If your alderman introduced a resolution in the city council called the Salute to Our Boys in Uniform Resolution, which proclaimed that we support the troops in their mission to light a beacon of freedom in a dark world, etc., and in small print in Section II, Division A, Paragraph 4, Line 122 was a provision giving the alderman's brother-in-law Walt the contract to haul garbage, the honorable gentleman would be denounced as a crook and a dodo. And yet this same dodge has worked beautifully for Republicans in Washington, who have clubbed their hapless opponents over the head with Old Glory and then set up shop and profited mightily, and more power to them. I am in favor of corruption so long as it makes people truly happy. And so long as somebody writes a good confessional memoir like John Dean's "Blind Ambition."
At this point in time, I don't see Karl Rove or Tom DeLay writing a good mea culpa, and I doubt that Colin Powell or Donald Rumsfeld will either. And of course presidents never do, and here is one more proof that we are not now nor have we ever been a Christian nation. Confession is at the heart of the faith. (All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.) But under this administration, the faith has been revised, all the stuff about the poor has been tabled and the confession of sin omitted, and prayer is now a promotional device in which you thank God for making you the terrific person you are. In the Christian view of the world, these folks rank lower than outright atheists, which is a terrifying aspect of the faith -- better never to have believed than to use sacred things for your grimy self-aggrandizement -- and which might scare a Republican into writing a decent book. One can hope for this.
Meanwhile, last week brought some good news, a report of President Bush having read a book during his long August vacation, a 546-page tome about the 1918 influenza epidemic, according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Whether the president read the entire book himself or read passages of it highlighted by his staff, McClellan did not say. But it's good news for us writers (somewhat offsetting the disappointment of seeing the Nobel Prize go to the dismal and tedious Harold Pinter) to imagine that the president might now and then interrupt his ambitious exercise program to pick up a book, sit down and read it. Or a newspaper.
Literacy is a good thing, as the president himself says every year during Literacy Week. A little more literacy might put him in touch with the intellectual standards that prevail today, so he could have anticipated the storm of opposition to the nomination of Harold Miers to the Supreme Court. (I have changed the nominee's gender to ward off accusations of sexism.) Harold's friends in the administration did him no favors when they came bounding to his defense, pointing to his lovely personality and his attention to correcting grammar and misspellings in staff memos. The ability to proofread is not in itself the best recommendation for a seat on the high court, nor is a pleasant disposition. And then the conservative columnist David Brooks savaged Harold simply by quoting the fluff and chaff he wrote while serving as president of the Texas bar association, stuff like "More and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad-based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems."
Not to worry, Harold. Every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee has written worse than that. Take your seat at the witness table, smile in a determined way, and start your engines. When they ask about Roe v. Wade, lead them into the legal briar patch and run them around until they get tired. If they ask about wife beating, talk about Sweden, and if they ask who was that woman you were seen with last Saturday night, talk about the planet Saturn. Not all questions need be answered. Say what you want to say and express your commitment to solve problems and change unacceptable conditions within the framework of your mission. Do this with utter confidence, no shadow of uncertainty flickering across your handsome features, and above all -- listen now -- do not ever confess to a single mistake, error of judgment or misstatement of fact.
You ain't done nothing wrong, Harold. You is the man.
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(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)
) 2005 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.