Going mad inside the debate bubble

Although his man may still be ahead, you can smell the strong scent of desperation in Karl Rove's campaign strategy as we head toward the final fortnight. Not content to slur the Democratic nominee's war record and call him a flip-flopper (when he is, more accurately, a weasel), the president has begun blasting his health plan as a "government takeover" (alas, it is not) and claiming in a new attack ad that Kerry believes terrorism to be just like prostitution or gambling—a straw man so bogus that even knock-kneed Aaron Brown torched it the other night. In fact, what Kerry actually said was perfectly sensible: "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance. I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it . . . to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life." Such sober words are far more reassuring than his Nixonian bull about having "a plan" for Iraq.

As if the president's dishonest election rhetoric weren't bad enough, he keeps shifting our nation's policies to make the situation favor his re-election. On October 11, the Los Angeles Times broke the front-page story that the administration plans to delay its inevitably bloody takeover of rebel-held cities in the Sunni Triangle until after November 2. This decision should surprise only the slow learners. As William Langewiesche notes in a superb article in the current Atlantic Monthly ("Welcome to the Green Zone: The American Bubble in Baghdad"), the timetable of events in Iraq was sped up and skewed to fit the president's electoral calendar—the political version of "duck and cover." I guess this is what Bush calls staying the course.

Meanwhile, back home, his people have been turning up the pressure on the media to stop dwelling on the negative in Iraq. Of course, given the invertebrate nature of so many editors and network executives, such pressure is largely superfluous:

"I wish I had a dollar for every time an editor told me to find a 'positive' story in Iraq," I was told by a photographer recently returned to the States after shooting the occupation for big weekly magazines. "They always want something upbeat. The last time, the editor said to me, 'We're building lots of schools in Iraq. Go shoot some photos of kids in a school.' So I went out looking for the shots he wanted. It took forever. I went to five different schools, and they were all these crumbling, terrible buildings. Finally, I found a brand-new school we'd built. It was brand-new, beautiful. Trouble was, there weren't any children in it. The day before, the building across the street had blown up, so now nobody wanted to come to the school." She sighed. "Things there are much, much worse than people realize."

At least until November 3.

Bookend: Flying home from the Midwest last weekend, I spent a merry two hours reading The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir. (What can I say? I was in an airport bookstore.) It was written by former Balanchine ballerina Toni Bentley, who could teach ABC's desperate housewives a thing or two about desperation. Genuinely daring in its self-exposure, stabs at philosophy and downright silliness, both witting and un-, her book is surely the greatest hymn to the transcendent powers of sodomy since the Marquis de Sade (or at least the original Devil in Miss Jones).

Early on, Bentley tells us, "I came to know God experientially, from being fucked in the ass—over and over and over again." If you didn't know better, you would swear you were reading the latest pro-Bush speech by onetime liberal Ron Silver.

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