Friday, September 16, 2005

St. George, Coeur de Lion

What was that strut on the grass in front of St. Louis Cathedral all about, on his way to the podium? Why this attempt to make the lawn look like an annex of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and the floodlit façade of the cathedral look like a banner from God, an implicit "Mission Accomplished" that has, of course, nothing to do with the rebuilding of New Orleans and everything to do with reconstructing the self-inflicted wreck of the administration? What guile, what vulgarity, what presumption, what fakery: the rolled up sleeves, the unbuttoned shirt, the false modesty so callously contradicted by the obscene backdrop, that splurge of white (of white, ladies and bigots, of white!) and spotless cleanliness when any corner of the city, begrimed and honestly dark, should have sufficed. But the city is off limits to observation. It’s been turned into a playpen of the 82nd Airborne, a zero-tolerance zone for reporters and half the amendments of the Bill of Rights. Maybe the contradiction between the president boasting of Americans who’ve "never left our destiny to the whims of nature" and Americans increasingly thrown to the whims of "boots on the ground" would have been too unsubtle to miss. Then again we’re an unsubtle people, duped, suckered and screwed at the drop of a well-timed strut on the manicured lawn of a crusader-in-chief, and we were again Thursday night, when the allusions to New Orleans as a battleground ("we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes") should not so easily have been lost, especially in that context, in the earthshine of that cathedral: Remember that September 16, 2001 mini-speech in which Bush spoke of "this crusade, this war on terrorism"? Official history has it that he didn’t mean to use the word crusade, that he knew not what he was doing. Bull, of course, shit. No word goes unscripted in this by-the-Scriptures administration. "Perhaps," as Jonathan Raban puts it "Bush himself was not entirely aware of what he was saying, but some White House scribe surely intended to put us at least loosely in mind of Richard Coeur de Lion:

Richard, that robbed the lion of his heart
And fought the holy wars in Palestine."

So it was Thursday night. The Cathedral is named after Louis IX, admittedly one of France’s better kings so far as the poor and the blighted were concerned, but he was also the only French king ever canonized—by Pope Boniface VIII, a neocon of his day—a detail a president so keen on his own divine right couldn’t possibly have missed. "Saint" Louis also led two crusades, a detail too delicious, too pretzel-crunchy, even for Bush to miss, let alone his scribes (though dysentery-sapped St. Louis failed miserably in both crusades, a precedent St. George must’ve sent to his re-write department). No, this was no mere play to present America with a clean wholesome and of course utterly godly white image of New Orleans’ future. It was Act IX in the president’s ongoing crusade on America. New Orleans is the latest, opportune parish. A beachhead for all those boots. We will stay as long as it takes. It, the sequel. Too bad Stephen King hung it up.