Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Season of Threat
How smart can Karl Rove be if his ace in the hole when all else starts going to shit is to run Bush out in front of the press corps on live TV in prime time? Here's my theory. They knew John Ashcroft was going to testify in front of the 9/11 commission today, and they know it's going to make him look bad. During the fabled Summer of Threat, he was clearly more interested in draping the bosoms of statues in the Department of Justice lobby than in protecting the country, as he took an oath to do. And not only that, he is going to have to explain why he quit flying commercial just before September 11. All of which would be explosive stuff--were it not going to be a bare footnote in the paper tomorrow thanks to Bush's appearance tonight.

Lots of observers are expecting a replay of the prime-time news conference just before the war started last March, in which the questions and questioners had been selected in advance and Bush looked sedated. Some people are convinced he is capable of more. The New York Post has a hilarious editorial today in which they suggest Bush should come across like an avenging angel, calling on him to threaten hideous flaming death to anyone who takes hostages or otherwise messes with us, presumably in Iraq, but also presumably anywhere else in the world. After all, we don't want to let Osama win--which is what the Post says we're doing if we don't kill as many people as possible wherever and whenever necessary.

They do not suggest Bush come out in his flight suit holding a dagger in his teeth, but they might as well have.

Bush's appearance is bumping the Fox series 24 from its regular slot tonight to Sunday at 8:00 Central time. The show has been scary good since returning from a lengthy hiatus--this season's storyline has federal agents trying to find a terrorist who is threatening the broader release of a deadly biological weapon that has already been released in a Los Angeles hotel.

Watching 24 since its return has been like looking into the future. Because we have hacked off a lot of ruthless people with the wherewithal to do it, and because forever is a mighty long time, there will be a biological attack on the United States someday. It may not be masterminded by a stylishly groomed ex-government agent with an upper-class British accent who hopes to gain revenge on the United States for being left behind on a mission in Kosovo, as seems to be the case on 24. But the panic and terror among those exposed to the virus, the frantic attempts of the good guys to succor the victims, contain the outbreak, and find the perpetrators, and the overwhelming fear on the part of everyone that as bad as it is at any given moment, it could get so unimaginably worse that the living will envy the dead--how can anyone believe that could never happen in real life? Even if we extended the Post's advice to its logical endpoint, and killed every person between Riyadh and Bombay who wishes us ill (or bears any physical or cultural resemblance to those who wish us ill), it will most likely not diminish by one iota the likelihood of its happening.

Until the current regime is replaced by people who are smart enough to see that "the beatings will continue until morale improves" is no way to make the world safer, this season's 24 storyline is not so much fiction as prophecy.

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