By MAUREEN DOWD
There is a crash of ideologies between the country's two most self-regarding and fantasy-spinning power centers. The Bush crowd cringes away from gay cowboys spooning, gay authors flouncing, transgender babes exploring and George the Dashing Clooneying in movies about the glories of free speech and the dangers of oilmen influencing policy.
But as I looked around Vanity Fair's slinky Oscar party on Sunday night, it struck me that the bellicose Bushies do share a presentation aesthetic with Tinseltown's trompe l'oeil beauties: you see no furrowed brows, no regretful winces, no unflattering wrinkles, no admissions of imperfection, no qualms about puffing up what you really have, no visible signs of hard lessons learned, and no desire to confront reality in the mirror.
Who ever thought Dick Cheney and Mamie Van Doren would have so much in common?
The White House is constantly trying to do laser resurfacing on its Iraq policy, to sandblast away the damage from its own mistakes. But its veneer may be beyond repair.
In Hollywood terms, we've reached an Indiana Jones crisis moment in our parlous protectorate. The cave is collapsing, the snakes are encroaching, the vehicles are exploding, the crushing ball is rolling down on us. The public has stopped buying the administration's sugary spin. The Washington Post reported yesterday that 80 percent of Americans — cutting across party lines — say sectarian violence makes civil war in Iraq likely. More than a third call it "very likely." Half also think the U.S. should begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, the poll found, and two-thirds say the president has no clear plan for Iraq.
The widespread resistance to the Dubai ports deal, even among newly fractious Republicans, indicates that Americans have lost faith in the president's competence — a faith shredded by the White House's obtuseness and lies on Katrina.
As Hollywood often does, the administration scorns introspection and originality. It sticks with the same worn themes: Stay the course. Victory's around the corner. Anyone who expresses skepticism is a defeatist, a softie on terrorism.
On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iraq was "going very, very well, from everything you look at." And at a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Rummy, who should have resigned in shame long ago, tried to blame the press, echoing Gen. George Casey in saying: "Much of the reporting in the U.S. and abroad has exaggerated the situation."
He added, "The steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists."
After all the horrible mistakes in judgment the defense secretary has made — mistakes that have left our troops without proper backup and armor, created an inept and corrupt occupation, and confused soldiers into thinking torture was O.K. — it takes humongous gall to suggest that the problem is really the reporters.
Many experts say we're close to a civil war — or already in one. Even the U.S. envoy, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, told The Los Angeles Times on Monday that the invasion of Iraq had opened a "Pandora's box" of tribal and religious fissures that could devour the region. His words evoked a harrowing image of the bad spirits swarming up the mountain in Disney's "Fantasia" as Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" played.
He said that if there's another incident like the Shiite shrine's being blown up, Iraq is "really vulnerable."
The Pentagon says it'll look once more at the death by friendly fire of the football player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, because the first three inquiries had problems — one more sad illustration of the administration's cynical attempt not to let anything get in the way of its heroic, and dermatologically plumped up, story line for America.
My column of Feb. 18 said that Scooter Libby testified that "superiors" had authorized him to leak classified information about Valerie Plame. Rather, Mr. Libby testified that "superiors" had authorized him to leak classified information from an intelligence report to rebut critics and justify the Iraq war, not information about Valerie Plame.