For a long time the Dubya presidency was like one of those jokes that you stop laughing at as you fully understand it. Like those moments in (noted Reaganite) David Lynch’s films, where the absurd and nonsensical suddenly give way to horror. Our laughter at the idiot who was cunning enough to steal the US presidency died in our throats as he set about inflicting profound damage on both the rest of the world and, impressively, America itself. Dick Cheney had the role of Dennis Hopper — another Republican! — from Blue Velvet, sucking on his oxygen tank in his undisclosed location. Baby wants to f-ck, in this case, the whole world.
Sure, there had been idiots and thieves in the White House before — the Kennedys’ stealing of the presidency from Nixon in 1960 remains one of the great political heists — but they’d avoided doing too much damage, although that priapic drug addict JFK nearly managed to immolate us all in the ultimate bang over Cuba. But Bush was the Destroyer-In-Chief, wrecking havoc wherever he went, casting death and destruction wherever he turned his incurious gaze.
At some point after 2004, however, Dubya went one weirder than that. As if Ed Wood had suddenly replaced David Lynch at the helm, the whole thing spiralled into a new level of so-bad-it’s-genius catalogue of genuine freakiness the like of which we had never seen before and will only see again in the event Uwe Boll decides to have a dash at Dubya: The Crawford Years.
And like all the best films, it didn’t stop at one impressive set-piece, but kept building up, adding to the weirdness, level upon layer upon lunacy. Most would have been happy with Iraq going sour in spectacular fashion — perhaps with a climactic bullet-fest as Blackwater guards desperately machine-gun Iraqi hordes daring to go about their own business in their own country — but then they threw in the Katrina debacle (more folk with the wrong skin colour done over) and had a breather before closing out with the ultimate left-field climax — the trip in time back to 1930 for a plunge into Depression.
No one picked that twist. It seems nothing was going to stop Bush wresting the title of worst president from James Buchanan’s cold, dead, and very probably skeletal hands.
All of which provides the context for Dubya presenting Presidential Medals of Freedom to his fellow partners-in-crime Tony Blair and John Howard. José María Aznar must be wondering what he did to miss out — hey, Dubya speaks a little Spanglish doesn’t he? — but Bush isn’t about to hand the elitist naysayers one final malapropism by mangling something as unpronounceable as “José”. Instead, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will provide some Latin flavour for proceedings, in recognition of his country’s extraordinary commitment to the provision of high-quality yay to America’s millions of dedicated nose-candy consumers. Of course, they used to include Dubya himself, and who knows, what with retirement looming, maybe President Uribe will offer George a line or two of Colombian Gold for old times’ sake.
“You know Avalero, it’s an amazing coincidence, but this is the bathroom where Elvis had a snort while waiting for Nixon.”
“It’s Alvaro, George, Alvaro. Haven’t you got anything better than a dollar bill?”
Bush is of course busy packing up his stuff for the Presidential Library (Books for the Morally-Impaired, rows 1-6), which he had originally planned to locate in downtown Tehran. That didn’t quite come off, but you can’t blame a guy for having ambitions, right? The Medals of Freedom aren’t handed out to just anybody, but they don’t exactly carry the gravitas that the term “highest civilian honour” might normally suggest. Blair and Howard are now elevated to the ethereal realm occupied by Bill Cosby — obviously for Fat Albert alone — Arnold Palmer (Distinguished Performance in the Most Mind-Numbingly Boring and Environmentally-Damaging Game on Earth), Walt Disney (Services to Anti-Semitism), Tennessee Williams (Undignified Deaths category) and Kirk Douglas (Chins).
Oh, and one Donald H. Rumsfeld — later to achieve the impressive fear of being the worst Defense Secretary since James Forrestal went mad — got the gong from noted gum-chewer Gerald Ford. And Dick Cheney got one several heart attacks ago from the earlier, funnier Bush.
The basis for Howard’s elevation to such great heights is, according to Bush spokeswoman (now there’s a glittering entry in the resumé these days) Dana Perino, “their work to improve the lives of their citizens and for their efforts to promote democracy, human rights and peace abroad. Their efforts to bring hope and freedom to people around the globe have made their nations, America and the world community a safer and more secure world.”
Not sure about the democracy and human rights bits, but yes, at least hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have found peace. It might be the peace of the dead, the quiet of a mass grave or the silence of a grief-stricken family, but you take what you can get from this mob.
Political satire, per Tom Lehrer, might have become obsolete when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize but this is the new gold standard of genuine, 11 herbs-and-spices lunacy. It’s not black-is-white logic but the reasoning of the genuinely insane, the sort that makes you want to move slowly away from your interlocutor and check for any sharp objects, while quietly tapping 000 on your mobile. But it’s no more than what we’ve come to know and love from these people, who used to run the world, and are convinced they did a heck of a job. And no one has laughed for a very long time.