These are dark days for the Republic.

Take a gander at the field of presidential hopefuls and say it isn't so. Who would not sigh with relief if it were decided instead to select our next leader from, say, the regular cast of C.S.I. — any one of them, including even the rat-bastard Conrad?

When Rome stagnated under such high-tier aimlessness, bored Nero was said to go out nights and run in disguise with a gang of street toughs, tumping chariots and terrorizing sidewalk oldtimers. Do you get the sense of something metaphorically similar happening contemporarily on Pennsylvania Ave., with the grinding of sick children under the sole of a veto, or the jerking away from worsening twitchers of their last hope for a stem-cell miracle?

Maybe not. Maybe the man is sincere, as the faint-praise dammers are usually reduced to saying. But can sincerity exist in an abyss, with no heart nor soul nor mind nor other human element to attach itself to? Apparently it can, in Bushworld. What you got from the bred-down Caesars was cruelty, dissipation, misery seeking company, but at least that was something — while the present instance suggests not even that much: It suggests the man who wasn't there from the poem of that name; and it suggests that the past seven years of rodomontade has been just frat jabber reburbled out of a vague nostalgia for his what never was.

The charade was good enough to inspire 700 Club Law School grads to swarm the J.D., sucking the give-a-damn out of non-partisans and closet evolutionists, but even here in Bizarro you can't fool everybody forever, because … well, just because. There are bounds at which even the deluded balk. And as a wise old padre once said, mere form without substance sooner or later must collapse of its own weight.

That's the condition our condition is in, as far as I can tell.

Carter saw a malaise lowering (and he remains the only president ever to have reported, while sober, having seen a UFO), and Clinton 911-ed what he called a funk — not exactly a hoax, but only briefly noticed, the sunny skies that followed him quickly returning. He was probably just weeded out on some Grand Funk Railroad when he made the call.

By contrast, the current pall seems to have a Dantean obduracy, having dismaled out the entire century so far with still no prospect of lift. Only 14 months to go, officially, but scattering this rascal will require a s---load of exorcisms and multiple aftermath fortnights of hosing down.

Bro. Huckabee, the presumptive GOP nominee, thinks the darkness comes from our having to live under the shadow of Islamofascism, the worst-ever threat to our sanctified way of life, more so than Nazi, Commie, Boogerman, reefer madness, or jerking off. A gloomy view indeed, made even gloomier for the rest of us by his advancement of his own mottled backslid self as the likeliest candidate to lead us fellow blindies again into the light.

Here are some other groped-together considerations: The economy must come up with $2 trillion to pay for the present pointless war — 2, nine zeroes — and guess how much of that the Forbes 400 will be pitching in. You're paying $1,000 a day for each and every Blackwater operative whose job is to shoot innocent bystanders and shield junketing politicians making “surprise” troop visits so they can scurry home to report that all in Babylon is fine and dandy. If you buy a new house, odds are it'll be repossessed before the new wears off. The only remaining semi-sane Supreme Court justices are at death's door. The wicked prosper in all the major sports. It's been more than a century since the newspapers were this sorry. Wusses hold Congress. Blowhards rule TV and radio. Not one of the new cars has the stylishness of a 1955 sawmill whoopie. Movies suck, except for “Bubba Ho-Tep.” Electronic gaming has rotted more minds than meth. And so on.

You see my drift.

One of the weird vicissitudes of newspaper column writing is that it's sometimes impossible to stay on point. Or ever to get on point in the first place. You think you've got a worthy topic just about primed for vigorous explication and advocacy, but then your first sentence — or the tentative headline — can lead you off in an entirely different direction. And you're never able to find your way back.

This is by way of confessing that the original topic for this column — this very one — was Reasons for Optimism. That was to be the headline too: “Reasons for optimism.” The idea was to make cursory mention of the descent of that stygian Bush-darkness, but immediately thereafter to list some 75 silver linings, thoughts to brace the disspirited, reminders that things could always be worse. For example, Somebody had to have Britney Spears for a mother, Be thankful it wasn't you.

Another one: If you get bad sick, your doctors might cure you, or at least they might not kill you, as they did George Washington and just about everybody else they treated before 1900.

It was a good list — all good reasons for optimism in this dark time — and I'm sorry I ran out of room before getting around to the last 73.


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