Okay, fair enough, I have to admit to indulging in a certain satisfaction at watching the unraveling of the Bush administration’s pipe dream of assuming absolute, untrammeled power both at home and abroad…”
Chances are you’ve heard the German word “Schadenfreude” tossed about—to me, it ranks right up there with “zeitgeist” and “ubiquitous” when it comes to words that indicate a speaker is trying to sound smarter than he or she actually is. But there really isn’t another term I can think of to describe the strange feeling welling up in me these days as I watch the evening news. It’s been barely one year since George W. Bush won his second term as president and the shift in his bearing is a remarkable thing to see—the customary swagger of Team Bush is giving way to a very palpable sense of desperation and self-delusion. This is not a happy time in the White House.
You’ll find “Schadenfreude” defined by dictionary.com as “a malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others.” Okay, fair enough, I have to admit to indulging in a certain satisfaction at watching the unraveling of the Bush administration’s pipe dream of assuming absolute, untrammeled power both at home and abroad. A steady stream of body blows is eroding the so-called “mandate” handed to Shrub and the Neocons in his narrow win of 2004: Hurricane Katrina, 2,100 dead U.S. soldiers in the endless quagmire of Iraq (and counting), the Scooter Libby CIA leak indictment, the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination fiasco, repeated failures to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, disturbing Republican losses in off-off-year elections, the furor over those pesky images of tortured and humiliated Abu Ghraib detainees, and revelations of “black site covert prisons” run by the CIA…it all ads up to a rough second term for our man George, who still has three years to go. His latest approval rating, according to an Associate Press/Ipsos poll released in early November, stands at 37 percent, worse than the numbers that had him on the ropes in the months before 9/11. The fact that this most recent poll purposely left out hurricane-ravaged Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and central and southern Florida speaks volumes about the eye-opener Mother Nature unloaded on those areas and the rest of the country in August.
Rather than take their chances by putting a flummoxed George W. Bush in front the cameras at home, the White House damage control team has opted instead to trot out everyone’s favorite scowling, foulmouthed huggy-bear Dick Cheney to set the record straight. The Veep has been in full grumble and glower ever since, calling war critics in Congress “dishonest,” “shameless,” and “reprehensible,” accusing them of nothing short of “revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety” for having the audacity to suggest that we were led to war with deliberately distorted intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. If nothing else, it’s been fascinating to see Mr. Cheney deliver lines such as these with a straight face, all the while fighting to keep his rage at being called to task from causing him to erupt in a hypertensive mushroom cloud.
And where was the Commander in Chief while Mr. Cheney was snapping and snarling at these congressional upstarts? On the same day Cheney was venting his spleen to the American Enterprise Institute—sounds like a tough room there—the President was in Mongolia on the last leg of a seven-day trip to Asia, addressing an audience that was probably not among his more vociferous, either. Once his handlers had him properly prepped (“They’re Mongolians Mr. President, please, for the love of God, don’t call them ‘Mongoloids!’”), he thanked the tiny Buddhist country for standing by the U.S. in the war in Iraq: “The Mongolian Armed Forces are serving the cause of freedom, and the United States armed forces are proud to serve beside such fearless warriors,” he is quoted in a CNN article of November 21. Included in that same story is one of the most inadvertently hilarious bits of deadpan I’ve ever read: “Mongolia has 131 troops in Iraq and about 50 in Afghanistan in support of the U.S. war against terrorism, clinching its status as an ally.” So the freedom-loving Mongolians get to come to the party while the damn Germans and French still stew in their own juices. Serves them right.
Actually, the howler of all howlers was uttered by Mr. Bush earlier that month when he decided it was time to take a stand on the issue of torture. In a joint press conference with Panamanian president Martin Torrijos on November 7, CNN quotes our globetrotting POTUS as declaring, “We do not torture.” The first sentence of the very next paragraph? “Over White House opposition, the Senate has passed legislation banning torture. With Vice President Dick Cheney as the point man, the administration is seeking an exemption for the CIA.” Bush himself has threatened to pull out his veto pen for the first time in his presidency if Sen. John McCain’s amendment prohibiting “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of prisoners isn’t removed from a $491 billion Pentagon spending bill. So maybe a better way to put it would have been, “We do not torture, but when we do torture, we wanna be sure it’s kosher.” No mention is made of the president fighting to keep his composure, biting his lip, or even loosing the slightest snigger after blurting out this showstopper, so I have to assume he managed to keep a straight face too.
No matter how hardened or cynical I try to make myself out to be, I’m still horrified when I see anyone lie so brazenly in the face of overwhelming evidence. To me it’s along the lines of the following:
“What the hell is what woman doing in bed with you?”
“What woman in bed with me?”
“That woman, right there, right beside you, as we speak.”
“There’s no woman in bed with me.”
“Yes there is. She’s right there; you have your arm around her. She has blonde hair and she’s holding a large, brightly lit neon sign shaped like an arrow. It says ‘Woman,’ and she’s pointing it at herself.”
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, honey. What’s for dinner?”
I mean, come on, you can call it “mistreatment” and blame it on a few bad apples at the bottom of the military pecking order, but sexual humiliation and attaching electrodes to a hooded prisoner’s nutsack is torture no matter how you spin it. To allow and encourage torture, get caught red-handed, and then lobby against legislation that explicitly bans the United States from engaging in torture is breathtaking in its arrogance and absolute lack of moral responsibility. It might even seem dishonest. Not to mention shameless. And reprehensible, too.
Whatever pleasure I may take in watching disaster befall this president doesn’t seem so sweet when I remind myself that untold numbers of people are suffering and dying as a result of this administration’s appalling arrogance. And that doesn’t even take into account the damage being done to America’s standing in the rest of the world, where memories don’t fade quite as handily as they do here at home. It’s a sobering thought, one suddenly lacking any sense of satisfaction whatsoever, malicious or not.
(toons: marc covert)