"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
I never get tired of the show
Here in this Eden of
clowns, with the highest rewards of clowning theoretically open to every
poor boyhere 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
thereand to preserve our sanity we need to take note of them. For
(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
moneyonly about $600 millionfrom 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
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
Halliburtonand 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
And get this: Halliburton got the contract with no competitive
The Truth, Mainly
Is that a hoot or what? Did I mention that Dick Cheney is Vice
(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 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
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
Guess how many senators were present for this monumental vote.
Six. That's how many. Six out of a hundred. Not quite a
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
debta 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