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Once Upon a Time
Paul Corrigan

Tim Francis-Wright and I had a running joke between us after Bush II was elected. When Bush or his administration did something profoundly absurd, I would respond by shaking my head and saying a heartfelt "inconceivable" or "unbelievable." Tim would respond with a perfect imitation of Inigo Montoya, the character from the 1987 film "The Princess Bride" by saying, "I do not think this word means what you think it means". Tim was right, of course. In the theater of the absurd that America has become, frightening current events are all too believable and occurring all too often.

Surviving the last 15 months in America is like surviving the "Fire Swamp," the film's hellish locale with rodents the size of humans, and "The Pit of Despair." We have seen the judiciary deciding a presidential election; recession; terrorist attacks; biological terror; war; a roll back of civil liberties; massive tax cuts for the rich along with the return of budget deficits; priests sexually molesting children; a mother drowning her kids; escalation of violence in the Middle East; America's largest companies filing for bankruptcy; auditors and law firms helping company executives shred evidence in a criminal investigation; workers thrown into unemployment; and retirement accounts evaporating quicker than dew in the morning sun. The last fifteen months have not been a fairy tale: they have been a horror show. Stunned, Americans have lied to ourselves and to our children about the current state of our country and the world, and about our president's performance.

In "The Princess Bride," actor Wallace Shawn plays Vizzini, a short, twisted, evil genius who continuously calls his compatriots "morons." Vizzini is the leader of a band he tries to mold into terrorists, when in reality they are men of honor and courage. He talks tough. Vizzini constantly exhibits his frustration with the "great colossus," Fezzik, played by André the Giant. Vizzini, who controls Fezzik, is enraged with the gentle nature of the giant and his own inability to exploit Fezzik's great strength. In turn, we are led by a moron whose evil genius is embodied in the men and women that stand behind him and by his own ability to discount life. Bush talks tough as well. Like Vizzini, he is dissatisfied with the "great colossus" he controls. What good are nuclear weapons if you don't exploit them?

In fiction, a great writer can combine love, comedy, and adventure while letting good conquer evil. In "The Princess Bride," the good guys win. Once upon a time, I had good reason to be as hopeful about our collective future. Recently, that hope has been challenged. Despite the last fifteen months, I am still optimistic. I believe Americans are full of honor and courage. Unlike Bush, I believe that is true of most nations. In our democracy, our strength emanates from the people, not the leaders. The world is not the black and white place our president tells us it is. As it was true with Bush I, Bush II will not last. Nor will his distorted view of the world.

Bush, like Vizzini, may be undone by his own machinations. Americans, like Fezzik and Montoya, will soon realize that we are much better off without a bullying cynic for a leader. We cannot rule the world through threats. We can capture the hearts and minds of all its people. I miss Bill Clinton, a man who understood that reality.

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