George W. Bush developed an interesting habit this year when he talked about energy. In his speeches, words like “oil,” “coal,” and “natural gas” shivered in the dark with no adjectives, while “nuclear power” consistently got two. Bush used this spiffy phrase in, among other places, his State of the Union address and a spring press conference. And who knows? At this very moment, he may well be spooning with Laura and seductively whispering the four words every First Lady or nuclear plant owner yearns to hear: “safe, clean nuclear power.”
Image: Peter Cook.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel safer and cleaner and nuclearier every time the president says those magical words, so I guess the strategy is working. In fact, it’s all becoming clear: family values are good, and nuclear families are good, so I bet nuclear waste and nuclear meltdowns are just liberal latte lunacy. Nuclear power is safe and clean, not to mention fresh and minty … unless that’s the crack talking again. That stuff should be illegal!
Crack consumption notwithstanding, this safe, clean, transparent strategy shouldn’t be a surprise, since the president and his cronies have built an impressive résumé of devious linguistic trickery. These are the “compassionate conservatives” who jettisoned all things religious in favor of “faith-based initiatives.” When privatizing Social Security became too politically freaky, “personal accounts” were cooked up, and when “The Global War on Terror” began to sound like an unwinnable, quagmirish clusterboink, they redubbed it “The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism.” Only Bush’s nickname for Karl Rove, “Turd Blossom,” suffered from a Code Orange level of truth.
Recently, it occurred to me that some of the greatest villains in the history of film could learn a thing or two from Bush’s nuclear strategy. Maybe they would have been more successful with their own nefarious schemes and wacky plots if only they had employed his clever use of adjectives. Not that I’m comparing the president of the United States to dastardly varmints, snake-eyed serial killers, and masked troublemakers! On the contrary: even with my additions, the following sentences don’t contain non sequiturs, subject-verb disagreements, or brazen disregard for facts.
The Joker, Batman: “What kind of a world is this where a man dressed as a bat gets all my press? This town needs a safe, clean enema!”
Darth Vader, Return of the Jedi: “You underestimate the power of the safe, clean dark side.”
Magneto, X-Men: “You see, I think what you really fear is me. Me and my kind: The Brotherhood of Safe, Clean Mutants.”
Saruman, The Lord of the Rings: “Hunt them down. Do not stop until they are found. You do not know pain, you do not know fear. You will taste safe, clean man-flesh.”
John Doe, Seven: “Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a safe, clean sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.”
General Zod, Superman II: “I am General Zod — your ruler. Yes, today begins a new order. Your lands, your possessions, your very lives, will gladly be given in safe, clean tribute to me, General Zod!”
Then again, maybe I shouldn’t read such sinister designs into the prez’s words. After all, this is the same commander in chief whose previous energy-related pronouncements have included cryptic Zen koans such as, “The California crunch really is the result of not enough power-generating plants and then not enough power to power the power of generating plants” — which is reminiscent of Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu’s pithy statement, “To use a horse to show that a horse is not a horse is not as good as using a non-horse to show that a horse is not a horse.”
I don’t know what either dude meant, but I’m confident that anyone who repeats one of those sentences a thousand times in a hushed voice will become enlightened. Safely and cleanly, of course.
Get Grist in your inbox