»home   »2003       »printable

The Truth, Mainly - 11/10/2003

A democracy with a dynasty of clowns?

"Third-rate men, of course, exist in all countries, but it is only here that they are in full control of the state. Here the buffoonery never stops. … I never get tired of the show … Here in this Eden of clowns, with the highest rewards of clowning theoretically open to every poor boy—here in the very citadel of democracy we … cherish a clown dynasty!" —H. L. Mencken, "On Being an American."


Mencken wrote those words back in the 1920s in response to the Harding administration. And if he could find the Harding boys so amusing, he'd surely be laughing his head off at the dynasty of clowns, elected or otherwise, who now occupy the seats of power.

I know, I know. The news has been so grim in the last several weeks that most of us just want to crawl back under the covers and pretend it's all a nightmare that might go away if we just ignore it.

But there are still some pretty funny things happening out there—and to preserve our sanity we need to take note of them. For example:

(1) Consider the case of L. Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco International (one of those firms like Enron whose name gives no clue as to what they're really up to).

Mr. Kozlowski is currently on trial, charged with stealing money—only about $600 million—from his company. Part of the evidence prosecutors want to show the jury is a videotape of a six-day $2.1 million birthday party Mr. Kozlowski threw for his wife on the island of Sardinia. But before the tape was shown to the jury, the judge deleted sections showing an ice sculpture of Michelangelo's "David" and a birthday cake shaped like a nekkid woman.

"David" was peeing very expensive vodka into crystal glasses, and the nekkid woman had sparklers protruding from her devil's food cake breasts.

The judge felt such extravaganzas might prejudice the jury. He also deleted videotape scenes involving scantily-clad men and women dressed, sort of, as figures from Roman history. Check the business section of the Oct. 28 LJS for a photo.

If you can look at it without giggling at what American capitalism has come to, you're probably terminally somber.

(2) And speaking of the laughable level American capitalism has descended to, how about the audacity of Dick Cheney and Halliburton?

You remember that Cheney used to be Head Honcho of Halliburton—and that he still gets $180,000 a year in deferred income from the old gang.

And you know, of course, that Halliburton has a contract with the U.S. government for more than a billion bucks to reconstruct Iraqi oil-field damage.

And get this: Halliburton got the contract with no competitive bidding.

The Truth, Mainly


Is that a hoot or what? Did I mention that Dick Cheney is Vice President?

(3) And what about this guy Defense Secretary Rumsfeld took on as his deputy undersecretary for intelligence? Name's Jerry Boykin and he's a General.

General Jerry maintains that our war on terror is a "spiritual battle" between Christianity and "a guy named Satan." He says that he took a photo in 1993 of Mogadishu and when it was developed, there was a dark mark over the city sky. That, he said, was a sign of "the principalities of darkness…a demonic presence…that God revealed to me as the enemy."

Not to worry though, because Jerry says God put Dubya in the White House (God apparently being registered to vote in Florida), and we don't have to worry about any Muslim because "my god is bigger than his."

What makes Jerry so funny is what made Buster Keaton so funny. He always looks dead serious.

(4) One last bit of hilarity: Remember last Monday when the U.S. Senate gave final approval to the President's request for $87.5 billion to pay for the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan? The NY Times calls it "the largest emergency spending bill ever sought by a president."

Guess how many senators were present for this monumental vote.

Six. That's how many. Six out of a hundred. Not quite a quorum.

It was a voice vote, off the record, and without even trying to count the six votes, the chair ruled that the proposal passed.

That gets both parties off the hook: Democrats can't be held responsible for financing a war their supporters mostly oppose, and Republicans can't be held responsible for going $87.5 billion further in debt—a practice their supporters get queasy just thinking about.

Ah, representative government!

And if the times are too grim for us to laugh about any of this, we can at least imagine Mencken guffawing in his grave over the non-stop buffoonery in this citadel of democracy where we delight in being governed by a dynasty of clowns.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


©Copyright Lincoln Journal Star

used with permission