MY Poor Wife came home from Monday teacher meetings with some godawful soccer/tennis shirt thing, executed in one of those microfibers with a hand so gratingly unnatural that any sentient being placed on the thing would scurry off as if for its life, such a hand that if you touch it unawares your autonomic nervous system will withdraw your mitt for you without bothering your cerebral cortex. It feels like the fourth sample of the six thousand DuPont rejected on the way to introducing Dacron.
And that, in case you haven't already guessed, isn't All; not only was the selection made by a sadist, the thing was designed by someone who, so far as I can tell, was chained in a closet from age 5-9 and forced to wear a 1975 Houston Astros uniform shirt, and swore to take undying revenge on humanity once released.
Our point is not to launch a few fungos about poor fashion sense, but to note something of the martinet impulse, or maybe the Stockholm syndrome, in American public life. The shirts are intended as Friday wear, augmenting a (recent) practice of teachers wearing school colors supposed, I guess, to cap each week with an increase in something called School Spirit, and perhaps other Intangibles. And I'm all for School Spirit, since it gives the budding curmudgeon a real head start on recognizing just what sort of brown-nosing droids he is likely to find himself working with in just a few years. (In a sign of the true disturbance of our age, one of the young teachers stood up in the meeting and suggested everyone wear their shirts Wednesday, i.e. yesterday, first day of classes, "to welcome in our students to the new year!" My Poor Wife relayed the story to me, and I asked if anyone had thought to say "Get a hit, Crash!" to her back.) And if this is just the sort of thing that bad supervisors do in expectation of being hailed for their largesse with company money (even if it's not the whiff of the Waffen SS that really attracts), and which the pathologically needy rise to second, the experience of her colleague, just transferred to another school, who was required to buy four pre-designed team golf shirts to be worn daily, is something else. Teacher uniforms! This was the first impulse of the failed retail executive Mitch Daniels hired to collapse the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Dress everyone like servers in a sandwich shop and their Hearts and Minds will follow. This guy (her colleague) has twenty-five years teaching experience, a Masters in Education, and a solid C.V., and some administrator's big idea is to dress him like a Best Buy's stock clerk.
Nothing survives being thought of! says the Book of St. Oscar, and, like all paradoxical truths, that one is most likely to be laughed off by the people who need it most. Or stared at like a dog stares at a ceiling fan. This is why, Young Educator, every falsehood convenient to the Rich, the Powerful, the Petty and Tyrannical, is cloaked in Religion, or Nationalism, or Entrepreneurial Efficiency. Or the full-blooded roar of the partisan sports enthusiast. Shut up and teach somebody something! You will have plenty of opportunities to mold young minds into credulous drones who salivate at the approach of the appropriate swatch of colored fabric in your own classroom. And best of luck.
Which brings us to the Dick Cheney Salvage Operations, which yesterday appear to've moved from mapping out the wreckage into the opening stages of selling the bilgewater, which turns out to be more valuable than the actual artifacts. The whole thing is too laughable for words, provided, I guess, that you didn't still harbor some dim hope for the future of the United States.
It's difficult to even try settling on highlights, but they'd have to include the man who made Richard Nixon look like a walking Sunshine Law saying that now--eight whole months out of office, and one whole day into the promotion of his book deal--the "Statute of Limitations" has expired on his keeping his lip zipped. Which, of course, he didn't actually do as Vice-President of the United States, President of the Senate, and Lord High Poo-Bah of the Invisible Fourth Branch of Government, but then malleability is just about morality's best feature. This brings to mind the old adage I just made up, which is that while there may not be any atheists in foxholes, if you have the choice of whom to jump into one with that's probably the way to play it. Not that you were ever in danger of finding yourself sharing a foxhole with Dick Cheney. A cell, maybe. At the outside.
But there is a sting in Cheney's critique, because he views concessions to public sentiment as moral weakness. After years of praising Bush as a man of resolve, Cheney now intimates that the former president turned out to be more like an ordinary politician in the end.
Now, I've seen four or five versions of this story, and none of them actually quotes Cheney as saying anything about "moral weakness". Which I presume is due to his fear that uttering the M word would cause his pacemaker to burst into flames.
And okay; shooting fish in a barrel is at least as sporting as shooting penned lawyers, so: if Bush gave up on you in his second term it means he was the last man in America to do so, excepting maybe a few Western holdouts who were hoping more oil and mineral rights might still materialize at 2¢ an acre. Just maybe this had a little something to do with every last blessed thing you touched turning to Shit, unless you were an insider investor who was tipped to Sell early.
So let's say the same thing to you we said to Colin Powell when he had a book to peddle: Why didn't you quit? Apart from losing the cloak of Executive Privilege? Conversely, you're so smart: Why didn't you run for President? Because your own popularity could pass under George W. Bush's while on horseback?
"What impressed me was his continuing zeal," said an associate who discussed the book with Cheney. "He hadn't stepped back a bit from the positions he took in office to a more relaxed, Olympian view. He was still very much in the fray. He's not going to soften anything or accommodate shifts of conscience. There was no sense in which he looked back and said, 'I wish I'd done something differently.' Rather, there was a sense that they hadn't gone far enough. If he'd been equipped with a group of people as ideologically rigorous as he was, they'd have been able to push further."
It's remarkable, innit, how often "Steadfastly stands his ground" and "Inerrant choice of the worst shithole to stand on" go together?
And, well, Big Fucking Deal anyhow; Cheney, like Rumsfeld, belongs to that generation of Republicans who were so incontrovertibly wrong about everything from an early age that A Foolish Constancy was their only alternative to Admitting They Were Full of Shit. Guess which one they chose? It's not a noble aspect, or an accomplishment, any more than protective coloration is an accomplishment of the Snow Weasel. It's the only way they could survive until a more attractive candidate than themselves--which doesn't narrow things down much--could return them to power so they could prove just how much they could fuck things up while remaining constant.
What the former vice president assuredly will not do, according to friends and family, is break a lifetime's reticence about his feelings. Alluding to Bush's forthcoming memoir, Cheney told one small group recently that he had no interest "in sharing personal details," as the former president planned to do.
"He sort of spat the word 'personal,' " said one person in the room.
Excuse me, but that distinguishes it from every other word he's ever uttered how, now?