Remember when practically everybody -- even some people who voted for him -- thought maybe George W. Bush wasn't smart enough to be president? "He looked like some bozo at a church bazaar who sticks his head in a cutout hole while you get three shots at hitting him with a fastball," columnist Pete Hamill wrote back on August 13, a few days after the president gave a prime-time speech on stem cell research. "He paused after every sixth or seventh word, as if afraid of skipping the next line in his script," Hamill sneered. Well, nobody's sneering now.
I'm putting "Why George W. Bush is too Dumb to Be President" at the top of my list of stories you won't read in 2002. Here are some others:
You can forget about "Dick Cheney Is Running the Country" stories. One of the most popular themes in political coverage of 2001 was the idea that the vice president was the man in charge at the White House, leading to all sorts of worries when Cheney was briefly hospitalized for heart surgery in March. If the new administration did anything right, the media decided it was Cheney's influence. If it faltered, they blamed it on Bush. Don't get me wrong, I think the vice president is a great guy. But he's not calling the shots -- and never was. And even the media finally seemed to have figured that out.
We may have seen the last of "The U.S. Can't Fight a War Against a Committed, Guerrilla-type Movement Halfway Across the World" headlines. This story's been knocking around since Vietnam. Every time the United States commits troops on foreign soil, the American media start writing David and Goliath scenarios, with the United States cast as the military behemoth that will be outwitted by a quicker, more adaptable foe. This time around, we were warned that our troops would have an impossible time routing the Taliban and al Qaeda. And if the enemy didn't bog us down, the Afghan winter would. Well, we're a little more than one week into winter, and most of the Taliban and al Qaeda are either dead, in makeshift prisons, or they've fled. The war may not be over yet, but it's hardly the morass we were warned it might become. Speaking of morass, maybe news editors ought to enact a moratorium on the use of the term in connection with the U.S. military for 2002.
It will be a while before you read any story with the term "flag-waving" used as a pejorative. "Old Glory" is so popular these days, even folks who might have burned the Stars and Stripes in their misbegotten youths are proudly displaying the flag on their lapels and car bumpers. Sure, there are a few die-hard, blame America-first types still out there -- like leftist writer Katha Pollitt who wrote a column for The Nation magazine after Sept. 11 in which she decried the American flag as a symbol of "jingoism and vengeance and war." But even the Liberal Establishment has decided that patriotism isn't such a bad thing -- at least in time of war. So don't expect too many stories in 2002 in which the only flag-wavers are right-wing extremists.
Finally, don't expect to read much, if anything at all, about Bill Clinton -- or Al Gore -- in 2002. The former president convened some of his top aides a few days ago to discuss how to promote his "legacy," but no one really cares. And the only time Al Gore's name comes up these days is when late-night comedians suggest that now that the Taliban is out of power and the Afghans are cutting their beards, maybe it's time for Al to cut his. The country breathed a collective sigh of relief that neither man was president when the current crisis hit. It's good riddance to Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 2002.