A tough crowd

Posted: Apr 20, 2006 12:05 AM

OK, that's it. I'm throwing in the towel on saying anything nice about President Bush.

For a year or so, I used public opinion polling data to come up with suggestions along the lines that the president's advisers were pointing their boss in the wrong direction.

Finally, last week, I pointed out many of the good things about Bush's America.

Now, it seems the same conservatives who have cursed me for so long for not "supporting the president" are now equally annoyed at my defense of him.

After last week's column, I received scores of e-mails from around the country. One and only one of them said something positive about the president (or about me).

This tells me two things. First, the conservative base in America has basically given up on the White House, at least temporarily.

Second, the public's mood has grown so surly that writing straight political analysis is no longer safe for my health.

So I'm going to try analyzing and interpreting public opinion in a farcical way. At the least, maybe somebody will get a chuckle out of what seem to be mostly somber circumstances.

Remember though, levity means light-hearted. So if I miss my mark in trying to bring a smile to your face, write it off as a not-so-funny day on my part -- and not as maliciousness.

My sense of humor was shaped by the 1960s television classic "The Beverly Hillbillies." This silly rural comedy, in fact, offered riotous commentary about people and the society they live in.

In marveling at the Bush White House -- where an epic staff "shake-up" has been predicted for weeks -- I've found myself wondering whether we're about to witness the end of the domination of the innocent and kind-hearted Uncle Jed (a.k.a. George Bush) by the slick and obsequious banker Mr. Drysdale (real-time identity dramatically withheld for now).

It's not a bad analogy. After all, Uncle Jed struck oil much the way George W. struck political riches -- by firing a lucky shot in the right place at the right time. And up came a bubbling crude. Power, that is. Texas "P."

Sure enough, since taking the reins, Bush seems to have had the happy-go-lucky attitude of "I know I'm being played, but really I have the upper hand." Just like Jed.

Then there's the brilliant Miss Jane Hathaway (a.k.a. Condoleezza Rice). With her perfectly ordered notebooks and her perfectly enunciated French words, she's goading the newly crowned powerbroker in this direction or that.

And here we have the addle-brained nephew Jethro (a.k.a. Karl Rove). He's always showing up with some new-fangled invention, like a spy hat made out of steel, with which he knocks himself out every time he plunks it onto his head.

But what did Jed care? He recognized the zaniness around him. But he was confident in his own skin and knew he had the resources to do whatever he pleased.

He also knew that crafty captain of industry, the powerful banker Milburn Drysdale, would always be there to steer Jed and his kin back onto the straightaway. Drysdale had that ability to persuade everybody that everything was OK. Especially when it wasn't.

Now. We've identified the modern-day aliases of Jed, Jethro and Miss Jane. But who on the White House grounds could possibly qualify as the political version of that crafty wizard of Wall Street Mr. Drysdale?

Back to that in a minute.

Just in: the unflattering poll results on Jed's popularity in the race for smog commissioner. Again we find our political Clampetts in one of their typically confused and seemingly dire set of circumstances. Luckily, Jed's brilliant campaign manager, Jethro, has concocted a way to divert the public's attention.

"I know, Uncle Jed," says Jethro. "We can nuke that there Iran and get everybody's mind off these bad pollin' numbers!"

"Wee, doggies," Jed replies. "That idea might just be a good 'un, Jethro." And Jed runs to grab his hat, fire up the truck and head downtown to run the concept past Mr. Drysdale.

There's one problem, though. The real power in the Clampett family has, atypically, sat back and watched while Uncle Jed, Jethro and the rest of the clan are led around on a leash by the crafty Drysdale.

In our political revamp of the story, clan boss Granny (a.k.a. Barbara Bush) is no rustic from the hills. While the TV show's Granny sports a shotgun, Matron Barbara wears tasteful pearls and an impeccable blue suit.

But she's still hell on wheels, just like Granny. And she doesn't sit around watching her good and decent kinfolk sink beneath the waves of the "cement pond." By the time Jed has grabbed his hat, Granny has already telephoned Drysdale, yanking him out of an important meeting, and threatened to pull her portion of "political capital" out of his bank.

"Yes, Granny. Yes, ma'am. Fire the press spokesman -- you've got it. Change Jethro's duties -- it's handled. Protect Mr. Clampett -- absolutely. Forget the nuke stuff -- done," he says.

Her phone calls must be considered pretty important, because Drysdale had just been enjoying a fat-chewing session with a pal of his who'd only recently retired from the OK Oil Company with a cool $400 million in his pocket.

"Hathaway," shouts Drysdale. "Get these things done right away!"

"Right, Chief," says the ever-polished and efficient Miss Jane.

"And by the way," Drysdale adds, "get my shotgun for me. You know, the one that shoots in the wrong direction? The one Clampett used to find all that oil in the first place. I'm going hunting with a friend."

"Right, Chief."