By Tony Russell

Late at night, deep in the bowels of the White House, three desperate men meet (somewhat in the manner of e.coli converging). One speaks. "Guys, we can talk frankly here. The President's poll numbers are dropping to his IQ level. The body count in Iraq is rising like the national debt. Afghanistan is falling apart faster than our cover story for invading Iraq. We've got to do something. What?"

"Dick, why don't we just run off another couple hundred thousand of those 'Standing Tall' bumper stickers and pass them out?"

"They're already on order, Don, along with a batch of 'These Colors Don't Run.'"

"Maybe we could get Lee Greenwood to appear with the Prez and sing 'God Bless the USA'?"

"It's been done, Karl, but I guess I could get out the ear plugs and do it again."

"How about activating our pastoral support network?" asked Karl. "Have them hold Fourth of July services doing 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' along with the Pledge of Allegiance and songs like 'Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, Ye Soldiers of the Cross.'"

"I don't know," Dick responded. "I'm a little leery about asking churches to plug the war."

"Come on, Dick, get real! What are you doing, developing a conscience? You're a politician, for Christ's sake."

"No, Don, I'm not developing a conscience. Mine's the size of a booger and shrinking. It's just uneasiness about asking them to go out on a limb and endorse a lost cause," said Dick defensively.

Whoops. Dead silence. Dick had just spoken the unthinkable. Thought the unspeakable. Whatever. We're losing another war to people who don't speak English and aren't even Christian. TV footage of people hanging from helicopters, fleeing in panic from the embassy roof in Baghdad, raced through each of their heads.

"Uh, look, Dick," said Karl. "Why don't we play up the Iraqi elections—you know, we're moving toward democracy, our goal is clear, it just takes a little time, you run into some bumps in the road, we're winning the war, the Vietnamese—I mean the Iraqis—are taking more and more responsibility for their own security, etc., etc."

"That sounds good to me," said Dick reflectively. "When in doubt, ask yourself what LBJ would do. Did."

"Isn't that a little tricky?" worried Don. "Aren't people going to see that we're feeding them the same diet of deception, meal after meal, war after war?"

Dick laughed. "It's like eating potato chips. They know it's unhealthy, but they just grab another handful and shove'em in the dip."

"Suppose we attack liberals for sympathizing with the enemy," suggested Karl. "We could claim that showing basic human decency to prisoners is the same thing as supporting al Qaeda."

"We've played that card before," said Dick, "and you'd think sooner or later people would wise up. But you would be wrong. Let's go for it. Karl, it was your idea; you be the point man on this one."

An idea had been surfacing in Don's mind, like a mine elevator rising slowly from a coal shaft. "Hey, guys," he said. "Hold on. We're not really in that bad a shape! Think about it. So the country's going to hell in a hot rod. So everything we touch turns to manure. So what? Look at the big picture:

"The President just got re-elected. Our majority in the Senate is swelling like a tumor. With that slick redistricting trick Tom DeLay pulled in Texas, we have a semi-permanent lock on the House. And when we fill one—maybe two—seats on the Supreme Court, we'll have a conservative majority that's good for a generation. Four out of four ain't bad!

"People want a pretty war with nobody getting hurt? Tough. People want fairness instead of favors for the rich? Tough. People get queasy about having their kids drinking poisoned water, breathing polluted air, and eating genetically modified food? Tough. People resent underfunded schools with impossible mandates? Tough. We're in the saddle, and we're taking these cattle for a long drive."

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