Ed.’s note: The following story is fiction based on real-life events.
I. Trouble Inside the Beltway, late March 2004.
White House Senior Adviser Karl Rove calls Vice President Dick Cheney to talk about the campaign.
"We’ve got a problem, Dick."
"Which one, Rover?"
"The war, Dick. Other than you and Christopher Hitchens, nobody thinks it’s going well."
"Clarke’s fault, Rover, Clarke’s fault."
"Regardless, Dick, I’ve been thinking about a way for GB to change the focus."
"Ok, Rover, but we’d better keep it simple for him."
"That’s precisely it, Dick. Let’s revive the moron charge."
"I thought Podhoretz did away with that."
"Nobody takes the Pod seriously, Dick, you know that."
"So what’s your point, Rover?"
"We need to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to examine whether GB is a moron. It will make liberals look mean, and make people feel sorry for the President."
"Smart move, Rover, smart move."
"Thanks, Dick. Coming from you, that means a lot."
"Fact is, Rover, the universities should be proud of you."
"Why’s that, Dick?"
"Because you’re an inspiration to adjuncts everywhere."
"What do you mean, Dick?"
"Universities needn’t pay adjuncts living wages or benefits—because, just like you, they may one day get to play ball with the big boys."
"Thanks, Dick, thanks."
II. The Commission Forms, April 2004.
Eager to fill up time on C-Span’s I and II, the Democrats agree to assemble a bi-partisan, blue-ribbon, highly intelligent panel—The National Commission on the Intellectual Capacity of the President of the United States, better known as the "Moron Commission." It is decided that each party gets to select four commission members, and that there will be two mutually agreed upon "nonpartisans." In the event of a tie, Vice President Cheney will have the deciding vote.
The Democrats suffer an initial setback when their obvious first choice, former Senator George Mitchell, declines, stating that becoming Disney Chairman means he’s "moved on to greener pastures." In his place step former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the pride of Scranton, North Dakota; along with former Vice President Walter "Fritz" Mondale, and former Vice-Presidential candidates Geraldine Ferraro and Lloyd M. Bentsen—all of whom eagerly express interest in serving on the commission, stating they "have nothing better to do."
The Republicans, meanwhile, naturally turn to the Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger, who admits to having "some scores to settle" after being forced off the 9/11 Commission. Kissinger, however, expresses "profound puzzlement" at his party’s other choices: former Reagan Secretary of the Interior James Watt, former Vice President Dan Quayle, and the noted British journalist Christopher Hitchens. "Kissinger and Hitchens on the same team? Rove really must have something up his sleeve," concurs the Beltway punditocracy.
Surprising, too, is at least one of the "nonpartisan" choices, Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz—who’s generally thought of as a liberal, but whose recent embrace of torture has made him acceptable to the Republicans. The other choice is the psychiatrist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks, a man of considerable intellectual heft but indeterminate party affiliation. Responding to the critics who attack the panel’s lack of diversity, James Watt steps forward, updating the statement that caused his resignation in 1983: "Sure, we’ve got diversity. We’ve got an Italian, two Jews, a woman, and a shrink. And the I-tai and the broad are all wrapped in one!"
III. A Tri-Partite Agreement, late April 2004.
White House Senior Adviser Karl Rove calls Vice President Dick Cheney to talk about the commission, which is set to hold the first of its eight scheduled hearings in early May.
"GI John just accused GB of trying to ‘stonewall’ the Moron Commission."
"Then let’s accuse him of supporting the Stonewall rebellion of 1969."
"Brilliant, Dick, brilliant."
"Naturally, Rover. Meantime, I’ve been thinking long and hard about something."
"What’s that, Dick?"
"Let’s invite Jerry."
"You mean Bruckheimer, Dick?"
"Good man, patriot."
"Yes, Dick, but what did you have in mind?"
"Let’s get Bruckheimer to produce the Moron Commission hearings for the networks."
"You’re on fire tonight, Dick, on fire!"
"Quick cuts, pointless graphics, the works."
"Sure thing, Dick, I’ll get right on it."
"Right, Rover. But one more thing."
"What’s that, Dick?"
"It’s about the fruit issue."
"You know, my daughter and all."
"I’ll be sensitive, Dick, don’t worry."
"No, play it hard. Just make sure you never say the homo thing is biological, ok?"
"You got it, Dick, you got it."
IV. The Prime-Time Commission, May 2004.
It’s sweeps month, so the networks agree to air the commission only if they will have more commercial breaks than an average basketball game. Christopher Hitchens, for one, likes the repeated timeouts, which give him time to "visit the loo." Bruckheimer, a master of sustained narrative buildup and suspended, enduring tension, handles the format perfectly. When the going gets dull, statements vaguely related to the proceedings flash across the screen—these include "a staggerbush is an American ericaceous shrub"; and "the word ‘testify’ comes from the same Latin root as ‘testes’!"
The White House succeeds in preventing Secretary of Education Rod Paige from testifying, citing a key principle, which is that sitting education advisers can’t comment on matters of national intelligence. This is considered a big victory for the White House, especially since Paige was last heard from calling the National Educational Association a "terrorist organization." Somewhat surprisingly, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice does agree to appear before the panel, and delivers perfectly reasoned, completely eloquent answers that perfectly and completely avoid the questions.
The most sensational testimony of the hearings, though, comes from White House Physician, Colonel (Dr.) Richard Tubb, who examined the President after the notorious pretzel incident of January, 2002:
Dr. Oliver Sacks: "You’re claiming that this man choked on pretzels, fainted, fell down, hit his eye and then lip, but still is of perfectly sound mind and body? This is clearly dissociative behavior, and I find it disconcerting."
Colonel Dr. Tubb: "Watching sports on TV is more tense than most people think, sir."
Prof. Alan Dershowitz: "As a Red Sox fan, I understand tension, as well as heartbreak. But today I’m more interested in finding controversial material for a new book, so I say we torture this witness."
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: "If we must torture someone, then please let it be Hitchens."
Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher: "I find this whole line of reasoning absurd."
Former Vice President Dan Quayle: "When the President’s daddy hurled into the lap of Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa back in ‘92, nobody called him a ‘moron.’"
Former Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen: "Senator, I knew Kiichi Miyazawa. Kiichi Miyazawa was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Kiichi Miyazawa."
Former Vice President Walter Mondale: "With all due respect, Senator Bentsen, Kiichi Miyazawa is still alive."
Former Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro: "Can we get back to the subject at hand?"
Former Secretary of the Interior James Watt: "For once, I agree with a dame."
Noted British journalist Christopher Hitchens: "I agree with no one fully, ever. However, I would suggest that this panel is a terrible, terrible waste of time. I much preferred the Starr Commission, for which I positively leapt at the opportunity to testify."
Consistently yielding such excellent soundbite material, the Moron Commission is a smash commercial success, shattering all ratings records. The Democrats, though, worry that the Republicans are gaining from the hearings, precisely because they’re better at producing excellent soundbite material. The solution, say the Democrats, is to call the President before the Commission, in hopes of letting him self-destruct.
V. A Progress Report, mid-May 2004.
White House Senior Adviser Karl Rove calls Vice President Dick Cheney to discuss whether or not the President has what it takes to testify
"Should we, Dick?"
"Can we, Rover?
"Well, Dick, if it doesn’t go our way, we can always call in Jim Baker."
"Good point, Rover. It’s always good to keep him in the loop."
"I’ll put him on standby, Dick."
VI. The Commission Decides, late May 2004.
The President’s testimony is a disaster. He keeps saying "my I-raq keeps crashing," when he obviously means his iMac; he claims there are "54 states in the Union, counting the jokers"; and he loses a spelling bee to Dan Quayle, tripping over the word "tomato." Quayle is the only one on either side of the partisan divide who is happy about the President’s dismal performance. After a surprisingly long deliberation, the panel’s chair Dr. Oliver Sacks steps before a national TV audience to deliver the verdict.
Dr. Oliver Sacks: "The panelists were determined to find an exact definition of ‘moron’ before we could reach a decision. The most recent work we could find, David Wechsler’s 1944 book The Measurement of Adult Intelligence, gave us a sound basis. We were able to rule out ‘idiot,’ because that refers to people with IQ’s less than 30; ‘imbecile’ also seemed inappropriate, since that covers 31 to 49; a ‘moron,’ or those with IQ’s from 50 to 69, did appeal to some panelists, but to say such a thing would be a disservice to Yale and Harvard, both of which have granted degrees to the current President. So in the end, we have decided that the President is not a ‘moron’—whether he’s ‘borderline deficient,’ which is the next step up the scale from ‘moron,’ is left for future panels to determine."
VII. The Aftermath, early June 2004.
White House Senior Adviser Karl Rove calls Vice President Dick Cheney to chart the future.
"What now, Dick?"
"Tell GB to start calling GI John ‘too smart by half.’"
"Why’s that, Dick?"
"Because nobody knows what that phrase really means, anyway."
"I like it, Dick, I like it."
"One more thing…"