About 18 months ago, I wrote in this very blog an entry that poked fun at Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican and former Major League pitcher who is, by many accounts, dumb as a jug. At the time, I chastised Senator Jughead for accusing a CNN journalist of treason for appearing on Iraqi-run television during the first few weeks of the war in Iraq. At the time, Bunning said on the floor of the Senate:
"Mr. Arnett can apologize all he likes for being a 'useful idiot' for Saddam and his barbaric regime, but that’s not enough for me, and it’s certainly not enough for our soldiers and many Americans. I think Mr. Arnett should be met at the border and arrested should he come back to America."
Jim Bunning. Champion of Free Speech.
Anyway, ol' Jughead is up for reelection this year. As I write this, I'm watching a replay of the debate between the old man and his challenger, State Senator Dan Mongiardo. And it is abundantly clear to me that Bunning is not necessarily ignorant.
What he is, and I'm deathly serious about this, is senile. Seriously senile. Bats-in-the-belfry senile. Where-am-I-and-how-did-I-get-here? senile.
I'm not the first to write this. In fact, it's a topic of discussion all throughout Kentucky. See, Bunning is one of these asinine old incumbents who typically would never have to worry about reelection; he should be a slam-dunk winner. But then ol' Jughead started to go bonkers, and now all bets are off.
The big Bunning scandal essentially centers around the very debate I'm watching. Mongiardo, an ambitious 44-year-old medical doctor who is making a run for the U.S. Senate after only four years in the Kentucky Senate, is standing behind a podium in a Lexington television studio. Behind the other podium is the moderator. Ol' Senator Jughead skipped out on debating in the same spot as his opponent; he needlessly flew back to Washington so he could debate from the comfort of his pretty Senate office.
Normally, this would just seem pompous. But, as is so often the case with Republicans, there's more to the story than meets the eye. Turns out that Mongiardo and Jughead agreed they would not use notes during the debate. But Jughead panicked and flew to Washington, where he could use a teleprompter to assist him. Shortly after the debate, Bunning refused to answer questions from Kentucky reporters about his possible use of the big electronic cheat sheet. After a day of badgering, he finally admitted that yes, he had used a teleprompter. In other words, Jughead cheated.
Amazingly, Jughead still couldn't hold his own during the debate, even though he had aides feeding him his answers. He made crazy hand gestures. His eyes wandered. He forgot really tough words, like "Kentucky" and "things." In fact, at the very moment I'm typing this, Bunning just admitted that one of his bills helped corn. Not corn farmers. Corn.
So Bunning has the corn vote wrapped up. Soybeans are still undecided, but corn loves Bunning.
Months ago, Bunning also got the attention of many Kentuckians by declaring that Mongiardo resembled one of Saddam Hussein's sons. Mongiardo is the son of Italian immigrants. I guess anyone with dark hair looks like Saddam Hussein if you're senile enough.
Mongiardo is a good candidate, especially considering how his opponent is a senile old goat. Months ago, I doubt the Democratic National Committee thought Dr. Dan (as he's affectionately called from time to time) stood half a chance against Brontosaurus Bunning. But now that Jughead has flipped his gourd and thinks little Italian dudes look like Saddam's offspring, the political climate has changed. Internal polls suggest Dr. Dan is only six points behind Kentucky's Most Prominent Embarrassment in what is a hugely Republican state. Had the DNC known Bunning was going to go loopy, they may have selected a different, more experienced candidate. But Mongiardo is still whipping Jughead's ass in this debate, so perhaps that's not the case. And it would be nice to have another doctor in the Senate -- especially one that didn't steal and kill cats like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
THERE'S A RUMOR THAT'S STARTING to make the rounds, and I've been resisting piling on. The fact is, there's no substantive proof that anything about this rumor is true. However, we're starting to see some rather interesting (yet circumstantial) evidence that it may be true, so I'm going to bring it up here now.
It's no surprise that I think Chicken George is, umm, not so bright. But I am starting to believe there's something wrong with his health. I don't think he's gone all soft and limp like Senator Jughead, but I'm wondering if Bush has had a minor stroke or something.
Hear me out on this, because I know it sounds crazy. But I've seen footage of Bush's debate against Ann Richards in the Texas governor's race back from 1994, and let me tell you, this guy was sharp as a tack. He had no problems completing his sentences, and he described actual policy initiatives -- with long words, no less -- with confidence and ease.
Something's happened to Bush. I don't know if it's a confidence issue, or if it's some sort of lobe damage. But he's not all there these days. How else do you explain something like this? Is he really that forgetful? Or what about that big glob of spit in the corner of his mouth for the first half hour of the third debate? Or the fact that he refuses to release the results of his most recent physical?
This isn't just some babbling idiot. This is a man who seems to have suffered some sort of reduction in functional mental capacity. The dirty cynic in me wants to point out he wasn't necessarily at the top of the pile in terms of cranial ability to start with; if he's actually declining, we could be in serious danger. We're talking running the risk of four years of Dick Cheney really going batshit crazy. Come to think of it, I'm not convinced there'd be any difference at all. And that would be terrible.
MAYBE I'M GUILTY OF ONE OF THOSE so-called "exaggerations" that Chicken George accused John Kerry of on Wednesday night by suggesting Bush's health may be failing. But in making his "exaggeration" declaration the other night, Bush unveiled himself either as a compulsive liar who cannot be trusted or a forgetful bumpkin who we don't want within 500 miles of any buttons that might launch missiles.
It may look pretty small, but I'm relatively convinced that the "exaggeration" comment -- not "Mission Accomplished," not dying soldiers in Iraq, and not some sort of bizarre interpretation of the Bible that Bush is trying to push forward -- is what's going to decide the election. And it's not going to decide it in favor of Pretzel Boy.
Look, two years ago when Bush said he wasn't all that concerned about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, it made headlines for three days. When Bush's gaggle of zealots started referring to Sen. Kerry as a flip-flopper, Democrats would point straight to these comments Bush made about bin Laden. They did it because not only did it suggest that Bush was the actual flip-flopper, but there was tons of footage supporting their assertion.
Over the last 48 hours, the Republicans have worked like mad to scandalize Kerry's innocent and inoffensive comments about Chest-Pain Cheney's lesbian daughter. This is a clear sign of a campaign in complete desperation. And, unfortunately for Bush but of great benefit to the American people, it's not distracting anyone from the fact that Bush either lied or forgot about his ridiculous bin Laden comments. He went from "Dead or Alive" to "I don't really think about him" in six months, and America remembers.
FINALLY TONIGHT, if there's one unmistakable conclusion that we can all take from the three presidential debates, it's that John Kerry remains calm, consistent, and presidential, even while Chicken George tries to show the American people yet another version of his crazy-assed self.
Over a span of less than two weeks, America got to see three different Bushes. In the first debate, we saw Oblivious Bush, the man who gave us smirks, dirty looks, and such classics as "he forgot Poland" and the reassuring yet painfully obvious and not-so-comforting "of course Osama bin Laden attacked the United States -- I know that." At the town-hall debate, we saw Crazy Mad Bush, the raving, podium-pounding, arm-waving madman who at one point joked about selling us lumber when he was actually selling us yet another lie. In the third debate, we saw Juvenile Frat Boy Bush, the one who misled the American public on the first two questions of the night (the "exaggeration" embarrassment and the patently false recap of the flu-vaccine emergency where he gave the Center of Disease Control credit for work successfully performed by a British agency) and attempted to joke his way through 90 awkward minutes.
It's too bad there won't be more debates, because comedy writers sure would like to see more Bushes. At this point, Saturday Night Live is practically turning actual, unmanipulated Bush transcripts into skits. This is not the best of signs for Chicken George.