Keystone Kops

The Bush Administration reminds me a lot of the Keystone Kops. For those who don’t know who they were, the Keystone Kops were a fixture of silent films.

The Bush Administration reminds me a lot of the Keystone Kops. For those who don’t know who they were, the Keystone Kops were a fixture of silent films. Before “talkies,” humor had to be physical rather than verbal, and exaggerated rather than restrained, so the Kops did endless short features in which they regularly ran into and otherwise hurt each another while the villain they were pursuing escaped. If the phrase “shooting yourself in the foot” didn’t originate with the Kops, it should have.

If we didn’t have to live with the results, watching people in this Administration trip over each other, contradict each other, and pursue inconsistent goals would be comical. (Actually, Bush’s installation as president has been a gift to political humorists.)

It’s easy enough to make fun of the advice to ward off terrorist attacks by buying plastic sheeting and duct tape, or to laugh at the color-coded “alerts” that are periodically issued. I particularly appreciate it when our Department of Homeland Security—a name chillingly reminiscent of “Fatherland” Security—announces a reduction in the threat level. It calls forth an image of some robed and sinister terrorist glued to his TV set, waiting until we are no longer so alert to make his move. “They’re only at yellow, men—let’s go!”

Other contradictions and miscues are more troubling. A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran a small story to the effect that Israel’s government is supportive of war against Iraq, which they believe will tilt the balance of power in the region in ways that will benefit Israel. This support seems odd, since most analysts have predicted that the minute U.S. soldiers cross the Iraqi border, Sadaam will attack Israel.  While he can’t reach us, he can reach our most reliable ally in the region, and if Israel retaliates, other Arab states (not to mention Islamic terrorist networks) are much more likely to come to Iraq’s assistance. The reporter asked an Israeli government spokesman the obvious question: aren’t you worried about an Iraqi attack? “No,” said the spokesman. “Our intelligence operatives report that Iraq has no weapons capable of doing much damage.”  Excuse me, but isn’t Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction our reason for waging war? Are we to assume that U.S. intelligence—which failed, among other things, to stop 9/11—is more accurate than its fabled Israeli counterpart? Or is everyone just making this up as we go along?

The most dangerous contradiction, of course, is that posed by the two wars: the War on Terror and the War on Iraq. Pursuing Saddaam will only increase our vulnerability to terrorism. But we don’t need to limit the Keystone Kop analogy to foreign affairs. There are plenty of domestic examples.

  • The President has responded to death penalty abolitionists with a rousing defense of the American jury system. It is okay to send convicted prisoners to death, he has said repeatedly, because juries are reliable and just. But switch the subject to malpractice awards and trial lawyers, and Bush says we need to take these matters out of the hands of irresponsible juries. Which is it?
  • As the President has explained and implemented his Faith-Based Initiative, it has become an affirmative action program for religious organizations. Bush says that special efforts to build the capacities of such organizations and special outreach programs to be sure they are represented in the mix of government contractors are warranted to make up for past exclusion. But he strenuously opposes similar efforts to bring African-Americans into the mainstream. So, Mr. President, why do churches deserve affirmative action when black people don’t?
  • Bush claims to be a pro-market Republican. But his actions routinely undercut markets; 190 billion subsidy for (mostly corporate) farmers, steel tariffs, and lots of special treatment for oil and gas interests are hardly the actions of a pro-market President. If the market is a good thing, Mr. Bush, why isn’t it a good thing for your campaign contributors?
  • Bush says he is a “compassionate” conservative. We see the conservative, but what is compassionate about cutting mental health services for poor children? Starving states for funds so that they have to drastically cut education budgets? Or for that matter, engaging in an unprovoked attack on a nation where over half of the population is younger than 15?
Ah well. Wasn’t it Emerson who said “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds?”