Peter Shelton

Ten Years After

Posted in At the Movies, Watch columns by pshelton on September 8, 2011

With the “royal wedding” of politics and fashion in Ridgway this past weekend, I kept having this fantasy: What if I were stuck on the gondola with uncle-of-the-bride, George W. Bush? What would I say to the 43rd president?

I know, it was a pure impossibility. W probably wasn’t among the wedding guests closeted up in the Mountain Village. Nor would the Secret Service likely allow him to ride the gondola, particularly unaccompanied. But then I thought, OK, say there’s an agent or two in there with us. Late summer lightning shuts the thing down for an indefinite period. We’re swinging up there with lots of time to get past the awkward bits and down to brass tacks.

I asked a friend what he’d say. We happened to be waiting in line for a film in the Mountain Village on Saturday, the day of the purported Bush-Lauren rehearsal dinner at Gorono Ranch Restaurant. My friend said he didn’t think he’d be able to say anything at all: “I’d probably try to strangle him.”

An honest fellow. A part of me was right there with him. “So much damage done,” this friend said. “So much harm.”

But don’t forget (in my fantasy) there are the guys in dark glasses with buds in their ears. So, the strangling option was out. I would be left with just words – to find them or not find them in an inevitably prickly situation.

I asked Ellen what she’d say. She answered that she probably wouldn’t say a thing. I could see her sitting there steaming, trembling with opportunity and restraint, unable to speak to a man who had so infuriated her over the course of eight long years. A man Ellen came to dislike so she had to put her fingers in her ears and sing, “La, La, La, La . . .” every time his voice came on the radio.

This was an honest reaction, too, this say-nothing option, and an amazing one given Ellen’s upbringing as a polite social creature. Ellen’s instinct is to fill an awkward silence, to draw out strangers, to make others feel welcomed and worthy. For Ellen to deny her training and imagine only a stony rebuke said volumes about the enmity she felt and still feels.

I too would feel the pull of manners, to stifle my angriest thoughts, this being a human being sitting on the bench across from me. This being a happy occasion, presumably, for Shrub. The damage done. His administration history.

But there would be another part of me that would want to shake off the charitable, and the nerves, and insist on Bush hearing from an aggrieved constituent. This being Film Festival weekend as well as Double RL wedding weekend, I figured I’d start by asking if he’d seen Taxi to the Dark Side. This is the Alex Gibney documentary about the first detainee in the war on terror, an innocent Afghan taxi driver who was tortured to death by American soldiers in Bagram prison in 2002.

I know, I know. Even if he had seen it, it’d be like water off a duck’s back, oil on water. But I’d want him to hear it anyway. How he and Mr. “Dark Side” himself, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, and John Yoo, and Alberto Gonzalez – how all of their lies about “torture” and “extraordinary rendition” and “unlawful combatants” and “weapons of mass destruction” didn’t fool everybody, didn’t fool a lot of people, people who were painfully ashamed to be Americans with such dissemblers for leaders.

When you, I would say to Mr. Bush, got on TV and said straight into the camera, “America does not torture,” what were you thinking? We already knew about the water boarding, and the attack dogs, and the sexual humiliation, and the darkness, and the sleep deprivation, and the hanging of men from the ceiling by their shackles. We already had Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

You wanted to exploit the patriot in us, but we saw the deep-seated weakness at work, the essential weakness of a bully, one who isn’t at all certain of his own strength, or in this case, of the strength of a nation to survive with its moral compass intact.

I would ask you, Mr. President, to take a look at the final scene of that movie. Look at it before you descend into senility, or total O.J.-style denial. (I realize this may be asking too much, but surely, surely there is some recognition, deep inside, of the counterfeit.)

Look at yourself at the microphone talking about the Geneva Conventions on torture and the words that prohibit “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

And then you got that smirking school-boy look and paused for a second before whining, “How vague is that?”

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One Response

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  1. Mary Ann Dismant said, on September 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    It was nauseating, but good, to be reminded of the tortures during the Bush years.
    Ten cheers, Peter, for “Ten Years After.”


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