Sarah Vowell: When Bush Falls in Love


When Bush Falls in Love
Published: February 26, 2006

The charges of cronyism against the current administration have piled up higher than the rotting rubble in New Orleans: “Heck of a job, Brownie,” is fast replacing “Way to go, Einstein” as the wiseacre-to-dummy put-down du jour. And what of Harriet Miers, the good friend/lame nominee for the Supreme Court the president defended as “plenty bright.”

Then there’s the 24-year-old political appointee who was rewarded for working on the president’s re-election campaign with a job as a press aide at NASA, where he was accused of trying to silence a top climate scientist who is, go figure, concerned about global warming. That, and he demanded that the apparently too science-y NASA Web site insert the word “theory” after every use of “Big Bang.”

(To be fair, he resigned after it turned out that he’d lied on his résumé about graduating from college, so he might have dropped out before his class got to the textbook chapter titled “Just Big Bang: That’s What Jesus Calls It, Too.”)

Plus, in a word, Abramoff.

All of which is appalling. At this point, five years after oil and gas lobbyists started scoring Interior Department appointments overseeing national parks and the Bureau of Land Management, I’m heartened that I can still scrape up a glimmer of dismay. And yet, there is a tiny, honest voice in my head that has never let me condemn the president too loudly for wanting to work only with his allies and friends. Because that’s pretty much how I live my life, too.

The other day, I was on a plane where “Good Night, and Good Luck” was the in-flight movie. I’d already seen it, but watching it again afforded me the opportunity to look beyond its grand central theme and curl up with the film’s lovely periphery.

Around the edges, a second, softer movie flickers, an unpretentious but sly portrait of what real camaraderie looks and feels like. By opening with a party where Edward R. Murrow and his old staff are gussied up and drinking and giggling and taking pictures with their arms around one another as a saxophone plays “When I Fall in Love,” the viewer figures out right away that this is more than Murrow vs. McCarthy circa “High Noon.” This guy has backup.

My favorite scene starts with George Clooney as the producer Fred Friendly and David Strathairn as Murrow a couple of minutes before Murrow goes on the air with a potentially controversial report about a Red Scare flare-up in Michigan. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a subtler, truer image of partnership. And not just in the way the two men talk to each other, either confessing their fears or joshing around or both.

When Friendly counts down the seconds left until Murrow goes live, Friendly sits just off-camera and taps Murrow’s leg with his pen when it’s time. The gesture is mundane and loving all at once.

I’m lucky enough to have a Friendly of my own. Is there anything better than figuring out what you’re supposed to do with your life and getting paid to do it? Yep, doing it alongside the calm and tweedy person you regard as the brother you never had.

“Good Night, and Good Luck” taps into this understandable yearning for solidarity, for affectionate toil, for a shared mission, that’s also behind the allure of the founding fathers, the Boston Red Sox, the Clash. Part of me can’t blame the president for his pro-crony tendencies because I also have them to an almost sickening degree.

Then I remember — wait, neither I nor any crony of mine has ever slept through the soggy downfall of an entire city, or failed to track down the genocidal maniac who still has a few American items left to check off on his mass-murder To Do list, or sent our soldiers to wage a berserk war crisscrossing the most dangerous roads in the world in flimsy vehicles with the protective capability of Vespa scooters. (But my comrades and I would like to apologize for that reading we “organized” at a noisy Chinatown restaurant in ’98, when the short stories were drowned out by egg roll orders.)

Bonhomie, as our ex-cronies the French call it, should have its limits. Seems as if American voters picked the current president because they thought he’d be a fun hang at a cookout — a jokey neighbor who charred a mean burger and is good at playing Frisbee with his dog. What we should be doing is electing a president with the nitpicky paranoia you’d use to choose a cardiologist — a stunted conversationalist with dark-circled eyes and paper-cut fingertips who will stay up until 3 tearing into medical journals in five languages trying to figure out how to save your life.

The Discussion: One Comment

That last paragraph was the best description of the rationale of the American voting populace that I’ve ever heard! 🙂

February 28, 2006 @ 4:29 am | Comment

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