A Bunch of Krabby Patties

MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

January 23, 2005

I should have known.

I can't believe I thought he was just an innocent little sponge wearing tight shorts.

What in the name of Davy Jones's locker would a sponge be doing holding hands with a starfish or donning purple and hot-pink flowered garb to redecorate the Krusty Krab if he weren't a perverted invertebrate?

Before this is over, we're going to find out that SpongeBob is the illicit spawn of the Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge. Who knew SpongeBob would become as fraught as the cover of "Abbey Road"?

It took Dr. James Dobson, the conservative Christian leader and gay marriage opponent, who claims the president's re-election was more a mandate for his ideas than George Bush's, to point out the insidious underside of the popular cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. It takes a sponge to brainwash a child.

Holy Abe! Dr. Dobson outed SpongeBob at a black-tie inaugural fete last week for members of Congress and political allies. He said that a "pro-homosexual video" - starring SpongeBob, Barney, Jimmy Neutron, Winnie the Pooh, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy - was set to go to elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge," including tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

Hoppin' clams, as they say in Bikini Bottom, the den of epicene iniquity where SpongeBob lives. Nothing good can come of tolerance.

Dan Martinsen, a spokesman for Nickelodeon, where SpongeBob beats the pants off the competition, was flummoxed: "It's a sponge, for crying out loud. He has no sexuality."

Dr. Dobson has done the country a service by reminding us to watch out for the dark side of lovable but malleable sponges. He inspired me to fish through the president's Inaugural Address with a more skeptical eye.

Mr. Bush's epic pledge to support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and to end "tyranny in our world" may seem wildly pie-in-the-sky, given that the Iraq vortex has drained our military.

Although his incendiary speech about "the untamed fire of freedom" has been widely interpreted as a code-red warning to both foes and friends, I wonder if the president knew he was literally promising to stamp out undemocratic governments across the globe, which would include some of our top allies. He probably thought it was a fancier way of repackaging the Iraq invasion, not as a failed search for W.M.D., but as a blow for freedom (a word used 27 times) and liberty (used 15 times).

I wonder if W. is surprised that people took it literally. The Bushes don't always understand that they're being held to their rhetoric in major speeches. (Read my warships.) For such a brass-knuckled vision, the president's delivery was curiously unemotional.

Some of the same advisers who filled Mr. Bush's brain with sugary visions of a quick and painless Iraq makeover did mean the speech to be literal; they are drawing up military options for the rest of the Middle East. Once again, the lovable and malleable president seems to be soaking up the martial mind-set of those around him, almost like ... a sponge.

SpongeBush SquarePants!

We can only hope that Dr. Dobson doesn't pick up on the resemblance. SpongeBob, as his song goes, "lives in a pineapple under the sea/absorbent and yellow and porous is he!" SpongeBush lives in a bubble in D.C./absorbent and shallow and porous is he!

SpongeBush ensnared the country in a whale of a mess in Iraq because he guilelessly absorbed the neocons' dire warnings about Saddam's weapons capabilities and their rosy assumptions about Ahmad Chalabi's leadership capabilities.

Dick Cheney is a gruff Mr. Krabs taskmaster to SpongeBush, but SpongeBush is crazy about him anyhow. W. trustingly let his vice president make the worst-case scenario about Iraq a first-case scenario.

Mr. Bush might have thought he was just blowing pretty bubbles full of lofty ideals about freedom and liberty in his speech, but Mr. Cheney and the neocons seem intent on filleting Iran and Syria. (Doesn't Richard Perle remind you of the snarky and pretentious next-door neighbor to SpongeBob, Squidward Tentacles?)

The vice president told Don Imus that Iran was "right at the top of the list" of trouble spots, and that Israel "might well decide to act first" with a military strike.

Even if he's a little light in the flippers, SpongeBob has brought children good, clean fun. SpongeBush has brought the world dark, endless fights.