Late the other evening, while semi-watching the Olympics on TV, I was mulling over a problem I’ve been struggling with when talking to the media. Our language doesn’t seem up to the task of describing the darkly wacky political world of 2006. In these over-the-top times, some new terminology is called for. A few examples for which the words I know fail me:
- The week’s dominant news story: Vice-President Cheney’s accidental shooting of a Texas GOP bigwig who suffered a heart attack as a result of migrating bird shot. Barely noticed: new photos showing Iraqi prisoners abused by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib. Not mentioned: the 30,000 or so people who die each year from gun violence in the United States.
- The cartoon wars that have erupted halfway around the world, and show no sign of calming down. Fortunately, nonviolent methods of protesting the offending cartoons have emerged. The Iranian confectioner’s union has decreed that the pastries formerly known as “Danish” will hereafter be called “Roses of Mohammed” (shades of “Freedom Fries”). Apparently, while it is a no-no to depict the Prophet’s image, it’s OK to name a pastry after him!
- Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, an elite member of a questionably elected, unquestionably secretive, decidedly militarist and increasingly unpopular administration, has compared Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected, wildly popular, progressive socialist President of Venezuela, to Hitler.
- President Bush, in his recent State of the Union address, warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose “a grave threat to the security of the world,” the same language he used prior to attacking Iraq. One week later, his budget request to Congress openly disclosed that the United States is planning to redesign and replace every weapon in its huge nuclear arsenal, and with Russia, to launch a global plutonium economy.
For a committed surrealist, it doesn’t get any weirder than this. But the old terminology just isn’t up to the task. Describing U.S. nuclear weapons policy as “hypocritical” doesn’t even begin to address the magnitude of the geopolitical discrepancies. Describing as “Orwellian” the Quadrennial Defense Review’s recasting of the war on terrorism as a never-ending “long war,” just doesn’t cut it. (Is anyone else getting tired of all the violence?) We need a whole new lexicon to describe our current predicament. Watching the Winter Olympics is mildly distracting. But it gave me an idea: we’re not just “going to hell in a handbasket,” we’re going to hell in a luge — head first, at 80 miles an hour!