I always enjoy the bit in Planet of the Apes where a loinclothed Charlton Heston falls to his knees as he comes face to face with a shattered Statue of Liberty poking out of the sand and realizes that the eponymous simian planet is, in fact, his own — or was. Also the bit in Independence Day where Lady Liberty gets zapped by space aliens. And in Cloverfield when she’s decapitated by a giant monster. And in The Day After Tomorrow when she’s flash-frozen after polar-ice-cap melting brought on by a speech from Dick Cheney. I’ve been enjoying such moments since, oh, the short story “The Next Morning” in the 1887 edition of Life, illustrated with a pen-and-ink drawing of a headless statue with the smoldering rubble of the city behind her. The poor old girl was barely off the boat from France, and she’d already been pegged as the perfect visual shorthand for societal collapse.
But the United States Postal Service has now gone the Hollywood apocalyptics one better and produced a somewhat subtler image of civilizational ruin. The other day the post office apologized for its new stamp honoring Lady Liberty. Due to an unfortunate error, the stamp shows not the 19th-century Statue of Liberty that stands in New York Harbor but the 1990s replica that stands at the New York–New York Casino in Las Vegas.
An ersatz statue of pseudo-liberty standing guard over the world’s biggest gambling operation: What better way to round out a week in which the Republicans pretended to pass the most historically historic budget cut in history while the president pretended to come up with a plan to address the debt? All while pretending to wage a war in Libya whose most likely outcome seems to be that the only Arab dictator to sleep soundly in his bed at night during these turbulent times will be doing so under cover of a NATO no-fly zone for the rest of his 75-year term of office. In such a world, the USPS, bless ’em, has come up with a far more plausible emblem of societal devastation than Hollywood’s space monsters and climate-change fairies.
After the revelations that the $38.5 billion 2011 budget cut will in reality either cut a mere $352 million from the 2011 budget or, in fact, increase it by $3 billion, it might be easier just to build a replica White House, Capitol, and Congressional Budget Office at the new Beltway Casino next to Caesar’s Palace. Vegas is no longer the world’s biggest gambling resort; America is. Barack Obama says we need to “win the future,” and one more roll of the dice should do it: a trillion dollars of chips on the stimulus came up empty but let’s pile another couple trillion on Obamacare, and “high-speed rail,” and “green jobs,” and “broadband access” . . . And all the while Wayne Newton is singing “Danke Schoen” in Chinese. But don’t worry, we’re not just throwing our money away. We’re playing to a system! The president calls it “investing in the future.”
How do you “invest in the future”? By borrowing $188 million every hour. That’s what the government of the United States is doing. It’s spending one-fifth of a billion dollars it doesn’t have every hour of every day of every week — all for your future!
Most of the “futures” we’ve “invested” in are already at record levels of spending. Obama and his speechwriters are among the laziest men in the republic, so they cite the same dreary examples every time. In all three of his State of the Union addresses, he’s brought up the highway system, and he did so again in Chicago at the end of the week. If the Republicans get their way, he said, “We can’t invest in roads and bridges and broadband and high-speed rail. I mean, we would be a nation of potholes.”