Second Spin to the Right

Best way out of Neverland? Survey says: If you believe in Kerry, clap your hands!

"You must be nice to him," Wendy impressed on her brothers. "What could we do if he were to leave us?" "We could go back," Michael said. "How could we ever find our way back without him?" "Well, then, we could go on," said John. "That is the awful thing, John. We should have to go on, for we don't know how to stop." This was true; Peter had forgotten to show them how to stop.

When it comes to the war in Iraq, Kerry is likewise forced to concede that simply turning around and going home is not an option. "We have to succeed. We can't leave a failed Iraq," he said in the first presidential debate. "But that doesn't mean it wasn't a mistake of judgment to go there and take the focus off of Osama bin Laden." This hardly amounts to flip-flopping, but Bush's fictions, like Peter Pan's, have total authority. "Osama bin Laden isn't going to determine how we defend ourselves," he snapped at Kerry. "The right action was in Iraq. My opponent calls it a mistake. It wasn't a mistake." Bush hasn't told us how he plans to stop, but in this time of war, if the Republicans tell us that the economy is improving, or that Bush will keep us safe, or that Peter Pan is green, who are we to question them? Kerry says Bush lives in a "fantasy world of spin"—the problem is, a lot of Americans want to live there with him.

This leaves the Democrats in a bind: If they point out Bush's failures or the lack of real food on the tables of Neverland, they're accused of insulting our allies and sending "mixed signals." Kerry's mature reasoning is labeled suspicious and disloyal, whereas commitment to the fantasy of Bush's strong leadership is noble, a sign of team spirit. The real Peter Pan would have approved.

Unlike the Family Feud competitors, the presidential candidates get to debate the validity of each other's claims. How astonishing, then, to watch Bush continuing to boast of the pirates he has slain and the victories he has won. "I've said Peter Pan is green, and the American people know where I stand," smirks the Bush in my mind. "My opponent claims he doesn't know what color Peter Pan is."

Cut to Kerry, droning: "While it is true that Peter Pan is often depicted wearing green, that's only a convention of late-20th-century stage and screen adaptations. In fact, Barrie's text describes him as being 'clad in skeleton leaves,' which I suppose are brownish. And as for his skin color . . . "

Cue the Bush supporters: "Flip-flop! Mixed signals!" No matter how groundless Bush's claims or how clear Kerry's rebuttal, the election will still be the national version of Family Feud, and public opinion is a stubborn, slow-changing thing.

The producers of Feud can avoid embarrassment by sticking to non-literature-based categories like "Popular Names for Dogs." An entire family that can't come up with Fido or Spot may be pathetic, but they're not really wrong—and more importantly, the welfare of the free world will probably never rest in their hands. In the election the stakes are somewhat higher, and the Democrats are banking on the willingness of the lost-boy swing voters to question what their current leader is telling them. If voters prefer to stay in Bush's fantasy world, survey says: straight on till morning.

Mollie Wilson's last essay for the Voice was "The Passion of the Hargitay."

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