How's This for Satire?

By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The movie version of Christopher Buckley's book "Thank You for Smoking" opens Friday and in conjunction with that, Buckley was interviewed on National Public Radio. Buckley mentioned the difficulty of writing satire in Washington, where the most outrageous idea is trumped by the next day's headline. I heard the interview just as I was reading in the newspaper that Republicans were "distressed by the White House's performance since President Bush's reelection." As the old saying goes, can you top that, Chris?

Republicans were not "distressed," mind you, by the war in Iraq, which turns out to have been waged for no good reason. Republicans were not distressed by the massive intelligence failure that preceded the war. Republicans were not distressed, either, by the intelligence failure that produced the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than seven months after our MBA president took over as CEO of the federal government.

Republicans were not distressed by a war plan that envisioned an enthusiastic welcome for U.S. troops by the people of Iraq. They were not distressed by a faulty battle plan that relied on too few troops and enabled the sacking and vandalizing of Baghdad by the local barbarians. They were not distressed by a war that has gone on two years past the point where George W. Bush pronounced it substantially over. Republicans are a cheerful bunch.

Republicans are not distressed by a war that is costing many billions of dollars more than estimated. They are not distressed by what that has done to the federal budget, the deficit and the debt, and how we as a nation are in hock to China and Japan, not to mention the odd billionaire in Dubai. They are not distressed by General Motors and Ford sinking into a witch's brew of ineptitude, greed, pension obligations and high costs. This is distressing, but mostly if you happen to be an autoworker. Most of them are not Republicans anyway.

Republicans are not distressed by the deaths of more than 2,300 Americans in Iraq, many of whom ( most of whom) lost their lives needlessly fighting a war that should have been over long ago. Republicans are not distressed by the wounded or the widowed or the orphaned or the merely haunted who will, on account of combat, never get another good night's sleep.

No. Republicans are distressed because Bush suddenly has made their lives a tad more difficult. His ratings are down. Their elections are coming up. Oy, what distress!

Lest you think I am a partisan hack, let me tell you what distresses the Democrats: an innocuous port deal that lent itself to demagogic mischief. This reprehensible exercise in Arab-bashing was led by New York's two senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, both of whom revealed themselves to be ill-suited to fill the Senate seats once occupied by the likes of Jacob Javits, Pat Moynihan, Bobby Kennedy, Herbert Lehman and Robert Wagner. They wound up taking the same side as Bill Frist, the Senate's most nimble opportunist, a physician who took one look at a videotape of Terri Schiavo and rendered a medical opinion so wrong and so irresponsible that he violated the physician's paramount obligation to "First do no harm" by simply getting out of bed that morning. If Frist is your doctor, seek a second opinion.

Truly, we -- you and I -- should be the ones distressed. This country has a bunch of fools for leaders. Almost daily, they flock to one press availability or another, yakking spin at us all. They hurl press releases back and forth, like kids throwing spitballs at one another, trudging from one photo-op to another and never neglecting to invoke "the American people" to justify their own selfish interests. If the fraudulent phrase, "Frankly I don't think the American people . . . " was banned in Washington, the town would fall mute and long-extinct birds would return. Just banning "frankly" alone would do wonders.

Buckley, take note. The other day, a spokesman for the military in Iraq refused to confirm the identity of the Abu Ghraib prisoner photographed wearing a hood with his arms extended by electrical wiring. The spokesman said it would violate the Geneva Conventions to identify the guy. These are the very Geneva Conventions that the current attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, had characterized as "obsolete." I guess it was once considered okay to abuse the prisoner and scare him half (or three-quarters) to death but not to identify him.

You cannot top this, Chris -- which is why, frankly, I'm distressed.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company