Political irony

Irony is one of those words that is hard to define, but you know it when you bump into it. The American College Dictionary defines it as a figure of speech in which the literal meaning of a locution is the opposite of that intended. That sounds like it should make sense, but it can get tricky. Assuming it's definable, it begs the question as to whether there has ever been an administration in the White House that has been more ironic than that of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, et. al.

So let's take irony out for a spin now that the countdown to 01-20-09 has begun.

When told that according to recent polls 70 percent of Americans do not support the war in Iraq, Cheney shrugged and said, "So?"

The man actually said, "So?"

Well, he could have yawned and said, "Whatever." Was he being ironic? Earlier he had said that environmental conservation should be left up to the individual and let's not get too concerned about imposing national car mileage standards, caps on greenhouse gases, or any of those other pesky regulations that might hamper business as usual.

Was irony in play when George Bush, standing knee deep in Texas brush with a chain saw in his hand, pulled the pin on the Kyoto Protocol Treaty while offering not one suggestion regarding how it might be improved? After all, said the White House, with not a hint of irony, the science was inconclusive. Plus, we have tons of coal yet to be mined and the Saudis are on our side. Aren't they? And what's a degree or two of global warming?

Actually, Cheney is never ironic. Secretive, stoic, indifferent to the Constitution, the Geppetto to Scooter Libby's Pinocchio, perhaps &

but never ironic. Irony is a much tougher gig and likely requires a sense of humor.

Was George W. being ironic when he sat in the White House, post 9/11, surrounded by advisors and neocons, and said, Yes indeed, he would get Osama Bin Ladin, "dead or alive"? The literal meaning of this gunslinger locution was clear and unambiguous. He would track down that varmint (and his Taliban cohorts) and bring him to justice.

In fact, he knew where he was.

OBL had lit out for the Bora Bora Territory and G.W. had the cavalry in place to do the job. Only he didn't. He was suddenly enamored of another varmint by the name of Saddam, who, we were told, was packing real WMD heat. Better to get the Iraqi guy first, and G.W. knew where he was. Ironic? Probably not. Just plain inexplicable. In fact, irony requires subtly, a grasp of complexity, and a willingness to view the world in all of its contradictions. That would not be the Bush-Cheney contingent.

Fine, forget irony.

How about the use of metaphors? Are Bush poll ratings in the 30s a metaphor? Does Bush ever thinks about Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib and worry that those places are some kind of strange and unintended metaphor for this administration? Are images of hooded, semi-naked men standing on boxes, their hands hooked up to electrodes, apt metaphors for an administration that has flaunted Common Article — of the Geneva conventions and continues to do so? An administration that holds men abroad and in Guantanamo for years without availing to them the right of that cornerstone of our judicial system, habeas corpus.

And when pushed, instead of using the federal courts, this administration has devised military tribunals where the rights of the accused are truncated while branding the self-styled system as a form of justice. Attach to that metaphor the fact that some of the key captured players in the 9/11 tragedy were tortured, hence any statements of culpability and planning are fruits of a poisoned tree and should be inadmissible. Ask any defense attorney.

But, like so much perpetrated by this White House &

illegal wiretapping, renditions, politicizing the justice department, a ginned-up war with faux WMD, the blatant corruption of no-bid contracts &

the meaning of torture has been redefined and waterboarding is now labeled as aggressive interrogation.

Make no mistake, many who are held in Guantanamo are bad actors. But under our Constitution and system of jurisprudence, they have the right to a vigorous defense. It is the system that defines us. To abrogate it is to diminish America worldwide. Yet that is what we are about to do as we bring these men before military courts.

Here's a metaphor for this administration, one that should be more than a footnote to the last eight years: Katrina.

That storm defined this administration in ways that are still in the process of being understood. The devastation to property and lives is well known. The neglect that followed also documented. But just recently, the administration's own FEMA acknowledged that the thousands of trailers that were used for victims' shelter had unsafe levels of formaldehyde and posed serious health risks. The agency sat on this information, allowing residents to inhabit them for two years after being alerted. It was only after the EPA did a study that the agency agreed that perhaps they were toxic.

Meanwhile, the victims of Katrina were victimized once again by their own government, many suffering respiratory problems and related illnesses. The gift that keeps on giving. Now that's a metaphor.

At the end of his final term, Bush will return to Crawford, placid in his righteous rectitude &

unable, it seems, to fully appreciate the train wreck he is leaving behind (the economy, the housing debacle, the war in Iraq). You can almost picture him getting up that first morning back on the ranch, watching the sun rising above the horizon, and telling himself he did a heck of a job. One heck of a job. His smile of satisfaction will be untouched by irony.

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