Uncle Sam without a paunch

Suzanne Fields

9/20/2001 12:00:00 AM - Suzanne Fields
The world was aware of Uncle Sam's paunch, but we didn't talk much about it. When he dined with the rich, he drank too much fine California wine and ordered too many prime New York strips. When he was with the common folk, he drank too many local brews and indulged in fatty McNuggets. His hair had long since turned gray and he kept it covered with that tall hat. After all, he was well past 200 and more than a little tired of listening to all the squabbling between his nieces and nephews about how to spend the money they earned. Like Rodney Dangerfield, he didn't get no respect - neither in the land of the free and the home of the brave, nor in the other far-flung places where his nieces and nephews came from. No wonder that he had grown nostalgic for the World War II generation. Those were his favorite boys. He rented the video of "Saving Private Ryan" and watched it over and over again. The movie got him angry enough to needle Congress to put up a monument to honor them on the National Mall. Just the other day he settled into being a couch potato to see the whole HBO series, "Band of Brothers." He constantly daydreamed of the America of yesteryear, when patriotism was more than a word and the American flag was more than just something to decorate a T-shirt. Then came the twin crashes heard round the world. That knocked him off his couch. A wakeup call from hell. He began to lift weights and flex muscles gone to flab. He mumbled half-forgotten lyrics from a song he remembered from the old days: "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don't mess with Mr. In-Between." He was gladdened to hear that NATO supported him, considering an attack on one of their countries as an attack on all. In Berlin, the seat of Hitler's Third Reich, they were saying things like "We're all New Yorkers." Newspapers in France ran editorials with bold headlines: "We're All Americans." Sam, sometimes taken for a sap but nobody's fool, knew that was too good to last. He wasn't surprised when he heard the Europeans begin to quibble and qualify, nor was he surprised when the Brits continued to stay on their feet, even remembering all the words when they sang "The Star Spangled Banner." They let go of the bygones a long time ago and were always there to count on. Sam remembered old Franklin Roosevelt's eloquence in his fireside chats with the nation. One of his favorites, FDR. Ronald Reagan, too. Be nice to have him back to make a speech like the one he gave when Challenger exploded. Or JFK at the Cuban missile crisis. Bill Clinton drew a tear or two after Oklahoma City. Sam was a little nervous at first about that whippersnapper from Texas, but then he came through like a champ. Sam thought that was a nice touch, taking that bullhorn in hand in New York, telling the world who was in charge and what the bad guys could expect. He smiled at the way his nephews always seemed to come through at just the right time. That was a nice touch of the Texas frontier, too, young George demanding Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." He liked that. He figured it might offend some of those European sensibilities. Well, that was why they were over there and Sam was over here. He thought about all those "retreads" from George I's administration. They look pretty good this morning. They don't need a lot of on-the-job training. He smiled and patted his paunch. Sometimes it's good to have men with paunches and gray hair. Sam felt reassured when George I ("old No. 41") leaned over at the service at the Washington Cathedral to squeeze the hand of George II, "No. 43." We don't cotton to dynasties in America, but sometimes it's reassuring to see the old man in the background of a solid business entrusted to a good son. Sam figured that Bush boy inherited the old man's decency. He's not a show-stopper. That's reassuring, too. Nobody could accuse him of trying to fake it. What you see is what you get. Sam liked that. The terrorists were betting that the will to fight back was gone with Sam's waistline. Well, they underestimated Sam and they underestimated the nephews. This young Bush fellow is not only lean and mean, Sam figured, but like the soldiers he's called to arms, he's ready. A Southern boy, but maybe a real Yankee doodle dandy, too. Who would know better than Uncle Sam?