Getting Osama, Part II
    by  Gene Lyons       January 9, 2002

 In its televised form-never to be confused with reality-the War on Terrorism has settled into that most familiar
American genre: the revenge comedy. Possibly the only original form our country has contributed to film narrative,
the revenge comedy features a deadly, wisecracking hero played by Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, or Mel  Gibson,
who restores the peace by blowing away ragged armies of villains while making flippant, pithy asides.
Almost needless to say, this is precisely the role President Bush's handlers have scripted for him, one for which his
limited thespian abilities are perfectly suited. So far he's played it to perfection, as opinion polls reflect. Osama bin
Laden has helped by casting himself as an Arabic-speaking version of Hans, the arrogant Euro-trash villain who
hijacks (of all things) a Los Angeles skyscraper in "Die Hard."

American audiences, men particularly, eat this stuff up. They're the male equivalent of Harlequin romances,
fantasy projections of  virile decisiveness and sexual potency. Not for nothing were there five films in Eastwood's
"Dirty Harry" series, four Mel Gibson "Lethal Weapon"  vehicles, and three Bruce Willis "Die Hard" episodes.
That said, here's the problem with the genre from a political point of view: As anybody who's seen more than
two "Dirty Harry" or "Lethal Weapon" films knows, the longer the series, the more familiar its elements  become,
thus diminishing the formulaic revenge part of the plot and emphasizing the comedy.

The first "Dirty Harry" was a scary urban thriller. By the time "The Dead Pool" rolled around, Eastwood was verging on self-parody.  "Action and chuckles are in abundance as our hero tracks down a weirdo who is murdering celebrities on
a list that also carries Harry's name," is how Martin and Porter's "Video Movie Guide 2002" describes it. In the first
"Lethal Weapon," the Mel Gibson character's deadliness derived from suicidal indifference to his own survival. By
"Lethal Weapon 4," he was doing slapstick with Joe Pesci and Chris Rock between shootouts. That's the danger for
President Bush. Hailed by poll-reading pundits as the living incarnation of Churchill and Charlemagne for standing tall
as the (supposedly Clinton-depleted) U.S. military chased a few thousand hated foreigners out of one of the most
remote and backward nations on earth-it's a stretch to call Afghanistan a country at all-Bush and his advisors must
now cast around for a second act.

The president hit his apex a few weeks back when Meet the Press's Tim Russert and Rudy Giuliani actually urged
Laura Bush to affirm that  her husband had been chosen by God to save the United States. The transcript of this
ludicrous exchange, which has to be seen to be believed, can be found on the website.
Fortunately the first lady had the good sense to gently remind the overheated pundit that God doesn't choose
presidents. She was so gracious, I'll restrain myself from snide remarks about who did choose him.

But back to "Getting Osama II." Somalia beckons, even weaker and more disorganized than the mighty Taliban.
Revenging the disastrous Bush/Clinton foray depicted in "Black Hawk Down" does have thematic appeal.
Unlike his father and Bill Clinton, Bush has the political backing to run Al-Qaida out of East Africa too. Then what?
Yemen? At least in theory, a war against an abstract noun like "terrorism" might never end.

Attacking Iraq, a secular military dictatorship not involved in the 9/11 attacks, has been bruited about, but that's a
tougher proposition. Iraq does have an army, the U.S. would have few allies, and no surrogates to do the ground fighting.
First, though, bin Laden must be taken. Clearly Bush's handlers worry that the Afghan movie won't be over until the bad
guy is dead, but that Hollywood convention exists because nobody knows if there will be a sequel until the first picture's
a hit. In the real world, Americans remain united and determined to see bin Laden and his terrorist network destroyed,
although Republicans would have been wiser to wait for Bush to succeed before blaming Bill Clinton for failing.

Anyhow, here's what Bush can't do: He can't expect the action/adventure persona to carry him after the war simmers
down. The president badly flubbed his weekend exchange with Sen. Tom Daschle over  the nation's entirely predictable
(and predicted) return to deficit spending, economic stagnation, and the inevitable abandonment of his campaign vows
about prescription drug benefits, Social Security reform, Medicare and Medicaid fixes, educational improvements, etc.
Daschle's one-liner about the GOP's belief in tax cuts as a cure for the common cold was ruefully funny.

Besides making no literal sense, Bush's retort that "not over my dead body" would anybody raise taxes-something
Daschle hadn't proposed-fell flat, only reminding us that neither wit nor arithmetic are his strong points. Clint Eastwood
or Bruce Willis he ain't. Sad to say, he isn't even Mike Huckabee.

ha ha

In case you're not familiar with Arkansas politics, Mike Huckabee is the religiously-insane
governor of Arkansas, a man so insane he refused to release emergency tornado relief funds
until the legislature could convene and remove "Acts of God," from the state statutes.
Now that's crazy.

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