"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Sunset Boulevard On The Potomac–The Melodramatic Last Act Of Joe Biden

The President looked into the bathroom mirror and turned away.  There, looking back at him was an old man, face as taut as a drum from Botox, the famous crooked, charming, boyish smile looking off-kilter and Jokerish, his eyes smallish and disappeared.  It was a horrible, close-up.  He snapped off the vanity lights and returned to the bedroom where Jill was just stirring.  “I’m finished”, he said to his wife.  Done for”.

There have been famous movie scenes like this one – Norma  Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Princess Alexandra Del Lago in Sweet Bird of Youth, aging actresses whose close-ups don’t lie; and no amount of make up, pins and tucks, and soft fuzzy lighting can hide the years and the end of a career. “But I’m the President”, thought Joe, “and no close-up can end a president’s career”; but still that face, so unfamiliar, pasty, and even frightening in its faux youthful features so carefully tended to by his retinue, was a warning sign of the inevitable end.

Image result for images gloria swanson sunset boulevard

Images of his predecessor, Donald Trump, flashed through his mind – a vital, energetic, bold, and still attractive man not far from his own age.  He still squired beauty queens, strutted with arm candy, stirred the room, and made everyone take notice.  He was a big man, unashamed of his size, a sign of good living, extravagance, and bonhomie while the image that stared back at the President had a wan, alien look, a geriatric, nursing home look, an end of the line look.  “Why couldn’t I look like him”, Joe thought in a traitorous but honest moment.

“Do I look old?”, the President said to his wife as she sat up and undid her curlers.  “Of course you do, Joe.  You’re almost eighty”.  Joe was expecting something kinder and gentler, but Jill had always been honest and he had relied on her judgment more than any of his so-called advisors.  He waited for the caveat, the “but you are still vigorous-looking, handsome, impressive man” which never came.  She was standing pat.

“Perhaps this is why my ratings are so low”, the President thought (his approval numbers were in the historically low range and heading downward).  Of course there were more pressing reasons – his timorous capitulation in Afghanistan, the chaos on the southern border, rising inflation, the sabotaging of American energy self-sufficiency, and a championing of the social agenda of the race-gender-ethnicity transgender express among other things – but of course being behind these moves he couldn’t very well admit their failure.  It had to be the close-ups.

Image result for images close up scene in sweet bird of youth

His Chief of Staff was no fool and an observer and closet admirer of Donald Trump. Not of course for his sedition, treason, and political treachery; but for his persona - a larger-than-life, super-macho, irresistibly engaging, Hollywood-ready man who understood image, machismo, and personality better than anyone.  

So the Chief of Staff convened a pow-wow of his closest colleagues and laid out the problem.  It was time to remake the President he said, energize him, give him some oomph, and enough virile presence to overcome the poll numbers.  Get rid of the dour, morose pleadings about masks, vaccines, and responsibility; the penitential offerings for the life of the planet; lose the hugs and warm embrace of transgender alternatives; and get real.

This would not be easy, the Chief of Staff admitted. “The President has relied on his charmingly crooked smile for decades, but he, especially at this point in his life where he is relying more and more on others for direction, will listen.” 

The ‘remake cabal’ as one unnamed White House dissident called it, decided to teach by example; and they compiled a montage of Donald Trump’s best moments, at his most vaudevillian and operatic.   “Don’t pay attention to what he says”, the Chief of Staff advised, for Trump's words were always seditious, nasty, and deceitful, “but how he delivers his lines”; and Joe watched scene after scene of the hilarious, politically incorrect, bombastic Trump delivery and the cheering, wildly enthusiastic crowds.

Image result for images donald trump at partisan rally

“But he’s a charlatan”, the President said.  “I can’t do that”.

“Yes, you can, Mr. President.  Just change the words.  Get passionate.  Get angry.  Get down!”

The President thought about it, worked with his script-writers, a drama coach on loan from Paramount, voice therapists, and Comedy Central comedians.  After weeks of practice when he thought he was ready, he arranged a run through, a dress rehearsal.  The performance was not only a dud, but a cruelly ironic one.  While Biden incorporated all the gestures, vocal modulations, facial expressions, and body moves he had been taught, he exercised them at exactly the wrong moments.  His actions not only did not match his words but were hilariously wrong.  He hammered the lectern in the middle of a joking aside.  He smiled when his words were fractious.  He laughed as he spoke of environmental destruction, chuckled when referring to men who had become women.

Disappointed, disillusioned, and worried, the Chief of Staff and his colleagues decided to once more closet the President.  No more press conferences, no ad lib remarks to reporters as he got on and off airplanes and the stage, no more public appearances until they figured out what to do with him.

The President’s epiphanic look into his vanity mirror had done something more than worry him about ratings.  It triggered a nostalgic response which had been bottled up for years.  He, like Norma Desmond and Alexandra Del Lago, retreated into the past and his happy, idyllic youth.  Summers in the surf at Rehoboth, hugs from his apple pie-fragrant mother, warm embraces from his parish priests, and the early years of political acclaim.  

“What happened?”, he wondered now, afraid to go into the bathroom until the large, Hollywood dressing room mirror had been removed and replaced with an antique colonial period mirror whose cracks and imperfections hid those of whomever looked into it.

“Let’s run again”, said Kamala Harris, his ambitious Vice President. “Let’s go get ‘em in ‘24!”.  But who was she to talk, still with her attractive, mixed-race looks, feminine allure, and goddamned youth!  He was already supernumerary, avoiding the cameras and the stage, beavering away in the Oval Office on policies and programs which, he realized in a moment of clarity, only added to his unpopularity. What was he doing here in the first place, the increasingly despondent President asked himself?

He looked at a photograph of AOC, a pretty, toothy girl who could have been his daughter, all bright smiles and youthful enthusiasm.  It’s her day now, he thought, and time for us alte kockers to be shipped to the glue factory.  Out with the old and in with the new, he said to himself, thinking of Betty, Betty someone, his first date, holding hands in the movie theatre, sharing popcorn. 

Image result for images aoc

The more he retreated into reverie, the more his staff seemed to intrude.  It was their job, he knew, to keep the ship of state on course, and God knew, he needed a hand at the helm; but still who were they to interrupt a president’s dreams?

As a kind of penitential hair shirt, he ordered Sunset Boulevard and Sweet Bird of Youth and watched them in the White House viewing room.  He was Norma Desmond and the Princess Del Lago in their fading youth, but never in his wildest dreams could he imagine having such flair, such theatrical confidence, such irresistibility.   He was these women only for their aging, despondent realization that youth had gone.

“I don’t even have a swan song”, the President thought, one last glorious aria, or final balletic, Baryshnikov leap across the stage.  Of course all those around him – ambitious, young, and determined – had no sympathy.  One way or another he would be put out to pasture and the future would be theirs.

The bad news for the elderly is that they begin to lose their grip on reality, make less and less sense, and forget where they are.  The good news is that none of that matters any more, and they can retreat into their own personal world of imagination, fantasy, and the sweet memories of the past. 

Image result for images baryshnikov ballet leaps

And so it was with the President who finished out his term without exactly knowing what was what but a very, happy man.

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