Layers of liars
Maybe they're not as exciting as the walls in HBO's "If These Walls Could Talk," but I've got some talking walls of my own. While fixing a hole where the rain got in --- and then the ants and small mammals --- we gutted the back of our house and decided to bump out the kitchen. During the demolition, I was surprised to see writing --- construction numbers and instructions from the original homebuilders --- on the plywood and beams.
Then our workers added their own calculations and words to the walls. In pencil they wrote: "garage switch" and "pipe" and lists and fractions. In red capital letters someone wrote: "LIVE" near some dangling wires. At first I took it as a command --- Buddhist wall wisdom insisting that I live in the moment --- until I realized it meant that the wires, destined to become an outlet, were hot.
That small amount of text transformed the space for me. Two generations of workers were communicating across time through the walls of my house. The construction stopped feeling like an invasion of wood and tools and started to come alive with conversation.
I couldn't resist putting my own two cents in. I got a fistful of Sharpies and wrote quotes and lyrics on the plywood and beams. It wasn't long before my kids joined in, making up stuff and quoting Poe and the Beatles.
Of course, all this writing was soon covered up by insulation and drywall. But that doesn't matter to me. I like knowing that layers of text lie hidden beneath the paint and cabinets. The construction is complete, and I feel as if the walls really are talking to me. When I stand near the kitchen island I can hear my 12-year-old's John Donne quote about how no man is an island, we're all connected, so do not ask for whom the bell tolls. Near the door to the garage, I can hear "Baby, you can drive my car," written in my younger son's hand.
Though it's oddly comforting to me to have buried text murmuring beneath the surface, most hidden meanings are not so reassuring. Few news items in the past year could be taken at face value, for example. Stories about the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, congressional misdeeds, and revelations about extraordinary rendition, to name a few, made Americans --- already a pretty jaded lot --- distrust pols and the media even more than they did before, if that's possible.
We've always been skeptical consumers of politics and political news, since back when we threw off the power-hungry Brits. Founded on a love of freedom and a wariness of governmental abuses, America was so determined to do it right that we put our plan in writing.
But fat lot of good the Constitution has done us lately. All levels of government, like the walls of my house, are concealing messages. But these aren't fun messages; they are betrayals of the public trust, falsehoods and cover-ups. No sooner is one layer of lies revealed than another is discovered.
Months ago, the feds had to fess up to funding Righty pundits who, while hawking the administration's agenda on news programs, forgot to reveal that they were on the payroll. But that didn't stop the administration from doing the same thing in Iraq. Rub the ink off any of dozens of cheerful articles in Iraqi newspapers and you'll find Iraqi "journalists," receiving up to $1,000 for their "news."
It was just a byte or two of data that uncovered the farce that was President Bush's Plan for Victory in Iraq. Called the unclassified version of the actual plan for victory, the 35-page PDF file (on the White House site) contained embedded data revealing that the author was not, as you might assume, a specialist in achieving victory in Iraq. His field is presidential marketing and PR.
Investigators, looking under piles of skewed financial statements and misleading political donations, uncovered the truth about Rep. Tom DeLay and indicted him for conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme. But that's nothing compared to what's going to happen when prosecutors dig beneath the filth and grime coating his good buddy, superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. Roughly two dozen politicians are under investigation in a mess that the chattering classes predict could be bigger than the Savings and Loan scandal.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the Republicans have built their house on lies. They're in trouble now. The foundations are crumbling as approval ratings plateau at low levels. At the upper echelons of government, rumors swirl and indictments threaten. It's safe to say the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire. I don't think I'm alone in offering this suggestion: we don't need no water, let the motherfucker burn.
If all these layers of incendiary falsehoods and lies, evasions and denials don't bring the Republican clubhouse crashing down, then perhaps the NSA spying case will. Specifically, President Bush's defense, when confronted with allegations of illegal surveillance in mid-December.
Citing the Constitution, Bush said he has a responsibility to protect our country at his discretion and sidestepped questions about constitutionally required checks and balances. He disparaged FISA for being outdated and --- ignoring the fact that FISA was initiated precisely to control NSA's nasty tactics --- again claimed his constitutional right to use whatever means he deems necessary to break down the walls of democracy.
Luckily, the framers of the Constitution foresaw guys like Bush and his power-drunk cronies, and they built a strong foundation for this country. This is a particularly bad time in America, though. It's not clear when the layers of treachery will be scraped away and the walls renovated. It's been five years; are we in for three more? If the walls could talk in the White House and Congress, they'd probably cry.