Can you feel a rumbling deep in the Earth? For once it’s not an underground nucular test or exploratory oil drilling. Down in that special level of the Inferno reserved for American presidents, a dark shade is laughing. “I was a crook,” he writes on the fiery blackboard for the zillionth time. “But I was not a jackass.”
It’s all but official: Richard Nixon is no longer the worst president in U.S. history. In an unexpected burst of evil energy, George W. Bush has exploded out of the pack like Lance Armstrong on Ritalin, and seized the flaming jacket from his predecessor. Soon enough in hell-time, Tricky Dick will find himself unstrapped from the Oval Orifice, downgraded to lesser punishments, and replaced atop the Fist of State by Bush the Younger.
Hell’s mid-management is scrambling to book enough conference rooms to plan for this unexpected new development. Nixon will have to be transferred, likely to the adjoining pit shared by Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover, and the Oval Orifice will need extensive remodeling to meet the new Torment Requirements. The addition of an oil drilling rig, for instance, and a complicated system of leaky flood-pumps.
Speaking through celebrity-psychic John Edwards, the ghost of Dante Allighieri observed, “Hell is all about hierarchies, which is what makes this such a startling upset. When they designed the Torment for Nixon, they put a lot of deep resources into the program, thinking it had to last. I mean, who would have guessed at this? But the only city Nixon ever laid to waste was Hanoi, and that wasn’t even in your country! Bush is lowering the bar every day, and could take this thing all the way down to the Lake of Ice. There’s no doubt, he could break out of regional play and step down to the Big Leagues of global despotry, joining the capital-t Traitors on Circle Nine.”
Of course Bush isn’t dead yet, but Dante sees this as a small problem in the Big Picture. “Hell is nothing,” he says, “if not patient.”
Yet not all handicappers agree with the poet’s analysis, with some relegating W. to the bush leagues of Eternal Evil. Responding to a Ouija interview, the ghost of Pope Alexander called the President “a simpleton and a minor heretic, whose only real achievement is that he hasn’t been poisoned yet.” The ghost of Richard Gloucester agreed, calling Bush “a mere bug-burner of a boy, holding the State’s magnifying-glass by one snotty finger, and likely as not to lose his grip.” And no less of an authority than the ghost of Mao Ze Dong agreed, saying, “I have met Nixon, and this is no Nixon. Let the People’s anger express itself accordingly.”
Writing via fax from Hell’s Plain of Suicides, deceased gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson also defended Nixon’s record, calling him “unspeakably evil,” and “a world-class nut-twister.” Bush, he points out, is still in play, and might stumble into an accidental act of statesmanship that could send his averages tumbling. Nixon, on the other hand, “was so crooked even he didn’t know where all the bodies were buried.” According to Thompson, it may be eons (or at least until the death of George Schultz) before a final reckoning can be achieved. “The long money,” he says, “is still on Dick.”
Yet even Nixon’s biggest boosters must concede that Bush is showing unexpected reserves of venality, arrogance, and spite, and that the little Texan is charting to Numero Zero in the Presidential Hall of Shame. Speaking from an Undisclosed Location deep beneath the President’s skin, comic Bill Maher described Bush as “a catastrophe that walks like a man,” and toted up the losses to date: “…nearly all of our allies, the budget surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon, and the City of New Orleans.” And he left out the Bill of Rights, the EPA, and the Rule of Law. In five short years Bush has gone from hapless goofball to heavy hitter, stunning his admirers and shouldering aside all who would stand between him and the Prize. “Benedict Arnold was not elected president, and that’s good,” Bush once observed. To his credit, neither was Josef Stalin.