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George Bush and Jerry Lewis in "At War with the Army"

04/06/2007 06:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So Laura Bush -- did you know she reads? It's true! -- invites Stephen
Greenblatt, who wrote Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became
Shakespeare
, to the White House. He gets to meet George, who, as you
may have heard, read "three Shakespeares" in a single summer. (And
he's not even 61 years old!) Greenblatt recalls:

"After the speeches, I joined the line of people waiting to shake the
President's hand. When my turn came, a strange impulse came over me...
"Mr. President," I said, sticking out my hand, "don't you think that
Macbeth is a great play about an immensely ambitious man who feels
compelled to do things that he knows are politically and morally
disastrous?" The President looked at me for a moment, still holding my
hand, and said, "I think Macbeth is a great play about someone whose
immense ambition has an ethically inadequate object." ... I was
astonished by the aptness, as well as the quickness, of this comment...
When I recovered my equilibrium, I asked the President if he still
remembered the lines he had memorized years before. Of course, he
replied, and then, with the rest of the guests still patiently waiting
to shake his hand, he began to recite one of Macbeth's great
soliloquies..."

April Fools! Of course you've figured out that I'm having you on. The
president Greenblatt has buttonholed is Bill Clinton, and the year in
1998.

I'm guessing an actual Greenblatt/Bush encounter would go something
like this:

GREENBLATT: Mr. President, don't you think Macbeth is a great play
about...

THE PRESIDENT: Whoa there, Einstein, school's out! Where'd you get
those shoes? Hope they were on sale!

But that's not fair, and making up stupid things for George W. Bush to
say is not only intellectually dishonest, it also detracts from his
actual legacy, as a murderer.

(I'm also not sure Clinton is right about Macbeth. I'm not sure that
Macbeth's tragedy was that he didn't channel his ambition into
community policing and building better schools. But at least Clinton
had an answer. At least he'd thought about it.)

(Bobby Kennedy and Richard Burton used to play a game where they'd see
which of them could recite the longest chunks of Shakespeare backwards.
I guess it was kind of show-offy, but still. It's almost like there
was a time when you could hold high public office in America, and not
be a vicious chimp.)

(Oh well.)

George W. Bush would neither waffle nor equivocate on Macbeth, if
(let's pretend) he knew who he was. Bush would know, instinctively,
that he was a dictator, that he was oppressing Scotland and the
Scottish people. And he would take action. By invading Spain. Ah, it
never gets old.

This week, the president was at in California, doing a show for the
troops at Fort Irwin:

"... it makes me realize the nature of the enemy that we face, which
hardens my resolve to protect the American people. The people who do
that are not people -- you know, it's not a civil war; it is pure evil.
And I believe we have an obligation to protect ourselves from that
evil."

See? He can make distinctions. One group of people he wants to kill is
"evil" while the other is "pure evil." The man's a 21st century
Metternich. Can a distinction between Arabs and Persians be far behind?

He even has the piercing geopolitical vision to see that some of the
people in Iraq are "not people" at all. And yet, some still call him a
cretin.

When, actually, he's a pure cretin.

--

Speaking of theatre, President Bush's special guest at Fort Irwin was
California congressman Jerry Lewis. While not a veteran himself, Lewis
is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. And,
more poignantly, he's the man federal prosecutor Carol Lam announced
she wanted a search warrant for, the day before she was fired.

(For some totally non-political reason, but it's unclear what. I think
she may have photocopied her ass or something.)

Lam had already convicted Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Her new
investigation might have tied Lewis to the lobbying firms and
contributors he and Cunningham shared, and three decades of pork and
kickbacks from defense contractors, including one case that may or may
not have involved a software contract for a Lewis crony to digitize the
original plans of the Panama Canal. And, you know, the rent-free yacht
and the Rolls and the prostitutes and all that.

Money they would have otherwise just wasted on Walter Reed.

But I guess we'll never know.

So we have to give the president the benefit of a doubt, when he lets
Lewis review the troops. He's arguably not using the soldiers for a
cheap photo opportunity, or a Kremlin style demonstration of political
support for a (suspected) thief and war profiteer who (allegedly)
should be in jail.

Because that would be evil.

--

Hey, Theatre Lovers!

It's the 60th anniversary of Arthur Miller's All My Sons. A play about
defense contractors so slavishly indebted to Ibsen, it actually ends
with someone walking off stage and a gunshot ringing out. It's no
Macbeth, but it does include the line:

"This is the land of the great big dogs, you don't love a man here, you
eat him. That's the principle; the only one we live by -- it just
happened to kill a few people this time, that's all. The world's that
way."

Question: If Jerry Lewis made the army put on a production of All My
Sons
, instead of buying body armor, how much money would he make?

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