Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The poet William Carlos Williams once wrote: “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.” Last week we heard some glorious poetry from our eloquent commander-and-frontier-poet-in-chief on the occasion of his second inaugural that turned Williams’ assertion on its head.

Maya Angel-who? Poet Laureate? This President don’t need no stinking laureate! Words like “liberty” and “freedom” trip from his tongue and take flight like so many F/A-18C Hornets. His inaugural oration was pure poetry. Informally titled “An Odd Time For Doubt,” after a stirring phrase found in it, the speech was notable for its condemnation of pretentious tyrants. And who could disagree? Everyone hates an uppity, ostentatious tyrant. A little humility goes a long way where tyrants are concerned. “We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny,” Mr. Bush added. Eight years is the maximum.

Addressing his cohorts abroad, “the leaders of governments with long habits of control,” Mr. Bush offered sage advice: “To serve your people, you must learn to trust them.” Having them sign loyalty oaths is the most efficient way to facilitate this process. He offered other helpful hints to friends and allies in the march to freedom: “Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies,” he reminded them. Everybody knows freedom and democracy are a lot easier without all that nit-picking debate and dissent.

The most moving part of the speech for me was the Bush version of Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you”: “Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country, but to its character.” But don’t worry, you don’t have to choose between the two. In fact they go hand-in-hand. It reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw recently on an expensive sports car: “Don’t let the car fool you,” it read, “my real reward is in Heaven.” “Have thy cake, and eateth it, too.” That’s the new “Golden Rule,” with an emphasis on the gold.

Not only are his words pure poetry, Mr. Bush himself is a work of art. While he played the Christ of “Ecce Homo” to perfection in his first term and throughout his re-election campaign (with Senator Kerry as the supremely decadent Pontius Pilate), what we behold in his second term is nothing short of Nietzsche’s Superman. This administration’s Will to Power is awesome to behold. Their rhetoric is equally awesome. It is no longer so difficult to get the news from poems. And men (and women and children) are dying everyday for precisely what is found there.

If the poet Yeats were alive today I would have had him at the inaugural. He could have read his poem “Second Coming”. It fit the occasion to a tee: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/…The best lack all convictions, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

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