Wayne O'Leary

Nightmare on Pennsylvania Ave.

I had a dream the other night. It was 2016, Year 13 since "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. The war was still going strong, but Pentagon experts insisted we were making progress; democracy was just around the corner. President Ahmed Chalabi, in the latest communiqué from his bunker in Baghdad's Green Zone, pronounced Iraqi forces nearly ready to assume control of the country. And the commander of US troops, General John Wayne "Iron Pants" Patton IV, declared Operation Enduring Occupation an unqualified success; Fallujah had been liberated for the 27th time.

In Washington, President George W. Bush was completing his fourth term in office, surpassing FDR's record; he had not won an election since 2004, but according to the Justice Department, the Constitution provided for the suspension of presidential elections in a time of war. Speaking for a unanimous Supreme Court, Chief Justice Scalia concurred, and the permanent Democratic minority in Congress (three senators and 14 representatives) raised no objections, not wanting to question the commander in chiefs prerogatives during wartime.

Polls said the American people felt George W. should step down at the end of the year and allow another Bush to take over. Brother Jeb was no longer interested. Since the annexation of Cuba and its incorporation into Florida, being governor of the Sunshine State had become a fulfilling and time-consuming job. Besides, the 20,000-acre Bush estate and sugar plantation outside Havana needed attention. So, speculation centered on Jenna, who was expected to make an announcement once she completed rehab.

William Jefferson Clinton Bush, adopted son of George and Barbara Bush, was counseling Jenna on the finer points of political management. Rumor had it that topics under discussion included "creative disingenuousness," "the art of lowering expectations," and "feeling others' pain while you inflict it." Observed the elder Mrs. Bush, on in years but still edgy, "George should be so smart."

The Democrats, having been out of office since the 20th century, weren't exactly sure how to field a candidate in the event the White House permitted an election. The Democratic Leadership Council, which had replaced the Democratic National Committee in 2010, argued that running a candidate was unwise anyway, since opposing a Bush would only irritate the 47 red states and set the party back. This would be especially counterproductive just when Chairman Al From's centrist strategy was finally working -- as evidenced by opinion surveys showing that 9 out of 10 Americans no longer knew what a Democrat was.

The war on terror was proceeding apace. Osama bin Laden remained missing, although the charismatic new ruler of Pakistan, a tall, bearded Muslim mystic, was said to bear a striking resemblance to him, raising some awkward questions. The CIA insisted, however, that the al Qaeda leader had likely been dispatched years before during Operation Democracy or Else, when most of Pakistan's western mountains had been leveled by US carpetbombing.

On the home front, national security was the watchword. Under the PATRIOT Act, 5.2 million Americans of suspicious background and appearance had been detained indefinitely for questioning and waterboarding by authorities; these included Helen Thomas, Ralph Nader, Casey Kasem, the Zogby brothers, the staffs of MoveOn.org and the New York Times, the Harvard University faculty, and the entire population of Dearborn, Mich. Meanwhile, Israeli engineers were putting the final touches on the transcontinental security wall between the US and Canada, a regrettable measure made necessary by the thousands of US citizens attempting to flee north in search of political asylum; the president said he didn't understand the Berlin Wall analogy.

The southern boundary with Mexico remained open to allow undocumented Mexican workers to make their way to New Orleans, where the Halliburton Company was reinforcing the levees for the third time in 11 years. The original Hurricane Katrina had been followed by Katrinas 2 and 3, leading President Bush to forego permanent flood control in favor of quadrennial sandbagging. Some saw the hand of Karl Rove in this decision; the Crescent City's largely Democratic population had dropped to under 50,000, making it officially a township, and Louisiana was now solidly in the Republican camp.

Elsewhere in the government, Secretary of Christianity Ralph Reed announced that the 29th amendment to the Constitution, providing for mandatory religious observance and tithing, was moving swiftly toward ratification. He credited his predecessor, the Rev. Pat Robertson, father of the 28th amendment making church and state inseparable, with being the catalyst. A statue of the late Rev. Robertson, who had expired in the midst of a moving sermon calling for the assassination of a half-dozen Latin American leaders, was planned for the National Mall.

Wall Street analysts said the economy was perking along nicely thanks to the new Free Trade Area of the World (FTAW) and the recent outlawing of labor unions. Things were on track to achieve the administration's "50-50 by 2020" objective -- the outsourcing of 50% of all US jobs; in anticipation, the Dow had risen to 30,000. In addition, the unemployment rate was down, although some critics charged this was due to the Labor Department's novel definition of "employment" as gainful activity occupying 10 hours a month. The niggling problem of legacy costs persisted, but the president's program of choice for seniors -- recipients could choose either Social Security or Medicare -- was hailed as a bold step toward independence and self-reliance.

There was a minor scandal unfolding in Washington that was unsettling to constitutional literalists. Vice President Dick Cheney, it seemed, had died in office five years earlier, an incident that went curiously unreported. The beloved veep, ever the sportsman, had succumbed to an accidental, self-inflicted birdshot wound while on a nocturnal duck-hunting expedition in New York City's Central Park. Since Cheney was rarely seen in public, an imaginative scheme was hatched by conservative activist Grover Norquist to keep him, in a manner of speaking, alive. The plot was said to involve a Hollywood double and a curtailment of the vice president's speaking engagements. When asked for an explanation by a Senate investigating committee, Norquist cited national security; the senators seemed satisfied, but others weren't so sure, including Mrs. Cheney.

At this point, I awakened in a cold sweat. Thank heaven it was all a dream. Nothing so outlandish could possibly be happening here. Then, I turned on CNN ...

Wayne O'Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1, 2006

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