The Card game is on the rise in other fields, too. There’s sports: Somebody slipped me ’roids that I thought were herbal supplements! My masseur rubbed testosterone cream on me! There’s literature: My fabulism is just a symptom of my addiction! My plagiarism is just a side effect of my photographic memory!
And then there’s journalism: Remember New York Times “reporter” Jayson Blair? The author of the unrepentant memoir Burning Down My Masters’ House, Blair was a master himself, playing not just the Race Card but the Addiction Card, too. Go, Jayson!
But mostly, of course, we see the Card in politics. And sometimes it almost—almost—works. Think of the white-hot minute during which former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey had us sympathizing with his “struggle”—when he pronounced, “I am a gay American”—before we realized he’d merely distracted us from the fact that he was fucking a patronage hire behind his wife’s back. (Apparently, “I am a corrupt American” just didn’t have the same ring to it.)
Or think of Michael Brown, the criminally clueless former chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who, a year after his disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans, continued his extended blame-displacement tour by playing the Bad-Boss Card. FEMA’s response to Katrina, he told the New York Times last summer, was a calamity because Michael Chertoff, chief of the Department of Homeland Security, didn’t know “the first thing about running a disaster.”
Or think of President George W. Bush’s most recent take on 9/11. Did the tragedy have anything to do with his blowing off a memo that came across his desk in August 2001 with the headline BIN LADEN DETERMINED TO ATTACK INSIDE THE U.S. and details about “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings”?
Nope. White House spokesman Tony Snow, referring to our exit from Operation Desert Storm without toppling Saddam Hussein, told reporters in August, “When the United States walked away, in the opinion of Osama bin Laden, in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that Americans were weak and wouldn’t stay the course. And that led to September 11.” Remember who was president in 1991? There you have it, from President Bush II himself: the Bad-Predecessor Card and the Bad-Parenting Card, rolled into one!
As for the current Iraq quagmire, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s mismanagement of the occupation and his vast underestimation of what it would take to contain the counterinsurgency are certainly not to blame. Rather, in Rumsfeld’s infamous utterance, “Stuff happens.” Shuffle the Metaphysics Card to the top of the deck.
Never mind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s faded dictum “There are no second acts in American lives.” There’s actually a specifically modern, uniquely generous American impulse to allow second (and third, and fourth) acts to enterprising losers. Grading on a curve, factoring in a handicap, and allowing plea bargains all speak to our contemporary, perversely elastic generosity of spirit. A culture that loves redemption stories must allow plenty of wiggle room at the moment of reckoning.