A reminder to New York readers: I will be giving a slideshow/reading of some of my cartoons at an event called “Carousel,” at 8 P.M. Wednesday, November 16th, at Dixon Place, 258 Bowery. Reservations can be made at (212) 219-0736, X106. There is a $15 “suggested donation,” a phrase I have found to have invaluable elasticity of interpretation. And did you remember to swarm St. Mark’s books and buy my book?
I just read Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward’s inside account of the buildup to the war in Iraq. Who knows how honest an account this is, since the Bush administration is not famous for its veracity and it’s not like they weren’t aware that Bob Woodward is a reporter. But it seems, from reading it, as though the administration didn’t so much purposely lie about Saddam Hussein’s having weapons of mass destruction as they simply never questioned the premise that he must have them. They declared as certainties what were unfounded assumptions, and only collected evidence to back it up as an afterthought. However, the book does confirm a number of my other suspicions and fears. Foremost among them is, contrary to conventional wisdom on both the right and left, George Bush really is exactly as dumb as he appears. Bush and Karl Rove joked about the paranoid news stories on the left saying that Dick Cheney was really in charge of the country, but in the end George always makes important decisions—such as the one to go to war in Iraq--only after meeting with Cheney alone. And Dick Cheney is described by everyone who knows him, except for George Bush, as having been obsessed with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein for years—again and again his fixation is described as being “like a fever.” Even more disturbingly, George has never, not for one second, second-guessed or doubted his decision to go to war. This might be called conviction or strength of character if it had been the right decision. But it’s starting to look very much to everyone except George as if it was, in fact, the wrong one. Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. The war has not made Americans safer. It’s validated the most paranoid conspiracy theories of the most rabidly anti-American Arabs throughout the Middle East and turned Iraq into a rallying point for terrorists. And it hasn’t made life better for the average Iraqi, not even the ones left alive; it’s made it more violent, impoverished, and uncertain. So George’s certainty starts to look a less admirable, and more what we might call insane, or even monstrous.
I was recently arguing with a friend, in regard to Harriet Miers, that, up to a point, intelligence ought to make someone more persuadable, less entrenched in one’s opinions--that the marks of intellectual integrity are open-mindedness, ambivalence, and self-doubt, not absolute certainty, or what the President’s PR men like to call “moral clarity.” (As my old dance instructor used to tell us, “Not the courage of one’s convictions, but the courage for an attack on one’s convictions!”) There’s a passage in Plan of Attack in which Colin Powell, seeming genuinely creeped out, wonders to himself exactly when, if ever, George entertains doubts. Powell does it all the time. Maybe late at night?, he speculates. It was this that became the genesis of this cartoon. What Powell seems never to have understood is that the President is not a person remotely like himself—his psychology is either too primitive or too pathological for self-doubt. He enjoys the same absolute certainty enjoyed by all divine appointees to sacred missions, from Urban II to Jim Jones. I have no doubt he sleeps the untroubled sleep of the innocent, soothed by dreams of bottomless supplies of peppermints.
I did not pull the bottomless supply of peppermints out of my ass, by the way. Ponder, if you will, this passage from an account of a briefing on Iraq in “the Tank,” the secure meeting room for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, which took place on January 10th, 2001, ten days before Bush’s first inauguration:
The JCS had placed a peppermint at each place. Bush unwrapped his and popped it into his mouth. Later he eyed [outgoing Secretary of Defense William S.] Cohen’s mint and flashed a pantomime query, Do you want that? Cohen signaled no, so Bush reached over and took it. Near the end of the hour-and-a-quarter briefing, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army General Henry ‘Hugh’ Shelton, noticed Bush eyeing his mint, so he passed it over.
You see? You see how it is trying to be a satirist these days?
However, the crowning stroke of demented genius in this cartoon---the clown horse—was my friend Isabelle’s. I told her about the mint story and she blurted out the whole clown horse dream out of nowhere. I was like, did you say ‘clown horse’? I tried to fine-tune it for comic effect, but found I could not improve on the initial inspiration--it has the same nonplussing strangeness of ideas invented by very young children (one of which Isabelle, perhaps not coincidentally, has got)—senseless, perplexing, and kind of brilliantly insane. So credit, such as it is, where credit is due. It was I, however, who made the clown horse magical. How else could he provide a limitless number of mints?
Q: Do I really imagine that Donald Rumsfeld loses any sleep over the number of American casualties (much less the number of Iraqi casualties, not officially counted and almost never alluded to in the media, but doubtlessly in the tens of thousands)?