Monday, January 08, 2007


what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death
- e.e. cummings

Like George Bush in 2001, Death hit a Trifecta last week. As the world watched, an unlikely trio – Gerald Ford, James Brown, and Saddam Hussein – all slipped their earthly bonds and went to their eternal rewards, such as they were. Lines of massed humanity stretched everywhere, hoping to catch a glimpse of history in the making. From Broadway in Harlem to the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, and yes, even in the Green Zone in Baghdad, the living gaped at the dead, or in Saddam’s case, the soon-to-be-dead.

Is it just me, or did Gerald Ford’s multi-state funeral procession seem to last as long as his ill-fated presidency? Again and again, in state after state, he was eulogized as a gentleman, a decent and kind man who behaved ethically despite his great power; the antithesis of his predecessor, the power-mad and secrecy-obsessed Richard Nixon.

(Nixon isn’t completely dead, by the way. His irritability, paranoia, contempt for the rules, and belief in his own unlimited wisdom and power were saved at the time of his demise and used for transplant into two up-and-coming young lions in his administration, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.)

I’m not sure if the emphasis on Ford’s personality as opposed to his deeds is a good thing. It is, however, what we as a nation have been reduced to. Let us honor a dying breed, the media seems to be saying, and cherish the memory of a man who put the needs of the people above those of his own ego, and who did not let the naturally adversarial nature of two-party politics degenerate into a schoolyard brawl.

Unlike You-Know-Who.

I like to fantasize that Ford’s body, ghostly white to the point of luminescence, somehow got switched with that of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, the paterfamilias of Hip Hop. I imagine a blustery gray Harlem day, lines of fans snaking around the corner of 125th Street onto Broadway, baring the chill and the long lines, until finally entering the inner sanctum of mourning, the Apollo Theater, staring down into the golden coffin, and seeing… Gerald Ford?

I imagine puzzled presidents and confused kings wending their way toward the Capitol bier, only to find before them the sleek, pompadour’ed, jeweled remains of the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

This is an image I can’t get rid of.

Now on to Baghdad. Saddam Hussein was certainly one of the 20th Century’s more flamboyant and ruthless despots, especially during the years in which the U.S. supported him in our proxy war against the Soviets. Whether he got what he deserved is something I’ll leave to each of our individual consciences. I for one have no sympathy for the man, but find his trial and execution a sad and sordid affair that diminished human dignity in general, especially when contrasted with the trials at Nuremberg following WWII.

It’s hard to imagine a more poorly executed (pun intended) act of state-sponsored violence than last week’s sectarian lynching of Saddam at the hands of Moktada al-Sadr’s Shiite goons. Somehow our know-nothing president has managed to turn a genuine madman who tortured and tormented millions of his own people for decades into something like a dignified statesman, going to his death with more dignity than the mob wielding the rope.

If this was justice, it was an unsatisfying, tawdry, and sickening justice, a strictly schoolyard affair. Not the Hallmark moment our own illustrious leaders had hoped for.

So we have rid the world of one tyrant.

I guess that makes us about even.

No comments: