.

Before that, of course, there was the stupid little verbal watusi Bush started doing during the height of the Valerie Plame/Karl Rove revelations. The President was so desperate not to get cornered into having to fire his trusted Turd Blossom that he couldn't stop defining and redefining the circumstances under which he sort of might kinda maybe boot out a member of his administration if they were ever found to be guilty of a criminal act -- and I repeat, it would have to be proven in a court of law to have been a criminal act and not one of those immoral-but-not-illegal bullshit loophole thingies.

So that's why I want to know when the hell it suddenly become amateur hour in the White House. I've known for the past six years that I was being handled and deceived and manipulated, but in a weird way I at least felt like I was in good hands. There was at least some comfort, cold as it was, in the knowledge that handling the p.r. aspect of things was something they knew how to do and do well. But now they're even screwing that up.

Why, I tell you, it's almost enough to make you stop believing in the political process.

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