Alas, Wonderland

Even Lewis Carroll couldn't have made these guys up.

click to enlarge CLEAN CUP, MOVE ON: Like the Mad Hatter at the tea party, Bush leaves everyone else to move into his mess. - Jean Meinke
Jean Meinke
CLEAN CUP, MOVE ON: Like the Mad Hatter at the tea party, Bush leaves everyone else to move into his mess.

Poet's Notebook

'Twas briggle, and the slithy Rove

Didst liar and grimble, making waves

All flimsied by the mediatrove

While the bomes terned ingraves.

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? So thought Alice as she tumbled down the rabbit hole, and so think Americans as we free-fall through an endless war stretching out like a nightmare of broken mirrors. We obviously followed the wrong rabbit.

Alas, it's hard to imagine President Bush reading Alice in Wonderland. (He might read a biography of the Queen of Hearts, though, because she was a Decider, too: "Off with her head!") But he seems immune to playful language and subtle logic, not to mention truth, and speaks to us with the smarmy deceptions of the Walrus to the oysters: "Just stay the course, my dears. You're in good hands, trust me!" I agree with the Carpenter: "The butter's spread too thick."

Watching Bush reading his post-Petraeus speech to the nation — and before that, Karl Rove hitting the talk shows after his resignation — was like being in Wonderland trying to decode the Mad Hatter and Humpty Dumpty. You could see how Rove must have hypnotized Bush, a snake charmer soothing a reptile, staring into its little eyes. It worked on most interviewers, too, though they kept shaking their heads trying to clear the smoke.

For example, watching the 1994 clip of Dick Cheney snarling about why President Bush Sr. didn't invade Baghdad, any normal person, like Alice, could see the simple truth: Cheney was right in 1994: To invade would have been a totally stupid move and wrong in 2003. But Rove, defending Cheney on all the talk shows, cocky as a moonfaced Humpty Dumpty, twaddled on and on, burying the fiasco in a mushroom cloud of Jabberwockian lingo.

Bush, in his turn, didn't so much bury it as ignore it. His early claims about victory and democracy — not to mention the "benchmarks" of stability and peace he promised a few months ago — went unrepeated. In its place he talked about "progress," highlighting pockets of temporary quiet. Like the Mad Hatter at the tea party, every few minutes he moves to an empty place, leaving everyone else to move into his mess. Poor General Petraeus had to take it with all the dignity he could muster and try to clean up the debris accumulating on the table.

"Are we safer?" Senator Lindsey Graham asked Petraeus, fully expecting the general to blurt out "You bet!" the way Bush does. But the general looked thoughtful and finally said, "I don't know." This may be a "truthful" answer, because no one can claim to actually know the future — but it's still a dodge. The only meaningful answer, from almost any angle, is "No."

Look at it this way. Recently in St. Petersburg, a young girl close to Alice's age was killed in a tragic car accident. This event dominated our news for days, and it was pointed out how the sorrow of this one death spread through society. Now think of Baghdad, which Bush and others claim is getting back to "normal." But children die there routinely, thousands of people have been forced from their homes, whole neighborhoods leveled. No one's really safe in Baghdad, anywhere, ever. Almost every family is broken or maimed in some way. Large numbers of doctors and teachers have been killed or have fled. Sickness spreads from the lack of medicine and electricity and water. Bodies remain uncounted and unidentified. (A key incident in the powerful movie, In the Valley of Elah, based on true events, is a young Iraqi girl being run over by an army vehicle, the horror being that this has become "normal.")

So General Petraeus had to say, again with a kind of truth, that there were fewer deaths than at a certain high point in 2006. This is "progress" in Wonderland. There are, of course, less people left to kill; not only that, many neighborhoods have already been ethnically cleansed, so the killing shifts to other cities and neighborhoods. Iraq in general and Baghdad in particular aren't progressing; rather, they're writhing like the people and horse in Picasso's "Guernica," a city bombed by the Nazis in 1937, where the damage was horrific — but not nearly as bad as what's happening to Baghdad. Picasso said his painting expressed his "abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death." Amen.

It may be too early to be afraid. After all, that's the Republican mantra: Keep us afraid of the rest of the world and Americans will vote for the GOP on the false grounds that it will protect us better. I'd rather tweak the advice of that old Cheshire Cat, Franklin Roosevelt: The only thing we need to fear is the fearmongers themselves.

Beware the Jabberjabber, son!

The jaws that crux all cents and verb!

Beware the Cheneyganglion

And the Bushish bleederblurb.

Now, which Democrat can pull the right rabbit out of Uncle Sam's hat?

Peter Meinke's new collection of stories, Unheard Music, has just been published. He'll be reading at Barnes & Noble (USF/St. Pete) Thurs. Oct. 18, 7-9 p.m.; and at Inkwood Books, Tampa, on Thurs. Oct. 25, 7 p.m. Jeanne Meinke's drawings have appeared in The New Yorker, Gourmet and many other books and magazines.

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