What should I be doing instead of this?

Burn This

By Kathy Y. Wilson · January 12th, 2005 · Your Negro Tour Guide
The extravagance embedded in President Bush's $40 million inauguration while fatigued U.S. troops stranded in Iraq navigate suicide bombers and roadside ambushes with makeshift armor reminds me of the legend of Nero, murderously mad with power, strumming the harp while Rome burned below him.

Why not party like it's 1999?

Bush has a pot-holed road ahead, bumbling as he'll be trying to "unify" America across party lines, which just happens to be the exact opposite of what he did to win re-election. Several important TV network and newspaper polls say that more Americans are growing non-supportive of the war and want it over and done with and their children returned home right side up outside of a body bag.

Just how will Bush's Brain, Karl Rove, point Bush's real brain in the opposite direction and train it on the finesse, charisma and articulation necessary to lure pouting Democrats across the aisle to smug Republicans? It's a lot to weigh, so let's follow our leader's lead and just forget about it for now.

For now, there are parties to plan.

"Service" is the theme of the 55th presidential inauguration, during which big-money donors can shake the hand of the man who never copped to not finding weapons of mass destruction and who was noticeably slow to address tsunami destruction or America's intentions to offer relief. This clearly is not a celebration of Bush's service to America.

Still, there'll be luncheons, parties, parades and, of course, open to donors of $250,000 or more, the swearing-in. I'll be at home cursing.

Carl Lindner, big wigs at Cinergy and muckety-mucks at American Financial Group will all be somewhere in that crush of the insanely wealthy in the good seats at the swearing-in and parade, a Bush luncheon and their choice of A-list parties.

I wonder if any of my winter bill money was in that pile of cash Cinergy sent to D.C. Probably not. I'm on the extended payment plan.

Remind me to crank up my heat when I get home. Might as well burn up while the rich have a presidential play date like nothing's wrong.

For my money -- which is none -- I'd like to see a more solemn President Bush. His la-di-da-di political nonchalance is what burns me up.

The embarrassment of parties speaks to Bush's presidential mindset; he's always acted like the cushiness of his America was the same cushiness for the rest of us. He'd say the inauguration is a gift from the people if you pressed Bush on the ironies of a multi-million dollar inauguration against the backdrop of a multi-billion dollar war being fought raggedly.

Indeed, most of the party money is being donated, and all the parties are being planned in conjunction with Laura Bush like a surprise that's no surprise at all.

No one is denying Bush his inauguration. He earned it, whatever your definition of that is. But if he intends to unite all those "W" bumperstickered NASCAR dads with all those flip-flop wearing Kerry Democrats, he should've started from jump by cutting all the hoopla by about 75 percent and sticking to the final parade and swearing-in.

Instead, Jeanne L. Phillips, chairwoman of the inaugural committee and longtime Bush groupie, slapped a "service" tag on the big event in a crumb-throw to show the few hundred hand-picked service men and women who'll get to stand in a receiving line at one of the luncheons that, hey, the president sees even you.

And just watch. It'll be the most multi-racial, gender-balanced line of people this side of a "We Are the World" sing-a-long. But if the handpicked are in an inaugural receiving line, they can't be in Iraq.

What about those the Bush administration claims to be so thankful for? What'll they be doing while Bush's captains of industry mount the equivalent of a Bush Convention?

They'll be killing, getting killed and avoiding death, flushing out insurgents, winning over Iraqi citizens like their lives depended on it and torturing prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, crying, writing letters home in which they'll lie and say it's not that bad.

See, that makes us all liars. Bush, especially, knows what it is and how it looks.

But he's mastered the art of repressed devastation suppressed by the full-lunged blow into a celebratory noisemaker. The $40 million inauguration during wartime is like starting a fire to cover a murder.

When I was a young girl, I loved fire. I secretly played with matches until one day I struck a match to my new stepmother's ugly nylon curtains while my family blended downstairs in front of the TV.

I smiled, transfixed by the fire as the blue flame whooshed up the bathroom window, eating the yellow curtain as it went. My mother, now living apart from us, protected me from my father's wrath.

We all secretly knew my fire was my commentary on what had happened to my family. And the next day we acted like none of it ever happened.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.


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