Column: The Wizards of Ooze





Mr. Carpenter is a writer and doctoral candidate in history at the University of Illinois.

When Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz during the presidential-rematch season of 1900, the Wizard -- so speculate political historians -- represented President William McKinley, and the Cowardly Lion, William Jennings Bryan. In addition to Lion, assisting Dorothy (i.e., women) on her way to the Emerald City (Washington, D.C.) was the Democratic-Populist-Silverite electorate of Tin Woodman, the oppressed industrial worker who feared he had lost the ability to love, and Scarecrow, the simpleminded farmer with no power to frighten. He added good and evil regional witches, such as that of the West, the mortgage-holding elite who would perish with drought-ending rain (thus the bucket of water); and Munchkins, the proletariat released by Dorothy's house flattening the Eastern power structure.

To perfect the tale, Baum constructed geographical"Oz" from the abbreviation for"ounce," as in the ounces of gold that constituted the privileged class' yellow brick road of McKinley's monometallism. For virtuous commoners to find their way to the Emerald City safely, only the silver slippers -- not ruby, as Hollywood substituted -- would do. The introduction of silver slippers into the story represented Dorothy's salvation as would the introduction of newly minted ounces of silver into circulation -- an inflationary tactic then demanded (ill advisedly) by indebted Populists and Silver Democrats.

If Baum returned he'd rub his eyes upon learning that his allegory remains valid, at least valid enough for a sequel. No doubt we have another charlatan -- albeit not as wizardly -- reigning in the Emerald City and another failed, stumbling Democratic candidate staging a rematch. Women, by and large, are still depreciated, laborers still oppressed, farmers still contend powerlessness, and a wicked elite still pulls all the strings. Though we no longer debate the merits of gold versus silver in circulation, Baum could, with solid allegorical reasoning, even retain"Oz" for"ounce" in a sequel -- as in You-Know-Who in the White House doesn't have an ounce of brains.

On the other hand, given the post-1980 era's explosive discharge of conservatives' cowplop, Baum might want to rethink the fable's title. Perhaps The Wizards of Ooze. Admittedly it's more than a trifle unoriginal; Harper's Weekly in 1906 first used the singular"Wizard of Ooze" to describe William Randolph Hearst, then running for governor of New York. Yet pluralization would permit Baum to include in his little story not only the Charlatan in Chief, but his office lackeys and simpatico minions in Congress, e.g. Grand Dragon and Imperial Poohbah of Poppycock, Senator Trent Lott. Rarely have so many ghoulish personalities hatched from the womb endowed with such appallingly bumptious minds.

Naturally, merely because they're politicians, among their aptitudes lies the unremarkable one of hypocrisy. No news there, for sure. Without hypocrisy, politics just wouldn't be the game it is. (Being chaste of mind, I just say"No" to this sordid habit, and have self-pardoned on those rare occasions when partaking of it.) Without hypocrisy, those politicians unfailingly outraged by government waste - meaning money spent in some other chap's state - wouldn't be able to haul billions of dollars home with a straight face. And then the home folks, as incensed by hypocrisy as any, wouldn't be able to enjoy the billions.

An excellent example of this fiscal flimflam comes from Trent Lott, Senator from Mississippi. For years he has whacked away at government programs that even hint at doing something for the nation's poor - them folks should learn to fend fer 'emselves. But he can't do enough for billionaires -- and ballot casters in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where two passenger ships are being riveted together with federal loan guarantees of more than $1 billion, made possible by your tax money. That level of public swindling would have put Gilded-Age robber barons and political godfathers into a permanent state of orgasmic bliss. Today it's unexceptional. We accept flimflammery as part of government's SOP, even when committed by the GOP, which is forever offended by government waste -- and for that matter nearly everything else.

Yes, hypocrisy is commonplace, but conservative Republicans are heaving it to new plateaus. You will recall that prior to W.'s July attendance at a summit in Italy, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle mused,"I think we are isolating ourselves… I think we're minimizing ourselves. I don't think we are taken as seriously today as we were a few years ago." His comments reportedly violated the custom of partisanship ending at the water's edge. Notwithstanding it would have been smarter for Daschle to have avoided the hangman's noose altogether, his words were mild, befitting a mild-mannered man, and they came before W. departed for the summit. Yet conservatives' response was indignation and another shot at mismatching a punishment for a crime.

An"unseemly departure from … longstanding bipartisan tradition," said White House adviser Karen Hughes."Unwise and inaccurate," added spokesman Ari Fleischer. Lott jumped on the bandwagon with usual smugness. Daschle -- for years a party leader of commended skill -- demonstrated what happens"when you still have on your training wheels," said the honorable senator from the great state of Mississippi. It appears there is competition between Lott and W. for the title, The Wizard of Ooze.

The same conservative popinjays never made a peep in 1995 after senior Republicans labeled the Clinton-Yeltsin summit a"fraud," while the president in fact was still in Russia. They never made a peep in 1997 when Newt Gingrich shot off his overactive mouth when visiting China, forcing a Chinese official to instruct Gingrich that the mainland didn't""need any foreigner making indiscreet remarks."" Nor did they make a peep in 1998 when, this time in Israel, Gingrich shined by cheering a U.S. failure in sensitive West Bank negotiations.

At least Daschle apologized for his indiscretion. Not so our wizards of ooze. Never give in and never concede a point of propriety or point of fact.

Lest these comments be diagnosed as the progressive equivalent of conservative invective, I should clear something up. I don't object to conservative outrage and hypocrisy. On the contrary, I revel in them. I adore and applaud them. They make every day a new adventure in amusing, right-wing humbuggery. And if it weren't for the real harm that conservative Republicans leave in their wake these days, I'd rejoice -- not recoil -- at their staying in power forever and ever and ever. They just keep getting funnier. By now they're a self-made parady as Hollywood's Wizard and spoof themselves better than Frank Baum ever could have done. I give them a big thumbs up.


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