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Chris Durang Headshot

Politically We're Frogs Not Noticing the Boiling Water

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This is a free associative rant, triggered by a friend who wrote me asking me why I'd been so silent for a while (both in email and on the Huffington Post). I hope it's of interest. If it isn't, please cut me some slack (and/or stop reading).

My friend offered me several choices to explain why he hadn't heard from me, and they included "worried, really worried" and "uninspired" and I checked those two. (I did not check his options of Giddy, Pregnant, New Puppy, or Becoming a Lutheran.)

But "worried, really worried" (about the world, and the country) is the main thing I've been feeling, and it permeates my daily wanderings about. And "uninspired" because I haven't been working on a play I've started (alert the media!), and because I haven't written anything on the Huffington Post.

I mean, my writing a post isn't significant, except I feel that the more voices that get out there with "worry pay-attention-damn-it" the better. But I have felt paralyzed about adding my voice lately.

I feel like a person who is in a community where first one house is on fire, then another one, then there's an earthquake, then there's a mud slide, then there's a witch burning ... politically there are so many issues that tumble into each other, I am tongue-tied.

I think of writing something, and I become overwhelmed, both with anger and then with a sort of despair that I can't get my mind around how to communicate. (Plus there are so many articulate people posting on the blog who are indeed writing about the very issues I would write about, much of the time I don't seem to know how or why to add my voice.)

And sometimes I think about trying to write about the above -- the feeling of OVERWHELM of there being so many issues.

Among them, waterboarding and the new attorney general. (And Schumer and Dianne Feinstein's disturbing/distressing votes of yes for him.) The Democrats have held some good hearings, but their follow through has been dispiriting. I know they don't have the votes to overcome vetoes, so I sometimes cut them slack. But they need to fight much harder, to fight tenaciously, and they're too laid back, and it makes me despair of them.

They have to explain why their positions are important on FISA and on the President breaking laws. The American people need to have things like this explained with clarity and passion. Instead, the Dems let the Republicans "win" by sound-byte or yelling "you're weak on defense," and lie down and play dead. And recently they ducked a real debate on Cheney and impeachment. It's a discussion worth having.

So many of us need the vast wrongness of this administration forcefully protested and addressed by our representatives - the behavior of this administration was not and is not business as usual.

Getting us into a war by lies and manipulation? That is enormous, an enormous wrong. Redefining the presidency so the Imperial President can ignore any law he wants, and then he gets the Congress to cover his ass by passing retroactive legislation (okay, we say it's legal now, so don't worry, Georgie)... this is astonishing and wrong.

Then there's the saber rattling on Iran.

A lot of insiders (including some journalists) keep saying, don't worry, it's not going to happen, we're not going to bomb them.

And Condi Rice said something about that today that she didn't have to say - she said that the Senate voting for the Kyl-Lieberman "sense of the Senate" did not, in her opinion, give the "okay" for attacking Iran.

Of course, Cheney and Bush don't believe they need agreement from the legislature to bomb anyone or start any war. They govern by Advertisement (Clean Air Initiative!), and they defend themselves by Redefinition. The President signs a bill, but then has a "side letter" saying he doesn't need to abide by the law if he doesn't agree with it. Well, gosh... what are laws then?

We don't torture, because lawyer John Yoo redefined the word for Bush so that if there isn't organ failure, it isn't torture. So Bush keeps saying "we don't torture." But he has a side letter inside his head about the word's meaning.

He signs McCain's law against torture, but his side letter nullifies it. Out and out nullifies it. And McCain is silent on it. McCain lost me for good with that silence to the shocking side letter.

I hope when God welcomes Bush to heaven, Bush finds out that God has a special side letter for him whereby before he is allowed to get into heaven, he gets to be waterboarded and experience it first hand, and it doesn't stop until Bush admits to having personally been behind the 9/11 attack. Then he can say to God, "But I just said that to stop the torture, it's not true!" And God can say, "Ah, so you admit it's torture. And you admit you say anything, including non-truth, to get it to stop. So what's the point of doing it, even as a tactic?" And then Bush shoots God dead, and takes over the universe.

But back to will we bomb Iran - Cheney doesn't stop with the rhetoric. And it sure sounds and smells like the same build-up we got in the lead-up to the Iraq war. And once again there's the push and pressure to find stuff against Iran, and when it's iffy to pretend it isn't. (Look at this article in the Observer.)

And Lynne Cheney keeps going on liberal programs (on NPR and The Daily Show before the strike), hawking her book and pretending she and Dick are just "normal" folk.

And though I believe he may have started out that way, good God, what's happened with the government under his rule, with all his undemocratic secrecy. And his behind-the-scenes maneuvering to claim the president is above the law on just about everything is astonishing, and evil both for what it is and for the hidden way in which he's done it.

And no, Mrs. Cheney, saying that at his core he is just "nice" doesn't cut it. Maybe when you were both twelve and had just fallen in love he might have been nice, and maybe he didn't torture frogs like George Bush did. But he's not nice now. And your book's title - Blue Skies, No Fences - is downright scary.

By the way, I assume you know about George W. blowing up frogs as a boy, but I'm sure it never was mentioned on tv (right?). It turns out it was in a New York Times Magazine piece on George W. Bush's background, written by Nicholas Kristof before the 2000 election/appointment. Here's a quote from that May 21, 2000 article:

''All George ever wanted to be was a Major League baseball player,'' recalled a buddy, Terry Throckmorton. ''That's all he ever talked about.''

.... When Mr. Bush talks about ''compassionate conservatism'' or ''faith-based initiatives,'' he evokes what old classmates remember as the spirit of Midland of the 1950's. ...

...one of the local rituals for children was the meetings with cookies and milk at the home of a nice old lady who represented the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The cookies were digested more thoroughly than the teachings.

''We were terrible to animals,'' recalled Mr. Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush home turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out.

''Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them,'' Mr. Throckmorton said. ''Or we'd put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.''

When he was not blowing up frogs, young George -- always restless and something of a natural leader -- would lead neighborhood children on daredevil expeditions around town, seeing how close they could come to breaking their necks. George also quickly acquired a colorful vocabulary.

Things like "boom!" and "f-ing froggie goes splitter-splatter, hahaha."

On Sept. 12, 2000, Baltimore Sun reporter Miriam Miedzian wrote, "So when he was a kid, George W. enjoyed putting firecrackers into frogs, throwing them in the air, and then watching them blow up. Should this be cause for alarm? How relevant is a man's childhood behavior to what he is like as an adult? And in this case, to what he would be like as president of the United States." (Source is this article.)

Various blogs have pointed out that psychiatrists note that serial killers often have a history of torturing animals when they were children. Does that mean Bush is a serial killer? No, but he had potential. Oh, why didn't he become a ball player?

Speaking of frogs, I keep thinking about the Al Gore movie (An Inconvenient Truth), and the powerful example of the frog in a vat of boiling water who, because the water gets hotter and hotter SLOWLY, doesn't realize what's happening, and so doesn't get out of the pot until it's too late and he boils to death.

Well, I think that "frog not knowing the water is coming to a boil" metaphor is true not only of American leaders' response to global warming, but applies also to the media and most of Congress acting as if what has happened to our government under Bush-Cheney is just "oh, slightly strange politics" as usual.

While I think it's not "as usual," I think our country and the damage to our balance of powers means we're really in crisis, we're in water that is nearing a boil and we don't seem to know it. Except for people like Chuck Hagel and Russell Feingold and Dennis Kucinich.

I took an online "match your politics with the candidates" quiz, and I turn out to agree with Kucinich 96% of the time, and agree with Hillary and Barack about 82% of the time. And with Giuliani and Romney and Huckabee about 27% of the time. And with W. and Cheney -2% of the time. (Here's the quiz I took that matches your beliefs with the candidates.)

Why don't we take Kucinich seriously? - just because he doesn't "look" Presidential? The conventional wisdom that Kennedy beat Nixon because he looked better on tv has come back to bite us - do our candidates "have" to look right because of television? Having lived through 7 years of good ol' boy W., does anyone think it's wise to elect someone on how they look and seem?

In the 2000 campaign Gore looked stiff and Bush looked relaxed, and the media chattered endlessly like school girls about how they "seemed," and we in the public bought it.

Though in everyone's defense, Bush was a Trojan War candidate, and maybe even to himself: I mean he was opposed to nation building, and then he found his "Lessons of 9/11", seemingly 10 minutes after the event.

His first "lesson," in one of his non-thinking gut reactions, was "preemptive war" - let's decide who MIGHT attack us, and attack them first! Which is a thoroughly immoral idea, and how would we like it if China, North Korea or Iran did the same to us???

Then the other "lesson" he learned 10 minutes after 9/11 was spoon-fed to him by the neocons and was this: that we must remake the Middle East, and go in and remove governments and give the invaded countries the "gift of democracy" that these Muslims are supposedly longing to have, since All People Long for Democracy, according to Bush. And we've seen how insanely badly that idea is doing, and how attacking Muslim countries increases the number and fury of terrorists, it doesn't make things better at all.

And that brings me back to the saber rattling/war drums about Iran. They (or at least Cheney and Bill Kristol and Norman Podhoretz) want to do it again. (I saw Podhoretz interviewed; he's terrifying and single-minded, to put it lightly.)

So I have been in overwhelm.

But I think we should pay attention to Dennis Kucinich. And not be writing him off because he "looks" wrong for President. George Washington had wooden teeth, right? Wouldn't have looked good on tv, I bet.

And I liked the person (I forget who) who suggested Al Gore and Chuck Hagel should run together. I have not digested, I admit, the conservative social policies of Hagel, but I think he is brilliant on the folly of the Iraq war, and he's been right about it since the beginning. As has been true of Russell Feingold, another stellar senator.

I like Hillary and Barack and John Edwards, but I have worries that Hillary really is Bush Lite. I get that she had to do some of this saber rattling to get the general public to think she's tough enough; but mission accomplished, I don't want her to keep sounding so hawkish.

Barack made a good speech today, According to the Pundits (one of whom admitted to just wanting to change the story, the narrative of Hillary being unstoppable was getting stale), but on Meet the Press his stance against the war seemed a lot less clear over the years than his "if I had been there, I would've voted against it" stance. Plus, I don't like that he keeps missing important votes - including the Kyl-Lieberman one that he criticized Hillary about voting for (correctly criticized, I thought, but he wasn't there to vote himself).

Sigh. I may have to just have a psychotic break, and live in an alternative universe where Al Gore gets elected president and Chuck Hagel magically tones down some of his domestic conservativism and is elected vice president.

And the two of them reclaim America's ability to talk with countries and not dictate to them. And America can start to heal again. Maybe.

Ah. But that's an alternative universe.

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