Is America's newest weapon in the war on terror the... acrostic poem? In December 2005, a Pakistani youth discovered that the first letter of each line of a poem in his English primer spelled out the name of "P-R-E-S-I-D-E-N-T G-E-O-R-G-E B-U-S-H." The anonymous poem -- called "The Leader" -- listed the qualities of a great statesman in a series of painfully stiff rhyming couplets. Here's the beginning (I'll spare you the rest):
Patient and steady with all he must bear,
Ready to meet every challenge with care,
Easy in manner, yet solid as steel,
Strong in his faith, refreshingly real
It's unclear how "The Leader" found its way past Pakistan's educational authorities. An Education Ministry official claimed it had been downloaded off the Internet and unknowingly included, but skeptics pointed to the large sums of money the U.S. has reportedly donated to bring Pakistan's national curriculum more in line with Western ideals. Local media outlets accused the government of using the poem to build support for Bush's "war on terror." The outcry was serious enough that after a high-level meeting, the Ministry removed the poem from the textbook and disciplined those responsible for including it.
Was this the Bush administration's only use of acrostic strategery? Should we be scanning the left margins of old Bob Novak columns looking for V-A-L-E-R-I-E P-L-A-M-E? Believe it or not, "The Leader" wasn't history's first notable acrostic occurrence. The first letter of each line of the Dutch National Anthem spells out one of the hereditary titles of King William of Orange. Why? Ask anyone in Amsterdam: it totally makes sense when you're high.
Getting back to our leader, he and his administration have inspired countless poems here in the U.S -- some of them surprisingly entertaining. Here's one from the 2000 Election lockbox--an excerpt from a pro-Bush version of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven":
Once upon a debate night dreary, while I pondered my Social Security,
Over a curious volume of political TV lore---
While I nodded, nearly napping, I suddenly hear Gore a -flapping,
"More government spending, taxes galore!
And I think we need gun control-evermore!"
"Only this and maybe more!"
I eagerly awaited Bush to follow, knowing he could wup the fellow---
He talked about flourishing America--- And for tax cuts forevermore.
A free nation forevermore!
They say on cold, quiet nights in the White House you can hear Gore's Nobel Prize clink against his Academy Award.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of poetry dedicated to the lowest-rated president in history is negative. The poet Victor Littlebear gives us 24 scathing chapters in his mock Greek epic "The Bushiad," wherein The Rage of Achilles has nothing on The Rage of George before the war in Iraq.
Resolute George wakes up royally pissed,
Roiling with rage, his insides scorched...welding
Purpose ever tighter to his heart.
What insult, humiliation or disgrace
Could cast his soul so completely in revenge?
His pain and family's lust for vengeance
Are hidden under wraps of stately words, yet
Placed before a world transfixed by
Calls for guts and glory in the kingdom
Not to be outdone by Homer, Littlebear has also penned 24 chapters of "The Idyossy," all translated "from the original English."
The Bush poem garnering the most Internet attention, however, is "Make the Pie Higher," a collection of lines Bush actually said that's most often credited to Washington Post satirist and illustrator Richard Thompson. The poem reminds us that no one captures Bush's foibles quite like Bush himself.
"Make the Pie Higher"
I think we all agree, the past is over.
This is still a dangerous world.
It's a world of madmen
And potential mental losses.
Rarely is the question asked
Is our children learning?
Will the highways of the internet
Become more few?
How many hands have I shaked?
They misunderestimate me.
I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity.
I know that the human being and the fish
Families is where our nation finds hope
Where our wings take dream.
Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!
Make the pie higher!
Make the pie higher!
Snopes.com has successfully traced all of the lines back to Bush except the "pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity," which remains, thankfully, elusive.
In 2003, Slate ran a piece on the found poetry of Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld has such a natural baffling quality to him that editor Hart Seely needed only to quote him directly from a 2002 Department of Defense briefing to create the Zen-like poem, "The Unknown":
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
Isn't it those unknown unknowns that get you? You've got to stay vigilant. And keep an eye on that left margin, my friends. Keep an eye on that left margin.