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Athwart

At Least Drones Hit Their Target

by James Lileks

Put yourself in the shoes of an Obama supporter. First of all, you didn’t lace them. Someone else did. (Is that tired yet? Never gets tired.) Second, you’re concerned his reputation as history’s greatest orator might turn out to be a disadvantage. Remember 2008, when golden beams of light came out of his mouth and cured leprosy? Remember his inauguration speech, when he exhorted us to be exhorted?

Expectations must be reduced, then. That’s the best explanation for the August 20 press conference.

It was hastily convened to assure everyone he’s not in favor of rape. A Republican candidate had said something stupid about rape that proved all conservatives want banks to foreclose on uteruses, or something. One of those natural extrapolations, just as Mitt’s dog-on-the-roof story means he wants to pitchfork the poor into mass graves. But the presser went on long enough to remind people that the president’s speaking style resembles his favorite Pentagon toy: deadly drones.

At least drones hit their target. The president’s performance reminded us what he thinks the campaign is about, based on careful study of Huffington Post opinion-piece headlines. Mitt Romney’s taxes, for example. This is a big thing on the left, because it has to do with other people’s money, and how to get some of it. Sly calumny:

“I think people want to know that everybody has been playing by the same rules,” he said. Because maybe, y’know, Mitt made up his own rules and used Jedi mind tricks to make IRS auditors believe these were not the returns they were looking for.

The tax issue reminds people that Mitt might pay less under the Ryan plan, which means the nation hurls off the fiscal cliff at 11:42 a.m. 2025 instead of five past noon. Really? Mitt’s doing this for money? Picture the meeting with the financial adviser: “Mitt, you have a few hundred million. We could invest it carefully and ensure your financial security, or spend it on two presidential campaigns on the chance you might pass a law that lowers your tax rate. I’d go with the latter, but you know me, I favor the aggressive approach.”

The president concluded the tax-return portion of his remarks by quoting Mitt Romney’s father on the matter of releasing more records, which reminds people that Mitt Romney’s father wasn’t a selfish seed-scattering socialist who killed himself driving drunk. Or would remind them, if anyone knew anything about Obama père. He also noted that the history of a presidential candidate should be an “open book” — just like the book of his own past, which is open in a safe on the bottom of the ocean guarded by radioactive electric eels. Who are composites of other electric eels he may have known.

Then he reminded us he’s focusing on the important issues, like wind power. Smart!  As people line up for four-buck-a-gallon gas, you hear the angry murmurs: When are we going to get government checks to put sails on the top of our minivans? I’ve been studying my ropes and rigging — hell, I got Master and Commander on audiobook, the whole series. Who’s preventing wind power from taking its rightful place as our automotive propulsion system?

Wind is pure and good, the elegant turbine blades turned by the beating of Pegasus wings. But some people hear tales out of North Dakota, where rough men wrest the crude from the stony breast of Gaia, and they think: That oil stuff comes in handy. More of that, if you don’t mind.

Alas: The Keystone XL pipeline is still running through the regulatory hurdles, and will probably have another public-commentary period to collect the outraged opinions of people who think a 900-foot-tall statue of Dick Cheney stands in the NoDak oilfields, flames shooting from his leering maw. Jobs it may produce, but they’re the wrong kind. The right kind of job: designing websites for government programs, where you say things like “leveraging social media” in a meeting and everyone gives Cyndia a hard look because she was supposed to bring artisanal cupcakes and she brought store-bought.

In love with the sound of boilerplate hitting the carpet with a soft thud, the president also said that he’s focused on hiring more teachers. That’s why the economy is a cold blue thing on a slab: We laid off too many teachers, and now kids learn only the first twelve letters of the ABC song. If we’d raise taxes on millionaires — who, under the Romney plan, get a sack of gold coins hand-delivered weekly by a guy in a Scrooge McDuck costume — the economy would sputter to life.

Perhaps. But here’s an interesting story from Capcon, a Michigan news service: “Despite having no horses, the water and sewerage department for the City of Detroit employs a horseshoer. Yet even with a department so bloated that it has a horseshoer and no horses, the local union president said it is ‘not possible’ to eliminate positions. . . . The horseshoer’s job description is ‘to shoe horses and to do general blacksmith work . . . and to perform related work as required.’ The description was last updated in 1967.”

Ah. Making citizens pay someone not to do something to a horse that doesn’t exist: the nobility of the irreplaceable public sector. Hiring several people to take care of real horses that perform dressage: out-of-touch parasite.

In short: hoary bromides delivered with the passion and conviction normally associated with the guy on the drive-through loudspeaker who asks if you’d like to try the new McLiver sandwich. At least it rekindles the press corps’s resolve. Enough of being fooled! We’ll be much harder on Romney.

–Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.