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12 Apr 2003 09:02
I’m at the annual conference on world affairs in Boulder, Colorado, which sounds very grand but is basically a piss-up with speeches. There are several hundred events every year, panels of three or four people talking about topics they might or might not understand.
This year the audiences are huge.
Though it seems almost everyone here is passionately anti-war, when the chairman announced: “Most of us here wish Tony Blair was our president”, there was a stamping ovation.
Americans drink quite a lot less than us, but when they decide they want a drink, they do it with impressive thoroughness. You can buy gallon jugs of margarita mix, and few of them last long. Every night, after we have finished talking about the ills of the world, there’s a party. Then usually the party moves somewhere else, to a bar, or someone’s house. There are even post-party parties. I find it all quite soothing.
Extraordinary people come here. Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia, is one of this year’s panellists. So is Patch Adams, the doctor who believes that happiness is an important part of any course of treatment (and yes, Robin Williams made a bad film about him, which is a fate none of us would wish to suffer.) Anyhow, Adams wears only clown suits, of which he has several.
On Monday I saw him at a party with Kaunda. After a chat, Adams carefully, even reverently, placed a red nose and a comedy frog hat on the former president’s head. It had a wonderful surreal quality—the kind of event that makes you wake up and say to your partner, “I just dreamed I saw Kenneth Kaunda in a red nose and a comedy frog hat.”
He hadn’t reckoned with the man whose job it was to sit on a high stool at one end of the shop and harangue the customers. “All right, gentlemen, please make your selections, this is not a library, make your choices please, hey, look who we have in today, it’s the movie star, Michael Caine, over there in ‘bondage’!”
“But sir,” says the assistant, “this is a library.”
“Gee, I’m sorry,” says Bush, and whispers very quietly, “I’d like a cheeseburger and fries.”
I went to one panel discussion at which three people—academics and thinktankers—spoke very rationally and calmly about the president, his achievements, his plans and his failures. Then the fourth speaker began: “It is a matter of supreme urgency that the president is impeached, now!” and the whole place erupted. The whooping and cheering and clapping went on for ages.
I consulted my friend Molly Ivins, one of the great American newspaper columnists, a woman who manages to be very leftwing in American terms but also hilarious. Molly has been fighting breast cancer for some years now (when we had a great big hug on meeting again, she said, “you know, it’s a lot easier to hug folks when you don’t have tits,” which I thought was funny, brave, and very poignant indeed) but her illness hasn’t slowed her mind down one bit.
She knows Bush very well, his having been one of the guys she and her friends hung out with at school in Texas, and her having reported on Texas politics for longer than most of us would care to do.
Her view is that Bush is not stupid, “but he’s smart on a very narrow bandwidth”. She says the time to climb under the table is when Dubya starts talking about his gut instinct: “When he says that he hasn’t any evidence but he feels in his gut that he’s right, that’s when he tries to do something crazy, like invade Iraq.”
All his life he has placed himself under an older, more experienced patron, and the man now doing the job is Dick Cheney, the nominal vice-president, who many perfectly sane people believe is truly running the country. As someone said when Cheney had his heart attack, “Do you realise, George W is just a heartbeat away from the presidency!” - Guardian Unlimited Â
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