Sunday, January 30, 2005

Caligula Dubya Bush: Observations From the Back of the Chariot

"He never missed a chance of making profits: setting aside a suite of Palace rooms, he decorated them worthily, opened a brothel, stocked it with married women and boys, and then sent his pages around the squares and public places, inviting all men, of whatever age, to come and enjoy themselves. Those who appeared were lent money at interest, and clerks wrote down their names under the heading 'Contributors to the Imperial Revnue'."
- Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Ancient Roman Historian and Writer

There are just very few good political movies at the video store - and not many have ever been made to begin with, for that matter - but the memorable ones provide a great evening of speculation during an otherwise long winter of blue state politics.

All the President's Men is among the best of the lot, and so is Bush's Brain. All the King's Men illustrates how the game is really played in the backrooms of power, as does JFK and Citizen Kane on different levels, or Bob Roberts as a modern day treatise on mob psychology and grass roots manipulation. But should you require a cinematic achievement that dives deep into the realm of politics, take a hard look at Caligula - no pun intended - the next time you browse the aisles of Blockbuster or the internet shopping cart at Netflix, which many people regard as the best political movie ever made.

His nickname back then was "Little Boots" - a joke derived from the troops, because he was raised up in their midst while in the dress of a common soldier, much like our current day Dubya - which may speak more to Caligula's addiction to constant vindication, whereupon he became one of the world's most reviled sadists. But Caligula was a great deal more savage than most Roman Emperors: he was also a tale of avarice, failure and decadence that makes Dick Nixon seem like a rank amateur and Uday and Qusay as street corner wiseguys. How else are we to explain the longevity of freakish political operatives like Roger Stone - a guy who looks like a Chinese food deliveryman wearing a wig - and Karl Rove and Roger Ailes. Neither Caligula nor Dubya had much use for prying questions or too many details, because the task of ruling the planet is serious business, and they share even less affection for dissent.

So much for Caligula as emperor; we must now tell of his career as a monster. After he had assumed various surnames (for he was called Pius ["Pious"], Castrorum Filius ["Child of the Camp"], Pater Exercituum ["Father of the Armies"] and Optimus Maximus Caesar ["Greatest and Best of Caesars"]), chancing to overhear some kings, who had come to Rome to pay their respects to him, disputing at dinner about the nobility of their descent, he cried: "Let there be one Lord, one King." And he came near assuming a crown at once and changing the semblance of a principate into the form of a monarchy. But on being reminded that he had risen above the elevation both of princes and kings, he began from that time on to lay claim to divine majesty; for after giving orders that such statues of the gods as were especially famous for their sanctity or their artistic merit, including that of Jupiter of Olympia, should be brought from Greece, in order to remove their heads and put his own in their place, he built out a part of the Palace as far as the Forum, and making the temple of Castor and Pollux its vestibule, he often took his place between the divine brethren, and exhibited himself there to be worshipped by those who presented themselves; and some hailed him as Jupiter Latiaris. He also set up a special temple to his own godhead, with priests and with victims of the choicest kind. In this temple was a life-sized statue of the emperor in gold, which was dressed each day in clothing such as he wore himself. The richest citizens used all their influence to secure the priesthoods of his cult and bid high for the honor. The victims were flamingoes, peacocks, black grouse, guinea-hens and pheasants, offered day by day each after its own kind. At night he used constantly to invite the full and radiant moon to his embraces and his bed, while in the daytime he would talk confidentially with Jupiter Capitolinus, now whispering and then in turn putting his ear to the mouth of the God, now in louder and even angry language; for he was heard to make the threat: "Lift me up, or I'll lift you." But finally won by entreaties, as he reported, and even invited to live with the god, he built a bridge over the temple of the Deified Augustus, and thus joined his Palace to the Capitol. To be nearer yet, he laid the foundations of a new house in the court of the Capitol.

He seldom had anyone put to death except by numerous slight wounds, his constant order, which soon became well-known, being: "Strike so that he may feel that he is dying." When a different man than he had intended had been killed, through a mistake in the names, he said that the victim too had deserved the same fate. He often uttered the familiar line of the tragic poet [Accius, Trag., 203]: --- "Let them hate me, so they but fear me." He often berated all the senators alike, as adherents of Seianus and informers against his mother and brothers, producing the documents which he pretended to have burned, and upholding the cruelty of Tiberius as forced upon him, since he could not but believe so many accusers. He constantly tongue-lashed the equestrian order as devotees of the stage and the arena. Angered at the rabble for applauding a faction which he opposed, he cried: "I wish the Roman people had but a single neck," and when the brigand Tetrinius was demanded, he said that those who asked for him were Tetriniuses also. Once a band of five retiarii in tunics (gladiators that used a net to wrap their adversary and a trident to kill him), matched against the same number of secutores (armed with oblong shields and gladius), yielded without a struggle; but when their death was ordered, one of them caught up his trident and slew all the victors. Caligula bewailed this in a public proclamation as a most cruel murder, and expressed his horror of those who had had the heart to witness it.

In the last analysis it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions life puts to us. And there are lots of ways to practice the art of journalism as a form of ritualistic fratricde against the current neo-con junta stationed in the Big House, and among them is to use harsh words and creative license like a precision bomb to destroy the deserved - who are most assuredly our enemies, for one reason or another, and who more times than not earned the right to be dismembered in public because they are on the wrong side of the argument. And the same goes for the defacto Prime Minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, who could body double for Charles Kurault in the Green Zone and is beginning to feel more like Saddam Hussein meets Wilfred Brimley minus the Grapenuts. Spend half an afternoon untangling Allawi's bizzare dossier and you're left with a smarter, more craftier Manuel Noriega who can entertain the media better than Baghdad Bob himself - the former Iraqi Minister of Information - and who has been connected to everything from Saddam himself, to the "WMD in 45 minutes" sales job on the American people, to fraudulent reports of Iraq's purchases of uranium yellowcake from Niger, to the extended assertions by right wing whackjobs and think tanksters that September 11 mastermind Mohammed Atta was supported by Baghdad. Not even the flying chimps in The Wizard of Oz were as hideous as Ayad Allawi, but they both followed orders to the cold and mean-spirited end - and it appears that Dubya is about to crown him golden puppet for his efforts into the sublime.

Indeed this journalistic fratrcide effort is a presumptive notion, and more than a few "professional" journalists will underestimate its effect - calling the voices in the blogworld "vengeful" and "overly personal" and "highly counter-productive" regardless of how often they dip into the pit of outrage or tacit compliance themselves. "It's just a person's opinion," they will admonish, "and the reader is always jerked around if the content does not carry the label of opinion in print."

On some days you get what you rightly deserve in the game of politics - or journalism, for that matter - and in the Autumn of 2004, the blue states certainly got theirs. There are winners and there are losers, the righteous and the damned, the vindicated and the vanquished. In the case of Caligula, wishing to have one of the senators torn to pieces, he induced some of the members to assail him suddenly, on his entrance into the Senate, with the charge of being a public enemy, to stab him with their styluses, and turn him over to the rest to be mangled; and his cruelty was not sated until he saw the man's limbs, members, and bowels dragged through the streets and heaped up before him. Within the political sphere, that is known as the art of controlling the environment, and neither Caligula nor Dubya would apologize for it. In my case, using what clearly might be called "outrage blogism," I've used thinly veiled reporting techniques as a weapon that affect my situation and my little part of the planet, and no apologies will be issued from here either.

That is the enduring legacy of Dubya Incorporated - a constant misinformation and punishment culture that has seeped into the entire American infrastructure and throughout its social and intellectual institutions quicker than the plague, requiring a crisis mentality found in most trauma centers to even endure the deliberate shouting match, and bringing to life the George Orwell concept, from Animal Farm, that "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." It is a very grim time to be an American, in any shape or form.

Even if Democracy survives in Iraq without supercharging Islamic Jihad or going insane or being whacked like Lee Harvey Oswald by his own people, Dubya will never be able to get past his rationale for invading in the first place - which appears rather hazy in the sunset of this election cycle, but it had nothing to do with making average Iraqis targets for insurgents by marking their fingers and thumbs purple at polling locations guarded by hoardes of Humvees and American troops barking out "move it and lose it" to anyone with car keys - so he would be better off leaving the self-applause to a minimum, at the very least; but even dumb brutes can learn from past mistakes, and I have long since quit placing any energy into wishing for a terminal disease on the Chimperor, not just because even the best form of vengeance ever paid the house note.

In the mean time, a witch's brew of extreme burden will be building up in Washington. The inexorable march to the State of the Union speech will not be a merry time in the White House, even if the Iraqi election turnout surpasses 50% when the final numbers come in. There will be nothing in the woodshed but rust, decay, filth and subpoenas - that tends to happen in a preznut's second term, no matter the political party in power. Whatever is left of the dysfunctional Dubya clan will be fortunate to make the short hop over to Andrews Air Force Base while they still have a helicopter concession.

When the Iraqi endeavor finally unravels from its corrupt and treacherous core, it will make Iran-Contra look like another child prank to fix a history grade on the high school computer system, and Oliver North will seem like another too-big-for-his-britches soldier who got wiggy on bravado and greedy connections. This egregious "Democracy Transplant" in Iraq will go down in history as the worst thing that happened to the military since the Pentagon stretched its intelligence into a tale of widescale attacks by the North Vietnamese somewhere in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Richard Perle and Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz will be sharing a cell at one of the nicer Federal prisons, and Dubya will retire to the outskirts of Houston once the paint dries on the new digs with his vacant wife and his dog and probably Karen Hughes, who will soon be sucked into the abyss known as the Federal Witness Protection Program and will petition the court with a reliable christian sponsor for her new way of life as a lumberjack.

Just as Caligula learned with the Praetorian Guards and Dubya will soon learn from Iraq ... It ain't over 'til its over, as Yogi once said, and the jihadists and insurgents still know how to drive cars - one way trips across town on a full tank of gas - once the vehicle ban is lifted in Baghdad.


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