As the new Congress convenes today and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ascends to the rostrum, you have to wish them all well. These are the kids who got up in school assembly and spoke on Armistice Day and were captains of teams and organized class projects to do good works, a different breed from us wise guys who lurked in the halls and made fun of them, and in the end you want them and not us running your government. Yes, they had serious brown-nose tendencies and a knack for mouthing pieties, but you could count on them to do what needed doing. They were leaders. They weren't going to swipe the lunch money and buy a keg of suds.
You wonder, however, what this earnest bunch can do when things are so far out of whack as they are in Iraq. The gangland-style execution of Saddam Hussein was visible reality, a token of the bloodlust and violence that swirl around Iraq, where our forces are mired, sitting targets, aliens, fighting a colonial war in behalf of a Shiite majority that is as despotic and cruel as what came before, except messier.
Meanwhile, in Washington, memoranda are set out on long, polished tables, men in crisp white shirts sit at meetings and discuss how to rationalize a war that was conceived by a handful of men in arrogant ignorance and that has descended over the past four years into sheer madness.
Military men know there is no military solution here, and the State Department knows that the policy was driven by domestic politics, but who is going to tell the Current Occupant? He is still talking about victory, or undefeat. The word "surge" keeps cropping up, as if we were fighting the war with electricity and not human beings.
Rational analysis is not the way to approach this administration. Bob Woodward found that out. The President Bush who burst into sobs after winning re-election when his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., said, "You've given your dad a great gift," is so far from the President Bush of the photo-ops as to invite closer inspection, and for that you don't want David Broder, you need a good novelist.
Here we have a slacker son of a powerful patrician father who resolves unconscious Oedipal issues through inappropriate acting-out in foreign countries. Hello? All the king's task forces can gather together the shards of the policy, number them, arrange them, but it never made sense when it was whole and so it makes even less sense now.
American boys in armored jackets and night scopes patrolling the streets of Baghdad are not going to pacify this country, any more than they will convert it to Methodism. They are there to die so that a man in the White House doesn't have to admit that he, George W. Bush, the decider, the one in the cowboy boots, made grievous mistakes. He approved a series of steps that he himself had not the experience or acumen or simple curiosity to question and that had been dumbed down for his benefit, and then he doggedly stuck by them until his approval ratings sank into the swamp.
He was the Great Denier of 2006, waving the flag, questioning the patriotism of anyone who dared oppose him, until he took a thumpin' and now, we are told, he is re-examining the whole matter. Except he's not. To admit that he did wrong is to admit that he is not the man his daddy is, the one who fought in a war.
Hey, we've all had issues with our dads. But do we need this many people to die so that one dude can look like a leader?
The earnest folk in Congress are prepared to discuss policy issues, to plant their butts in hard chairs and sit through jargon-encrusted reports and long, dry perorations thereupon. They're trained for that. That's one good reason they're there and not you or me. But to address the war and the White House, you're talking pathology.
It's time for 41 and 43 to work something out, and they can't do it by way of James A. Baker III or Brent Scowcroft. Pick up the phone, old man, and tell 43 you love him dearly and it's time to think about sparing the lives of American soldiers, many of whom have sons too.
Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.