"History 48 Hours Away" CNN proposes today, counting down to the incoming Messiah (to borrow a Rush Limbaughism). I thought history was curtains since a few Neocons decided that American "preeminence" signaled its "end," but I guess history is back. It’s hard to keep up.
Not only is history 48 hours off — today’s paper declares that the new U.S. President has just four years to save the world. We’ve had 60 now to settle a conflict over a small patch of the world called Palestine and haven’t hit square one as yet, but never mind, these are hopeful times. If we can’t manage a few acres in 60 years, why not save the whole planet in four? Once he’s bailed out America’s Bushed reputation and Bushed economy, no doubt President Obama will see to the cosmos. Perhaps he’ll even find an occasion to achieve something substantial in Palestine. By then lunch will be free, pigs will fly, and the Cubs will prevail.
In case you think four years to save a planet might be journalistic hyperbole, consider that the ancient Maya calculated the end of the Fifth Sun, i.e., Dire Apocalypse, to fall on 23 December 2012, four years away. Why the Fifth Sun couldn’t have waited till Christmas is beyond me, but no matter — we’ll have the gift exchange early. Then again, today’s paper and the ancient Maya might be wrong, in which case the planet (and history) will stagger on a while longer. I hope they do. In fact, I’m betting that they do. I’m not particularly optimistic about Homo sapiens’ staggering-on capacity but have a hunch the planet, older and wiser than Homo sapiens, will carry on whether Obama saves it or not.
Hyperbole seems to be a handy way to get attention in this inattentive, information-saturated age. Certainly there are signs of hyperbole fatigue. "Hmm," we say; "Four years to save the planet… Any more coffee?" Hyperbole, nonetheless, is a time-tested rhetorical device, as George Bush’s speechwriters are well aware. Consider the following from the Anti-Messiah’s "farewell address" to the nation:
- Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States.
- …Around the world, America is promoting human liberty, human rights and human dignity. We’re standing with dissidents and young democracies…
- While our country is safer than it was seven years ago, the greatest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack. Our enemies are patient, and determined to strike again. America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict…
- I’ve often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise.
- Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere.
That is what the President said. Run through a dehyperbolizer, what emerges is: Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and sworn enemy of America to a brutal "democracy" and "friend" of the United States. Tens of thousands of people are dead. Hundreds of thousands are displaced. Millions have suffered terribly. Billions of tax dollars are wasted. It is now believed, and with reason, that Iraq under Saddam was in many respects better off than Iraq after Bush.
Around the world, the American government is promoting what it perceives as its own interests. Liberty, rights, and dignity play second fiddle at home or abroad. We stand on dissidents as commonly as we stand with them.
Whether our country is safer than it was seven years ago is a toss-up. The greatest threat to our people remains inept leadership, greed, corruption, malaise, ignorance, environmental degradation… fortunately the prospect of another terrorist attack helps us ignore the herd of elephants in the room. Remember when I kept promising to smoke the terrorists out and bring ‘em back dead or alive, and made brassy remarks like bring ‘em on and mission accomplished? What I really meant was: our enemies are patient and determined to strike again. America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict? I thank my speechwriters for selecting "seek or deserve" instead of "incite or provoke." Or "prevent." Or "outsmart."
There’s white hats and black. We wear the white ones. They wear the black ones. We’ll let you know who "they" are in the unlikely event of ambiguity.
Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere… Unless you’re conducting a War on Terror, and the innocent are members of wedding parties, children, civilians, prisoners… that’s collateral damage. Or unless your ideology happens to fall under our umbrella, in which case you have the right to "defend yourself" by systematically starving and killing a people mistreated and marginalized for 60 years, and vandalizing what little of their property you haven’t already confiscated.
These are just five statements from Bush’s farewell open to dehyperbolization. There remain, as Mark Twain might have put it, several others. In his last press conference the President allowed that he’s made tough decisions and that things haven’t always gone as planned, but concluded that all in all it’s been "fun." Possibly. One suspects that many people, now that Israel has momentarily suspended the blood-letting it calls Operation Cast Lead, are in a mood to cast leather. It might be fun to see a mountain of shoes, say five or six billion of them, cover a certain ranch in Texas — but perhaps I hyperbolize.
John Liechty [send him mail] currently teaches in Muscat, Oman.