Friday, August 29, 2008

Shedding Skin

Just a friendly reminder of what we are blessedly getting rid of.

In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored ''road map'' for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman -- the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress -- mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

''I don't know why you're talking about Sweden,'' Bush said. ''They're the neutral one. They don't have an army.''

Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: ''Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army.'' Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

Bush held to his view. ''No, no, it's Sweden that has no army.''

The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

A few weeks later, members of Congress and their spouses gathered with administration officials and other dignitaries for the White House Christmas party. The president saw Lantos and grabbed him by the shoulder. ''You were right,'' he said, with bonhomie. ''Sweden does have an army.''

This story was told to me by one of the senators in the Oval Office that December day, Joe Biden. Lantos, a liberal Democrat, would not comment about it. In general, people who meet with Bush will not discuss their encounters. (Lantos, through a spokesman, says it is a longstanding policy of his not to discuss Oval Office meetings.)

I love the penultimate point in that excerpt, the room going silent until the subject was changed. Was it that disagreement with Le Dauphin is punishable by death (or worse yet, downward career mobility)? Or is it that they understood instinctively what sort of person they had to deal with, and that it's always a waste of time to try to argue with a bratty, insolent child?

Think about it -- Lantos was originally from Europe, and had dealt with world issues in Congress for many years at that point, where by that juncture in Bush's abysmal tenure, he hadn't been to much besides Mexico and China, and was only a few years removed from not knowing who ran that quaint little overcrowded nucular backwater known as Pakistan.

And instead of dialoguing with and listening to Lantos' suggestion, he tried to punk him in front of everyone else, 'cause everyone knows that Sweden don't have no army, dumbass. Just a big wall of meatballs and Volvos surrounding Göteborg. Fuck, this guy would lose on one of those "how long do you cook a three-minute egg?" questions they give you in the warm-up round of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Every person in government who has failed to correct or engage this mendacious, clueless slob has done a disservice to the country and the world, whether they realize it or not. By humoring and ignoring his profound ignorance of even simple trivial points, they enabled an attitude of petulance and entitlement which engendered far worse things, which will take a generation to undo. Thanks for that, guys. At least Biden had the balls to share that one with the rest of us. I'm sure it's not even the 100th-worst example of enabled boobery in the past eight years.


fadograf said...

My god, Heywood---why aren't you prime time?

I enjoy your insights tremendously.

Heywood J. said...

Thanks. I've been wondering about that myself for a couple years. Maybe a drunken, pantsless tirade at the next Yearly Kos will encourage these humps to reckanize.