Bewitched, Bothered, Billy-Goated
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Thursday 16 October 2003
WASHINGTON I'm not sure I should use the poor schlub's name.
ESPN has used it, and The Chicago Sun-Times. But given all the Cubs fans who hurled beer and debris and bleeped epithets at the guy and screamed, "Kill him!" and, "You can tell we're better than Boston or he'd be dead already!" it might be as dangerous to print the name of the accursed 26-year-old who fouled up with that foul ball as it would be to print the name of a C.I.A. spy.
You had to feel sorry for the terrified persona-non-Cubbie when his own dad refused to confirm that he was related to him.
On the cusp of Halloween, we are possessed with curses, hexes and jinxes. Superstitions about a black cat, a billy goat, a bambino and now, a Cub fan's mano morto. It is also the season of the witch in politics. America's First Baseball Fans, the former and current Presidents Bush, have their own historical jinx with the land of Nebuchadnezzar: you might call it the curse of Nebuchabunkport.
As soon as the Bushes think they've got Iraq subdued, it flares up and foils them turning victory sour and sending saintly poll numbers wobbly. Every time the Bushes think they've licked Saddam who modeled himself on Nebuchadnezzar, the dictator who built palaces and stored arms in the Iraqi desert 2,600 years ago he comes back to haunt them.
The president has tried to shake off the curse with a P.R. push to circumvent the national media and get smaller news outlets to do sunny stories about Iraq.
The P.R. campaign shamelessly included bogus cheerful form letters sent to newspapers, supposedly written by soldiers in Iraq. It also entailed sweetening up the official Web site of the United States Central Command. Until recently, the site offered a mix of upbeat stories and accounts of casualties and setbacks. Now it's a litany of smiley postings, like "Soldiers host orphans in Mosul" and "Ninevah Province schools benefit from seized Iraqi assets." You have to go to a different page for casualty reports.
Mr. Bush said in interviews that he wanted to "go over the heads of the filter and speak directly with the people" because there was a "sense that people in America aren't getting the truth."
He is right that there has been a filter that has made it hard for Americans and even Congress to get the truth on Iraq, but it isn't the press. It's an administration that comically thinks when it hauls out Dick Cheney to say in his condescending high school principal voice that 2 + 2 = 5, we'll buy it.
The vice president hasn't come up with W.M.D., Osama or Saddam. But he says we have uncovered a video of Saddam letting two Doberman pinchers eat one of his generals alive because he didn't trust him. Oh, that's worth $87 billion, the Iraqi version of "When Good Pets Go Bad."
On Monday, Representative George Nethercutt Jr., a Republican from Washington State who visited Iraq, chimed in to help the White House: "The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day." The congressman puts the casual back in casualty.
It would be a lot easier to heed good news as well as bad if Bush officials hadn't assured us before we invaded Iraq that there would be no bad.
First they sold the war to trusting Americans with spin, and now they are trying to sell the occupation to skeptical Americans with more spin.
Greg Thielmann, the retired State Department official who was a top analyst for Colin Powell on Iraq's W.M.D., told "60 Minutes II" last night that Iraq had been so far from being an imminent threat that Mr. Powell's speech making that case at the U.N. was "probably one of the low points in his long, distinguished service to the nation."
The Bush team prepared the ground for American doubt; they told us to expect a fairy tale and now resent the fact that we refuse to treat it like one.
The fundamental problem for the Bush administration is that it is endlessly propounding a contradiction: Wanting us to worry that we are battling for our lives against the terrorists, and wanting us to stop worrying about the state of the battle.
Everything is wrong, and nothing is wrong. We are trapped in the Bush illogic. Call it our curse.
Jump to TO Features for Friday 17 October 2003