"There have been darker allegations, too: lingerie disappearing from the luggage van, spirited away for God only knows what horrific purpose..."

political notes: throwing down with the b-team
filed by jon weatherford


Denver, CO…The big Blackhawk helicopter rose smoothly away from Denver International Airport, where I had just finished depositing former Presidential hopeful Ralph Nader on a one-way flight back to New Haven. The Ralph was looking a little shaken, but not too much the worse for wear after his run-in with the Rainbow Gathering, and I was hoping that a few weeks with concerned friends and family back in Connecticut would leave him recovered, revived, and free of the mind-altering influences of tree frog venom.

My pilot, First Lieutenant Red Mackey, seemed strangely withdrawn as we floated out over the city. Normally, Red kept up a non-stop stream of conversation as he flew, and his silence was making me more than a little nervous. With the excitement of rescuing Nader passed, I was suddenly and unpleasantly reminded that Red might well be under orders to return me, willing or not, to Dick “C-Dogg” Cheney. I also remembered that the Vice President might just be expecting me to assume control of the Iraqi government due to some rather hasty promises I had made in exchange for protection, and the use of this Blackhawk. Red’s jaw was clenched, his hands were knotted on the controls, and it was obvious he was pissed about something. I glanced at the Rockies, purple in the sunset as they receded behind us. We were definitely headed east, and that meant I was probably screwed.

The last of the city lights were giving way to darkness when Red finally turned to me and said: “Look, here’s the deal. I don’t know who you are, but you damn sure ain’t Iraqi. Now, I had plenty of time to think back there at camp, and I also had time to read most of the crap you got in that computer of yours.” This last revelation left me scrambling at the door handle and wondering about the survivability of a bailout at fifteen hundred feet.

“Relax,” He laughed “You may not be that Iraqi exile, but I also know you’re no traitor, and I ain’t gonna turn you in. I don’t agree with half the stuff you write about, and I reckon you’re more than a little crazy, but any fool can see we been screwin’ up pretty bad these couple years. I got the wife and the little Mackeys back at home to think about, and I’m thinkin’ you and me might need to drop by and see the President.”

“Yeah, great! I think that’s about the best idea I’ve ever heard, but I kind of doubt that George W. Bush is just going to welcome us in for a chat during the middle of the campaign.” It doesn’t take me long to go from abject fear back to my natural state of bored sarcasm.
“Buddy, that is where you’re wrong, because you are looking at the three time all-state quarterback for the Odessa Permian Panthers, which you’d know if you had ever set foot in West Texas. Not only can we get in to see him, but I got me what you call a standin’ invite to the ‘ol governor’s ranch.”

I must have been gaping at Red with a pretty stupid expression on my face, because he broke into a laugh that could be heard even over the rotors as he banked the Blackhawk over Colorado Springs and we slipped southward toward the Texas panhandle.

***

Crawford, TX…It’s true. I had my doubts, especially when the secret service had us handcuffed face down in the gravel at the gatehouse to the Bush ranch. I was vehemently frisked for the third time while un-amused men with sunglasses and earpieces spoke urgently into walkie-talkies, and then informed us again that we were not on the list. Completely unfazed, Red was keeping up a cheerful banter with the agents, and I was wondering what I should pack for a extended stay at Leavenworth, when the President himself came running down the driveway shouting “Let ‘im in! Let ‘im in!”

Bush was absolutely beside himself with excitement to see Red – jumping up and down, patting his arm, and generally greeting him in a fashion that seemed more befitting of a golden retriever puppy than a head of state. This welcome wrought quite a change in the Secret Service, and we were immediately whisked into the compound. Whatever mojo Red has with the President seems to have transferred neatly over to me, as well. I have been issued an all-access press pass, and Mr. Bush informs me that I should just call him GW (“That’s pronounced ‘Geedub’, get it?” He asks, elbowing me in the ribs, “You get it?”). The guy sure does love a good nickname, but hey, everybody’s gotta have hobbies.

***

Las Cruces, NM…It’s unbelievable how well Red’s plan worked. Geedub thinks Red is some kind of good luck charm – “a proven winner” – and he won’t go anywhere without us. We are officially traveling with the campaign now, and I’m scheduled for a meeting with the President later tonight. The only troubling part of the day came from Karl Rove, who is officially not traveling with the campaign anymore. Although he’s a brilliant and nefarious political strategist, it seems that Mr. Rove can’t be convinced that the trick where you pretend that the bus hit a bump and then cop a feel down the blouse of the female reporters is actually not fooling anyone. There have been darker allegations, too: lingerie disappearing from the luggage van, spirited away for God only knows what horrific purpose.

***

Albuquerque, NM…I sat down with the President tonight in the conference room here at the Albuquerque Marriot. We were just about to get started when an aide burst in with a cell phone and said “Mr. President, the National Security Advisor…”.

Now, I have my opinions about this administration, but when you’re about to watch foreign policy conducted at the very highest levels, you can’t help feeling a little bit in awe. He spoke quietly into the phone for a few minutes, then hung up and strode back to the table, radiating confidence. Obviously some major diplomatic coup had just been effected, and I felt privileged just to be in the room.

“Oh my God, that was so awesome! Condi totally just called to tell me how I looked all presidential and dignified on TV tonight! I mean, how nice is that? Of course Laura’s always all like ‘You know she’s only nice to you so she’ll get to come to the daily briefings.’ Um hello? Jealous much? She so totally respects me as a leader of Lincolnesque gravity.”

So much for feeling awed.

***

Pendleton, OR…Just got off the phone with Geedub. It’s been a week, and he calls me almost every night because right now I’m the only one he “can really, like, talk to.” He just gets too riled up after successful appearances, and once he’s overexcited like that it can take hours to calm him down enough to get to bed. Tonight he got a particularly special treat. It was an invitation-only town meeting with handpicked Christian conservatives and he got asked his “number one most awesome favorite question”, which he answered with typical eloquence:

“Mr. President, is John Kerry actually evil, or is he just a delusional liar?”

“Welp, that’s a humdinger. It’s a stumper, is what it…I should know, by which you understand, that we have intelligence…That is, intelligence has occurred, that I have seen…Or has been seen, by those that did see it…Reports indicating, as is my understanding…He’s evil, ma’am. Pure evil.” (Raucous applause).

***

Springfield, MO…Something big is going on tonight. Rove has re-joined the campaign, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has been with us for three days now. It’s about 6:00pm local time, I’m hanging out downstairs at the Springfield Convention Center, and Don Rumsfeld, a self-proclaimed “total pussy hound” is trying to convince me that he needs “a wingman” to go to the nightclubs with him after tonight’s appearance.

“C’mon, buddy, we find us a coupla Midwest tigbitties, and we’ll be hittin’ that ‘till dawn.” He spreads his hands in front of his hips and makes a series of nauseating pelvic gyrations by way of illustration.

“Not tonight D-Rock, sorry.” Rumsfeld heads out the door, but not before regaling me with a few more thrusts and some sort of swatting motion.

“Huh? Huh? You sure you don’t want in on that?” The things I put up with for journalism.

“Does he mean, um, night clubs with girls?” An oily voice about four inches from my ear sends me leaping out of my chair. It’s Rove, of course, who has this disturbing way of appearing right next to you when you didn’t even know he was in the room.

“Dude, were you under the table?” I ask incredulously. He looks guilty for a moment, and then repeats:

“With girls? What time are you going?” The political advisor is now holding my shirtsleeve with his thumb and forefinger, his breathing has become slightly labored, and his eyes have taken on a feral gleam.

“Rove, you are seriously creeping me out.”

About an hour later we are all ordered to gather in the main conference room and Karl Rove reveals his true reason for rejoining the campaign (besides living vicariously through Rumsfeld’s sexual conquests).

“Okay, now we’ve perceived some weaknesses with our military record compared to…”

“Hey, did y’all see this buffet?”

“Mr. President, could you please…”

“They got shrimp!”

“Yes. Thank you, could you sit back…”

“Do you guys remember that buffet in Phoenix where you could make your own sundaes? That was so awesome!”

“Mr. President!”

“Aw, alright, what you got for us, Red Rover?” Another nickname. Truly the man has a gift.

“Okay, this is Tom Rexman, and he has formed a non-partisan group called…”

“Hey, aren’t you Tom the bus driver?”

“No! Dammit, this is definitely not Tom the bus driver! Okay forget the explanations – Mr. President, we’re going to be doing things a little bit differently tonight, just be ready to go out on your cue.”

Geedub looks suddenly worried and uncomfortable, and I think I know why. From our late night phone conversations I have learned that the President hates surprises – along with eggplant, phonies, dirty fingernails, and “that big jerk Wolf Blitzer”.

At 8:00pm sharp the lights in the convention hall dim, the crowd erupts with cheering, and Tom Rexman, ex-campaign bus driver walks onto the stage, looking a little bewildered.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you don’t know me but I am the founder of a new non-partisan group called” – he squints anxiously at the teleprompter – “The Texas Air National Guard Veterans For Truth! We have prepared this video which, um, I would appreciate if you would watch with me tonight.”

The lights dim further, and a massive screen rolls down behind the stage to be filled with images of war. Huey helicopter land in perfect formation, napalm explodes on a ridgeline, young men with M-16’s trudge through waving rice paddies, and a sonorous voice intones “Vietnam. The war that defined a generation.”

“Hey, isn’t that the music from Patton?”

“Shhhhh!”

“Certain liberals” – the screen is now filled with images of Senator Kerry, superimposed over stock footage of Josef Stalin – “Certain liberals have implied that our president didn’t do his duty, that he bought his way out of foreign service, and that he was AWOL from his unit for most of the war. The real truth is that George W. Bush was actually in Vietnam, on a mission so secret that it was even withheld from his own government – until now!”

The music explodes with martial vigor, the war scenes speed up and are interspersed with shots of President Bush saluting in his Navy flight suit. The voiceover continues with even more urgency:

“In 1969, George W. Bush was selected by a secret branch of the CIA to lead an elite commando unit deep into the jungles of Vietnam. Each member was specially trained in the deadly art of warfare. It was a team specifically designed to go places no one else could, and to carry out the missions that no one else would. To it’s operators in the highest branches of the armed forces, it was known only as: The B Team!”

The applause is practically deafening by now, and the war scenes disappear, to be replaced by a huge waving American flag.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives us great pride to introduce to you, for the first time in public since they so bravely defended their country more than three decades ago, the members of The B Team…

A single spotlight appears, illuminating a huge guy in full combat gear carrying an M-60. “From Chicago, Illinois, heavy-weapons expert Tyrone Washington! Codename: Mad Dog.

“From East Los Angeles, California, demolition specialist Juan Fernandez! Codename: Blaster.

“From Brooklyn, New York, jungle scout and tunnel rat Davey Nguyen! Codename: Sidewinder.” There are three spotlights on the otherwise dark stage, which is now being covered with dry ice smoke.

“From Valdosta, Georgia, espionage and martial arts expert Tiffany Adams! Codename: Agent Cheetah.” An extremely curvaceous strawberry blonde carrying a samurai sword bounces out from behind the curtain in an outfit that looks more suited to beach volleyball than jungle warfare. She executes a couple of fairly non-military looking high kicks, then takes her place next to Blaster.

“Finally, from Midland, Texas, fearless leader of the B Team, and your President of these United States, George W. Bush! Codename: Commander Lone Star!” Someone has given him a flak helmet at the last moment, and Geedub strides to the middle of the stage, grinning from ear to ear. He pumps his fists in the air, then does a little six-gun dance for the crowd. Safe to say, George likes this surprise – I think he likes it a lot.

***

Pensacola, FL…The applause was still thundering as the bus pulled away from yet another packed arena. In just ten short days, Commander Lone Star and the B Team have become the hottest attraction in the country. People sleep out for tickets in every town we visit. Lone Star action figures are being rushed through production, and a Hollywood movie is already in the works. Reportedly it will feature Carl Weathers as Mad-Dog, Lou Diamond Phillips as Blaster, Pat Morita as Sidewinder, and Lindsey Lohan in the role of Agent Cheetah. Geedub wants to play himself as Lone Star, but I have a feeling that the studio is going to give the part to Ashton Kutcher.

Karl Rove is making his way down the aisle of the bus now, getting chest bumps, high fives, and back slaps from everyone he passes. Ever since the successful launch of the B Team, the once-shamed neocon master strategist has been lapping up the adulation with ill-concealed relish. Back in Little Rock, I cornered him and asked him how the hell he planned to get away with this, since all of the B Team (Agent Cheetah in particular) was obviously born a good ten years after the war. Rove looked right at me and said, “Youth is testing really well in the polls right now.”

***

Naples, FL…Everywhere we stop there are “spontaneous” testimonials – usually from former campaign staffers – who’ve suddenly remembered encounters with Commander Lone Star. Rumsfeld will introduce them, and then act as emcee (the rumor is, they tried to make Colin Powell play this role, but he threw Rove into some kind of Ranger chokehold, and held him there until he peed his pants) while the President and his “war buddies” catch up on old times.

Lieutenant Jake “Wild Weasel” Hammond: “Well we were comin’ in over Hanoi, things were lookin’ awful hot, my whole squadron had been shot down, and we were takin’ a lot of fire. I was about to abort the mission when Commander Lone Star parachuted into the back seat of the jet and said: ‘Nothin’ gets aborted on my watch, fly boy’. He told me to hold ‘er steady, and then he climbed out on the wing…”

Lone Star: “It’s times like those when you have to ask yourself: would Jesus be afraid to hang off the landing gear of a F-4 Phantom in a hail of blazing lead by nothing but the heels of his cowboy boots to try and lasso some poor POW who was escaping from those godless communists? Of course not, and like I always say, if it’s good enough for J.C., it’s good enough for me.”

Rumsfeld: “We have that poor POW on a live feed right now.”

Poor POW: “That lasso saved my life.”

The stories just keep on coming. Lone Star mowing down hordes of VC with his six guns, Lone Star blazing a swath of destruction through the Mekong delta on his specially designed combat jet ski – nothing is too amazing. No matter who starts the show, though, it’s always Agent Cheetah who gets the most applause as she relates her harrowing tale of being captured by the enemy.

“Ah was all tied up, and totally at their mercy,” she moans. Her voice is pure Scarlet O’Hara, but her body is all porn star. The camouflage bikini barely contains her as she wriggles with pleasure at the memory of her rescuer emerging steely eyed from the jungle:

“If Commander Lone Star hadn’t shown up when he did, Ah’m afraid Ah might have been” – pausing for dramatic effect, and then wrapping her glossy lips around each seductive syllable – “ravished by the heathen.”

***

Durham, NC…As horrible as this has all become, I comfort myself with the thought that at least I’m not John Kerry. He fought on valiantly for a few days, even while the President’s approval rating soared into the mid 90’s. Lately, though, he just seems to stagger through public appearances with the dazed look of a man who went to bed one night during a race for the Presidency of the United States, and woke up the next morning in a Fellini film.

No one even pretends that there is a real election campaign going on anymore. At yesterday’s rally, Kerry presented an authenticated photo of George W. Bush drinking a pina colada in an Atlanta nightclub on the very day he was supposed to have been leading Operation Christian Cobra near the Ho Chi Minh trail. Beer bottles were thrown at the podium, and Kerry was shouted down by a group of hecklers recommending that he go back to “Gay Paree”.

***

Norfolk, VA… All the excitement of playing Commander Lone Star seems to be taking its toll on the President, although I’m not sure I can blame him. Imagine the coolest Halloween costume you ever had – pirate, Indian, Jedi Knight, whatever – and now imagine if that costume had been made with the full funding and support of the entire American military industrial complex. Exactly: you’d never want to take it off.

By now, Geedub has acquired enough Vietnam paraphernalia to outfit an entire battalion of Navy SEALs, and not a day goes by when he doesn’t try to wear almost all of it. We’re pretty sure he’s even sleeping in the Lone Star bandanna, a ragged and grimy strip that looks as if its tour of duty should have ended long ago. The situation came to a head tonight when Laura met up with the campaign, and we sat down to eat.

“George, it’s time for dinner.”

“I-don’t-hear-you-when-you-call-me-that,” he sang back. Laura pursed her lips for a moment and said, “Fine. It’s time for dinner Commander Lone Star.”

The president skipped to the table, but she stopped him: “You’re NOT wearing that gun belt to the table.” Geedub complied, but a sly smile crept across his face.

“OR to bed again, George, not ever.” The president appeared crestfallen and steadfastly refused to eat any of his vegetables.

***

Washington, DC…Only a week until the election and I’m not really sure why it’s still scheduled, except to keep up appearances. The nation’s favorite action hero is already polishing his seat in the Oval Office, and preparing not to re-think any decisions for another four years. Unbelievably, Kerry continues to give speeches, even though no one shows up. A few loyal aides videotape the candidate, and then mail copies to the networks, where they are occasionally replayed for comic relief on slow news days.

I’m sitting in the bathroom backstage of yet another convention center, listening to the B Team warm up for what should be their final performance before the inauguration. A little cast romance has developed between Blaster and Agent Cheetah, and there’s an awkward moment when everybody has to pretend that they didn’t just walk out of the same dressing room together.

“Who fuckin’ cares?” I wonder to myself, sitting there beneath the long line of sinks and feeling the cool of the tiles against my back: who cares? I’m checking out of this whole thing, I’ve decided, and most of my thoughts are focused on trying to remember whether we passed a liquor store on the way in. My plan is to wait until the show starts, then sneak out the back, and check into the Hotel Tanqueray for the next few days.

The familiar B Team introduction starts up, and I close my eyes to envision what the arena would look like: dramatic spotlights, the smoke machines, the wildly cheering throng of…Something’s wrong. There’s almost no noise at all except the sound of hurrying footsteps. I leap up and run through the halls to the curtain to see what’s happened.

What’s happened is that there’s almost nobody there. The arena is practically empty, except for a few teenage boys wearing Agent Cheetah buttons, but I don’t think they showed up for political reasons. I’m standing there stunned, thinking that somehow we must have gotten the time wrong, when Rove shoves past me and runs right out onto the stage.

“What the hell is going on?” he screams, “Get me some poll numbers, now!” An aide approaches timidly and whispers:

“Sir? It seems to have happened. The American people. We seem to have crossed their bullshit threshold – the effect has been reversed.”

“No!” Rove backhands the underling to the floor. “You told me this could never happen! All the signs were in place – the Atkins diet, the success of ‘American Idol’—all of the charts indicate that the bullshit capacity should have been infinite. Get me more numbers!”

I learned later that Bush’s approval rating was slipping by ten points an hour, to hit a solid zero by the end of the day. After years of being led by the nose, it seemed obvious that the American electorate had suddenly remembered that they were the ones in charge, and the televisions were collectively switched off.

Rove rips the incoming sheet away from another scared staffer, and angrily scans it. His eyeballs are bulging out from their sockets, and small flecks of spittle have gathered at the corners of his mouth. He looks as if he might pass out, but then suddenly screams “Nooooooooooo…” and runs toward the front door, trailing polling papers behind him. I consider telling him that the streets of Washington aren’t likely to be the safest place for him at the moment, but then I figure he probably deserves a little mob justice.

Nearly everyone else quickly scatters and in a few moments only the president, the first lady, and First Lieutenant Red Mackey. It’s a good thing Red was there, because if he hadn’t stepped in, I might well have led the bewildered president out in the street to face the same fate as Karl Rove. Geedub is horribly confused: his camouflage face paint is starting to run, the rancid bandanna has given him an angry rash, and he keeps breaking into disjointed snippets of his Lone Star speech, searching hopefully for an audience.

Red takes the president gently by the arm and leads him offstage with the first lady close behind. He speaks soothingly as they leave, “Come on now, fella, you’re just a little riled up. Let’s get you back to the ranch. I hear the San Diego Chargers are for sale, so maybe you can try that for awhile…”

It’s a crisp fall day outside the arena. I turn and set out west down the wide sidewalk, kicking happily through a pile leaves, and wondering how the heck I’m going to get home.

(illustration: troy dockins)


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©2004 Jon Weatherford • Smokebox
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