By Tony Russell

Announcer: "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome once again to "Let's Pretend!" the new Unreality TV show that the whole nation is talking about! And now, here's our host, Blip Barker!" [Applause, digitally amplified to the level of thunder]

Blip: "Thank you, and good evening everyone! Welcome to the show that explores the ways millions of Americans turn their backs on reality! Tonight we're going to focus our show on the economic accomplishments of the Bush administration. As usual, we've gathered a great set of panelists, all ready to share their lives and the lessons they've learned with you, our viewers. We'll get to it right after this important message from our sponsors.

[Cut to commercial.]

Blip [Addressing panelists]: "All right! Here we go! We have an exciting list of questions submitted by our viewing audience! I'll read each question, and those of you panelists who want to take a swing at it, just jump right in."

Blip [Looking directly into the camera]: "Our first question is from a viewer in Vinegar Bend, Arkansas. She writes, 'Mr. Bush has launched a hugely expensive war, increased farm subsidies, and created a costly new Medicare entitlement, at the same time he has pushed through two huge tax cuts. Most economists say this is worse than irresponsible, it's economic suicide. Republicans have traditionally been fiscal conservatives. How do your panelists manage to accept this?'"

"Well, look at the hands shoot up! Go ahead, ma'am. You first."

Panelist #1: "I just shut my eyes to the facts, Blip. It's sort of like a traffic accident, where you see a big SUV on your side of the road, about to crash into your car. The safest thing to do is just close your eyes, relax, and think of something else."

Blip: "Techniques like that sound so simple, but they can be enormously helpful. Thanks for sharing that with us, #1. What about you there, in the back row?"

Panelist #2: "Blip, I think your questioner needs to remember that not everybody is poor. My husband and I have an income of over half a million dollars a year, and we're just thrilled by the administration's policies!"

Blip: "What is it about those policies you like?"

Panelist #2: "Well, basically, they've shifted a huge portion of the tax burden off our backs onto the middle class. We just think that's great! We've finally been able to upgrade our yacht and remodel our vacation home in the Hamptons without worrying about disrupting our cash flow. So their policies may not work for everybody, but they work for us. I say, 'Keep up the good work, George, and God bless you!'"

Blip: "An American success story. Terrific!"

"Here's our next question. The Bush administration inherited a budget surplus, and in three years has converted that into an annual deficit of five hundred billion dollars ($500,000,000,000). How do you deal with this colossal mishandling of America's finances?"

Panelist #3: "Blip, I just take the position that it's not the administration's fault. The dot.com bubble had to burst at some point, and 9/ll dealt a real blow to the economy."

Blip: "And the fact that more than 60% of the huge budget gap is directly due to the Bush tax cuts?"

Panelist #3: "I just refuse to acknowledge unpleasant facts like that and keep talking about that dot.com bubble and September 11. It's like the two-headed calf—you go on and on about how pretty its coat is, and how well it's eating."

Blip: "Does that work?"

Panelist #3: "With people who aren't paying much attention. It's not really lying, because the dot.com bubble and September 11 actually were factors. So I just keep repeating the same partial truth over and over again, and you'd be surprised how many people buy it!"

Blip: "Cynicism! You can't beat it!"

"How about another question? A viewer from Ball's Gap, West Virginia, writes, "My husband has been out of work for nine months. Our car has been repossessed, we've lost our health insurance, and our son needs an operation. Apparently our story is not that unusual; 40% of the people out of work have been unemployed for more than 15 weeks, which sets a 20-year record. According to the Economic Policy Institute, if people like my husband hadn't given up on looking for work, the official unemployment rate would be 7.4 percent. How does all that square with Mr. Bush's rosy predictions that things are getting better and better?"

"Okay, panelists, that's a toughy. Who wants to go first?"

Panelist #2: "Before we get to that, Biff, let me say first to the questioner that her story is just wrenching, and my husband and I will put her on our prayer list."

Blip: "Wonderful, wonderful."

Panelist #4: "I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the obvious, Blip. Whenever people bring up this economic stuff or the mess in Iraq, I just start talking about gay marriage!"

Blip: "Gay marriage?"

Panelist #4: "Right. You wouldn't believe how well that works! People get all fired up about it, and they stop worrying about their kids getting killed in Iraq or their husbands or wives losing their jobs. It's fantastic!"

Panelist #3: "It's too bad about all those poor people out of work, Blip, but I try to do the right thing—as the President's spokesmen are always urging—and avoid the blame game and stop finger pointing."

Blip: "In other words, you agree with them they shouldn't be held accountable?"

Panelist #3: "Is that what they mean when they say that? Oh dear. I'm not sure I can go along with that."

Blip: "Whoops! Looks as if our time is up. All right, that's it for tonight. Hope you enjoyed our show. Join us again next week as we continue the unending battle to think well of ourselves on 'Let's Pretend!'

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