June 14, 2004 should go down in history as the day Dick Cheney finally went nuts. I don't mean "we found him on the White House lawn, naked as a jaybird, claiming to be Ulysses S. Grant" nuts. I mean "remember the day Dick was convinced that Donald Rumsfeld, Homer Simpson, and his pet cat Mr. Whiskers were all Al Qaeda operatives on a mission to kill him?" nuts. Today was that day.
Of course, witnesses who saw his display of insanity first-hand aren't going to say anything, because they're all affiliated somehow with The James Madison Institute, a conservative think tank in Jeb Bush's backyard. But in a speech in front of the James Madison minions, Chest Pain Cheney blurted once again that Saddam Hussein and Crazy Osama were as tight as Bert and Ernie and that Hussein had "long established ties with al Qaeda."
In the words of the still-dead Ronald Reagan, "There you go again."
To date, nobody — not even zany Cheney — has been able to connect bin Laden to Saddam. They came close last year when an operative from within the Bush League determined that both bin Laden and Saddam had appeared in movies with people who appeared in movies with Kevin Bacon, but that's as close as anyone has been able to get. (Mr. Bacon, meanwhile, continues to be held in a dark concrete room at Guantanamo Bay, barely surviving on daily meals of melba toast and Sanka.)
Nevertheless, Cheney can't let go of the phony theory that Saddam and Osama chair the modern-day Legion of Doom. Journalist Bob Woodward knows it, and, according to page 292 of his book Plan of Attack, he knows that Secretary of State Colin Powell knows it:
Powell thought that Cheney had the fever. The vice president and (Paul) Wolfowitz kept looking for the connection between Saddam and 9/11. It was a separate little government that was out there — Wolfowitz, (Cheney chief of staff Scooter) Libby, (Pentagon undersecretary for policy Douglas) Feith and Feith's "Gestapo office," as Powell privately called it. He saw in Cheney a sad transformation. The cool operator from the first Gulf War just would not let go. Cheney now had an unhealthy fixation. Nearly every conversation of reference would come back to al Qaeda and trying to nail the connection with Iraq. Powell thought that Cheney took intelligence and converted uncertainty and ambiguity into fact. It was about the worst charge that Powell could make about the vice president. But there it was. Cheney would take an intercept and say it shows something was happening. No, no, no, Powell or another would say, it shows that somebody talked to somebody else who said something might be happening. A conversation would suggest something might be happening, and Cheney would convert that into a "We know." Well, Powell concluded, we didn't know. No one knew.
And there's Dick Cheney for you. The man who is one chicken bone away from the presidency, who can't tell the difference between fact and fiction, who "converts uncertainty and ambiguity into fact," who perpetually advocates putting American lives at stake in order to justify a mission for which he has absolutely no proof.
In case you were wondering, Chest Pain Cheney never served a single day in the military because he was too busy trying to make tiny Cheneys.
A COUPLE OF PEOPLE have written me privately to suggest that maybe I was a little too nasty in my farewell to former President Reagan last week. "Maybe," wrote one friend, "telling Reagan to enjoy hell and calling him a 'frigid, loveless son of a bitch' was a little harsh."
Yeah, maybe. Then again, a lot of people who wound up homeless in the '80s probably thought Reagan's policies were a little harsh, too. But I digress.
I will not miss Ronald Reagan. I believe the Republican party turned his death into a week-long infomercial. I think the national media glorified Reagan in ways that simply defy judgment and reason. They pulled the same act when Nixon died. By the time he died, the media had done what it could to morph the president who resigned in shame into some sort of tragic hero. It's not a partisan thing. It's an obscure societal thing that we tend to do in this country. We practically deify our dead. It's an odd phenomenon. When Nixon died, he did not suddenly become a great president. He became a now-dead failed president. In my opinion, Reagan's death did nothing to change the fact he spent eight years hurting this country from the White House.
I feel terribly for Reagan's family, not so much because Reagan died but because he should have probably died long ago. That isn't meant to be as mean as it sounds. There may be ailments out there that are more abhorrent than Alzheimer's disease, but I can't even begin to comprehend them. It's horrible for the family of the victim, and I can only imagine it's a nightmare for the person who's impaired. At what point does Alzheimer's rob cognizance of your own condition? Does it happen early? Does it never happen at all? Was Ronald Reagan aware that he had deteriorated but was simply unable to communicate articulate thoughts in any way? To this day, we really don't know. We may never know.
"Nearly at the onset of Alzheimer's disease, my father and I would tell each other we loved each other and gave each other a hug," recalled Michael Reagan, the adopted son of Ronald and Nancy, last week. "As the years went by and he could no longer verbalize my name, he recognized me as the man who hugged him. So when I would walk into the house, he would be there in his chair, opening up his arms for that hug."
As sweet as that story is, it also suggests that the former president of the United States had withered away until he had the mental capacity of a toddler. Say what you will about Ronald Reagan — and I've said plenty — but he was not an idiot. He wasn't a genius, but he also wasn't an imbecile. Alzheimer's disease did that to him. What a terrifying thought.
The entire family — Nancy, Michael, Patti, Ron, and Maureen before she succumbed to cancer some time ago — all deserved better than to watch a loved one fade away like that. I'm sure they would argue that Ronald Reagan is not going to hell. They would probably say he already spent the final decade of his life there.
SPEAKING OF REAGANS, I'm a big fan of Ron Reagan. Have been for many years. During the Democratic primaries, Reagan stood in front of a big map of the United States as a political commentator for MSNBC, turning states from blue to red and back to blue again while making snide little comments about the whole process. Reagan is bright, he's knowledgeable, he's funny, he's a great speaker, and he's simply enjoyable to watch. People who waste a few choice hours every couple of months or so watching dog shows on cable — and yeah, I'm one of them — also know Reagan as a "play-by-play" man of sorts at events like the Eukanuba Tournament. It stands to reason that anyone who can provide insightful commentary at a dog show can provide insightful commentary during the presidential primaries, which are basically the human versions of dog shows, but Reagan's the only one I know who's pulling it off. For some reason, I really dig that.
Ron Reagan may not be a chip off the old block when it comes to personal politics, but he certainly inherited the old man's gift of gab. Young Reagan is an incredible speaker who truly knows how to deliver an impactful line so adeptly that it sticks you between the eyes like a fist. And that's one reason why the Republican party finds itself performing yet another round of damage control today.
Young Reagan, you see, has never been a fan of President Dubya. In 2000, Reagan verbally pummeled Dubya during the Republican convention, which featured a tribute to The Gipper. "What's his accomplishment?" he asked at the time. "That he's no longer an obnoxious drunk?"
Answer: He was half right. Bush apparently no longer drinks.
Anyway, Reagan took another nasty punch at Dubya on Friday at his father's final funeral. (At least I think it was the final funeral. There were like four of them.) As he remembered his father, he also saw fit to point out the difference between his father and the current president, who makes every effort to make people think he's Reaganesque:
Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians — wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference.
Ouch. And if you think the words look harsh in print, you should have heard them as they were spoken. I can't find a clip anywhere, but as soon as I do I'll post it.
FINALLY TONIGHT, I ate lunch at an Arby's a couple of days ago. I ordered a sandwich they call the Beef 'N' Cheddar, which, near as I can tell, has neither real beef nor real cheddar on it. But that's beside the point.
As I chowed down on this sorry excuse for a sandwich, I noticed that the wrapper in which it was served listed the components that go into each item that may spend some quality time in such a wrapper. How convenient this would have been to have before I placed my order. Anyway, under Beef 'N' Cheddar, it listed these five ingredients:
- Onion Roll Crown
- Cheddar Cheese Sauce
- Roast Beef
I'm going to give the Arby's people plenty of creative license here, and I'm not going to condemn them for actually trying to call that stuff on the sandwich "roast beef." I'm also going to give them a mulligan on their decision to describe only one sauce but not the other. ("Sauce? Is it ranch dressing? Is it tomato sauce? Is it teriyaki sauce? Sakes alive, is it chocolate sauce?") What I found particularly amusing is how they've apparently chosen to represent a bun as two separate ingredients: the "crown" and the very disgustingly named "heel."
This confused me. I know of no rational person who would try to pass a bun off as two half buns. Nobody eats a half a bun anyway — except maybe people who are on Atkins but are only half-serious about it. Even so, they wouldn't name it something that sounds like feet.
As I looked at other sandwiches listed on the wrapper, I believe I decoded the method to their madness. One of their sandwiches — I apologize for not catching its name — listed the following three ingredients:
- Roll Crown
- Roast Beef
Now either this sandwich consists of an edible royal crown made out of bread, some meat, and a foot, or it's actually just a bun and some beef. (We're not talking USDA prime here, people. We're talking Arby's beef, which may come from cows but I have my doubts.) And let's face it — almost nobody is going to order something that is either of those options. Hence, the marketing department at Arby's has decided it is in their best interests to make it sound as if their sandwiches contain more goodies than they actually do. Some bastards will try anything.
Line up behind me, everyone. The class-action suit begins here.