Wednesday, May 17, 2006

St George and the Dragon, a fable by Richard Cheney

What a shower, [the Grand Master] told himself. A bunch of incomptents no other secret society would touch with a ten-foot Sceptre of Authority. The sort to dislocate their fingers with even the simplest secret handshake. But incompetents with possibilities, nevertheless. Let the other societies take the skilled, the hopefuls, the ambitious, the self-confident. He'd take the whining resentful ones, the ones with a bellyful of spite and bile, the ones who knew they could make it big if only they'd been given the chance. Give him the ones in which the floods of venom and vindictiveness were dammed up behind thin walls of ineptitude and low-grade paranoia.

I read that a while back in Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, and I thought, Hey, the Right Wing blog mob!

I thought about it a little more and grew uneasy.

You know, Lance, I said to myself---I can talk to myself as if I'm two people because I have a pen name---You know, Lance, I said to the side of myself that goes by the pen name of Lance, They could say it sounds like the Liberal blog mob, and you know it would be true of some people we could both name.

In fact the Media Elite does say it about the Liberal blog mob.

Furthermore---the side of me that does not go by the pen name of Lance likes to use high falutin' transitions like furthermore---Furthermore, Lance, there are days when you'd say the same thing about you! Maybe we should stop thinking like a blogger and just enjoy the book. Lance agreed, and we read on.

The Supreme Grand Master smiled in the depths of his robe. It was amazing, this mystic business. You tell them a lie, and then when you don’t need it anymore you tell them another lie and tell them they’re progressing along the road to wisdom. Then instead of laughing they follow you even more, hoping that at the heart of all the lies they’ll find the truth. And bit by bit they accept the unacceptable. Amazing.

Oh ho, I oh-ho-ed to myself. I forget which me was oh-ho-ing, Lance or the furthermore guy. Doesn’t matter. Perhaps we oh-ho-ed together. Oh ho, we said, the Grand Master is Karl Rove and the Elucidated Brethern are the Right Wing blog mob! Unless…

They’re the media!

Maybe they’re both, I suggested to me.

Maybe, I agreed. We’d better keep reading.

So we read on, and only a paragraph or two later we came to:

"Look, the Supreme Grand Master said what we do, we find some handsome lad who’s good at taking orders, he kills the dragon, and Bob’s your uncle. Simple. Much more intelligent than waitin’ for a so-called real king."

Holy mackerel! I exclaimed, speaking to my one and only self now, the shock of the realization integrating my personality in an instant and causing me to give up the lame literary conceit of being two different people, Holy mackerel! They’re talking about George Bush!

That makes the Supreme Grand Master…

This might be a good time to stop and summarize the plot of Guards! Guards!

The Supreme Grand Master is in reality a second-tier functionary in the government of the city of Ankh-Morpork who, wanting power but aware that he is not the sort of person the people would trust enough to just hand him the power over their lives he craves, hits on a scheme to put his own puppet king on the throne.

He will conjure up a dragon to terrorize the city and when the people are sufficiently frightened and despairing, he will send out his puppet to slay the dragon---an easy job because the Grand Master thinks he has the power to make the dragon just disappear at his command---and the people will be so grateful they will proclaim the puppet king. The Supreme Grand Master will then rule the city through his puppet.

Which is why I was thinking to myself as I read that that the puppet was obviously George Bush and the Supreme Grand Master was...Dick Cheney!

As for the lad [the puppet]...he was a distant cousin, keen and vain, and stupid in a passably aristocratic way. Currently he was under guard in a distant farmhouse, with an adequate supply of drink and young ladies, although what the boy seemed most interested in was mirrors. Probably hero material, the Supreme Grand Master thought glumly…

Just a few more nights [he thought]. By tomorrow the people will be so desperate, they’d crown even a one-legged troll if he got rid of the dragon. And we’ll have a king, and he’ll have an adviser, a trusted man, of course, and this stupid rabble can go back to the gutter.

Definitely Cheney! And Bush! And the War on Terror is the dragon! What a brilliant satire of the Bush Administration! Terry Pratchett’s a genius!

Now, Terry Pratchett is a genius, but Guards! Guards! isn’t a satire of the Bush Administration, at least not this Bush Administration. It was published when W.’s father was running the show back in 1989.

So was Pratchett preternaturally prescient?


Maybe he was just paying very close attention to American politics and studying the characters roiling around the first Bush White House.

It’s a point of pride with me that I’ve despised George W. Bush since the 1980s. Somehow, while his father was still Vice-President, W. popped up in the news in a way I don’t remember specifically anymore but which showed him to be an angry, insensitive, loudmouthed jerk with a giant chip on his shoulder and a sense of entitlement not seen in Washington since Alice Roosevelt Longworth outgrew her roller skates and stopped breaking things in her father Teddy’s White House. Bush was drinking back then but I don’t remember being aware that he was a drunk. I just knew he was a jerk and definitely not half the man his father was---and I didn’t think all that highly of his father.

I dismissed him from my thoughts, convinced that once his father was out of office he’d disappear from public view. Jeb, I thought, was the Bush son who’d be going places.

Fooled me, didn’t I?

But the fact is that anyone who was close enough to observe the workings and personal dramas inside the White House in those days and who was paying attention could have seen the beginnings of the second Bush Presidency. They could have seen how Karl Rove had latched on to the apparent screw-up heir apparent. They could have seen Dick Cheney courting and grooming the son.

They could have seen the plot of Guards! Guards! unfolding right then and there.

Terry Pratchett, however, did not need to be on the spot to have come up with the plot for his book. He did not have to have been thinking of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Karl Rove in order to have imagined the Supreme Grand Master and his ambitions and his dragon.

Characters like them are as old as time and the story has played itself out again and again.

Devious, ambitious, and unscrupulous men and women who don’t have the strength or the wherewithall to take power for themselves directly have always known how easy it is to achieve power by latching onto and flattering and manipulating stupid and egocentric bullies.

The story is so old and familiar and true that even television writers know it.

Another point of pride with me is that I recognized what Dick Cheney was up to when he made himself Bush’s running mate. I knew what he was doing because when I was a kid I saw an episode of The Wild, Wild West with the same exact plot. Anthony Zerbe played a brilliant but twisted political genius who because he was scarred from the Civil War was too ugly to be accepted as a leader by the voters of his territory so he found a handsome, charismatic, but dumb and vain puppet to run for governor so that he could rule through him.

So it was shocking to me that so many members of the punditocracy didn’t seem to see what Cheney had managed to do. Instead they praised Bush for being smart enough to know his own limitations and humble enough to choose the wise old statesman to be his Vice-President.

They didn’t see who had picked whom.

They didn’t see what I saw when they looked at George Bush’s resume.

They didn’t see what Dick Cheney was, the bitter, angry, thwarted would-be powerbroker, the old Nixonian who could not get himself elected President in his own right, could not even get his own Party to nominate him.

They didn’t see Anthony Zerbe or Terry Pratchett’s Supreme Grand Master.

When the time came they didn’t see what a dragon the Bush Leaguers made out of Saddam Hussein.

Why not, I asked myself, in disbelief. Why can’t they see it when it’s all so obvious and so familiar? Don’t they read? Don’t they know any old stories?

As it turns out, the problem is that they do read. They did know a story and they were very busy telling and re-telling it.

The story had three primary authors. Maureen Dowd, David Maraniss, and Joe Klein. And the story was this: Bill Clinton was a disgrace of a man who should never have been President.

And that story, because they loved it so much and refused to give it up no matter how much reality contradicted it, had to have a sequel and in that sequel a hero king had to come forth to redeem the time.

End of Part One. I’m not sure if there’ll be a Part Two. Maybe I should just re-post this one, It’s always been about Whitewater.

Cross-posted at Berube's skating rink.


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