What Fresh Hell Is This?

The satire columnist and author says it’s time to appoint a ‘Secretary of Reality’ to smack the president upside the head.

I try to refrain from the alarmist statement, really I do. It's bad for the liver and worries the dog, who has plenty enough to worry about as it is. But apart from the truly gladsome tiding that O.J. Simpson was found guilty on all counts—and on the 13th anniversary of his acquittal for murder; there is a god—there isn't much frabjous joy or calloo callay in the morning paper. We've handed $700 billion over to the same folks who got us into this mess, (the U.S. government), and who know what good is going to come of that. Pete Peterson's foundation is taking out two-page ads in The Times pointing out a really inconvenient truth, namely that we face $53 trillion in unfunded liabilities. (How much is $53 trillion? Well, the GDP of the United States is about $14 trillion.) What else? Oh yes: home prices are in free fall and nearly ten million Americans are out of work. At this rate we're all going to be working at Starbucks. Michael Gill, author of How Starbucks Saved My Life, soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks, is the new Steve Jobs! Well, as the old Chinese curse has it, we do seem to be living in interesting times. Or to put it in Sarah Palinesque terms, could this be The End of Days? Either way, the excellent Mrs. Parker's memorable phrase (above) could serve as a headline for most stories running these days. Things could be worse: my next-door neighbor, a lovely fellow by the name of Mudd, is the now ex-head of Fannie Mae.

Life in what the Readers Digest calls “These United States” has become a Good News/Bad News joke, only minus the Good News. Surely there must be … something? Isn’t Donald Trump’s casino operation tanking?

Or could they? Yesterday's New York Post, a Daily Beast if ever there were one, ran a story in which I myself—mo-meme—was depicted as-to borrow the phraseology of Keith Olbermann—The Worst Personnnn in the Worrrrrrrld! Since the matter involves a legal case, I am enjoined, despite fingers that truly itch to fire back— oh, how they itch—from climbing into this mud pit. I have to go on applying Calamine lotion to my digits. Meanwhile, don't believe everything you read, even in exemplars of journalism. On the larger front, it's gotten to the point where I now start to twitch even before clicking on-line. Dawdling over that second cup of coffee has become like thumbing through Volume V of Gibbon's Decline and Fall (Public Sale of the Empire to Didius Julianus by the Praetorian Guards). I thought to try to inhale a bit of countervailing helium by taking a peek at a favorite website that usually affords a Comedie Humaine-type giggle, only to be greeted with the headline: PENTAGON URGED TO BOLSTER MISSILE, SPACE DEFENSES AGAINST THE CHINESE. By all means, let's add that to the national To Do list. We'll use the money we saved from not building the Bridge to Nowhere. Or did we spend it all on Gov. Palin's Road to Nowhere? Life in what the Reader's Digest calls These United States has become a Good News/Bad News joke, only minus the Good News. There must be something, other than O.J.'s impending immuration. Isn't Donald Trump's casino operation tanking? That would be good news. And Kim Jong-Il, Dear Leader—God I love that man—didn't he just have a stroke? But before we start clog-dancing for joy, this just in: North Korea is facing another record disastrous harvest. What's more, high level voices caution that Kim Jong-Il may be followed by someone even worse. Worse than Kim Jong-Il? Is that even scientifically possible? In both Bob Woodward's and Ron Suskind's new books (both excellent, and oh so depressing) President Bush is shown as a leader who doesn't encourage his staff to give him much by way of bad news. It's an old story. So, who wants to tell the King that Sir Lancelot is schtupping the Queen?

But given the fix we're in—two wars, an increasingly sticky situation in Pakistan, a neo-nuclear Iran, to say nothing of what the media now routinely calls, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, not forgetting the de facto nationalization of banks and insurance companies—you'd think someone, the first lady maybe, might have whispered in the presidential ear, Darling, you've just knocked off James Buchanan off the Worst President In U.S. History pedestal.

Every election, a presidential candidate inevitably proposes a new cabinet agency. The idea is that this is the only way to solve a particular problem. Just create more government. Why didn't we think of that before? Last time around, Sen. Kerry proposed—I wrote it down—a Department of Wellness. Exactly what we need. It is, however, worth asking up front: where would the Secretary of Wellness come in the presidential line of succession? There's a plot for a post-apocalyptic novel: the only one left alive in the rubble is—the Secretary of Wellness. Let the healing begin! I, for one, would propose a Secretary of Reality. So during cabinet meetings, when the President was proposing to, say, invade Iraq, or to announce a federal bailout for the kitty litter industry— the ripple effect would be calamitous!—the Secretary of Reality would cough softly, like Jeeves, and say, Mr. President, with all due respect, sir, that is a colossally stupid idea. The Secretary of Reality would probably require heavily armed bodyguards and some kind of statutory immunity. But the idea isn't so novel, really. In Shakespeare, he went by a slightly different name. Lear: Dost thou call me fool, boy? Fool: All thy other titles, thou hast given away; that thou wast born with. If the rest of us—or as presidential candidates invariably call us, the good, decent, hard-working, wise, etc, American people, which is to say, we who were stupid enough to think that mortgages were just like credit cards—get heaping helpings of fresh hell day after day, oughtn't the man at the top, really, be our national taster and go first? Christopher Buckley's current novel is Supreme Courtship.