Bike-Deep in the Big Muddy

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

August 28, 2005

WASHINGTON

W. has jumped the couch.

Not fallen off the couch, as he did when he choked on that pretzel.

Jumped it.

According to UrbanDictionary.com, "jump the couch" has now become slang for "a defining moment when you know someone has gone off the deep end. Inspired by Tom Cruise's recent behavior on 'Oprah.' Also see 'jump the shark.' "

The former stateside National Guardsman who was sometimes M.I.A. jumped the shark by landing on that "Mission Accomplished" carrier. (With Tom Cruise cockiness.)

Then, as president, he jumped the couch by pedaling through the guns of August - the growing carnage and chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He did do a few minutes of work this month, calling a Shiite leader in Baghdad a few days ago to lobby him to reach a consensus with the Sunnis, so Iraq doesn't crack apart. But the Shiites and Kurds ignored the president and skewered the Sunnis.

Iraq, it turns out, is the one branch of American government that the Republicans don't control.

W. had a barbecue for the press on Thursday night. (If only the press had grilled him instead.) He mingled over catfish and potato salad with the reporters, who had to ride past Cindy Sheehan's antiwar encampment to get to the poolside party.

Dan Froomkin wrote on the Washington Post Web site that many of the reporters "fawned over Bush, following him around in packs every time he moved." W. chatted about sports and the twins, still oblivious to the cultural shift that is turning 2005 into 1968.

As the news correspondent Dan Harris noted on ABC on Wednesday, the mood is much different now from what it was when the Dixie Chicks got pilloried for criticizing the president just before the war began.

The No. 1 music video requested on MTV is Green Day's antiwar song, "Wake Me Up When September Ends," about the pain of soldiers and their families. On Sunday, Joan Baez sang peace anthems at Camp Casey, including "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" The N.F.L. did not cancel its sponsorship of the Rolling Stones tour, even though the band has a new song critical of Mr. Bush and the war.

Gary Hart began his Washington Post op-ed piece this week by quoting from an anti-Vietnam War song, "Waist-deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool said to push on."

The former campaign manager for George McGovern's antiwar campaign in 1972 wrote: "We've stumbled into a hornet's nest. We've weakened ourselves at home and in the world. We are less secure today than before this war began. Who now has the courage to say this?"

Anxiety is growing among politicians on both sides of the aisle. More and more Americans don't want to stay-the-course on stay-the-course.

You'd think that by now, watching the meshugas in Iraq, the Bush crowd would have learned some lessons about twisting facts to suit ideology, and punishing those who try to tell the truth. But they're still behaving like Cinderella's evil stepsisters, who cut their feet to fit them into the glass slipper: butchering reality to make the fairy tale come out their way.

Eric Lichtblau reported in The Times this week that the administration was dumping the highly respected Lawrence Greenfeld, appointed by President Bush in 2001 to head the Bureau of Justice Statistics, because he refused superiors' orders to delete from a press release an account of how black and Hispanic drivers were treated more aggressively by the police after traffic stops. The Justice Department study showed markedly higher rates of searches and use of force for black and Hispanic drivers, compared with white drivers.

Fearing that the survey would give ammunition to members of Congress who object to using racial and ethnic data in terrorism and law enforcement investigations, Mr. Greenfeld's supervisors buried it online with no press release or briefing for Congress.

Mr. Lichtblau wrote that when Mr. Greenfeld sent the planned press release to the office of his supervisor, Tracy Henke, then an acting assistant attorney general, the section on the treatment of black and Hispanic drivers was crossed out with a notation: "Do we need this?" Ms. Henke herself had added a note: "Make the changes."

Like Condi Rice, Stephen Hadley, John Bolton and others who helped spin reality to suit political ends, Ms. Henke was rewarded by the president. She has been nominated for a senior post in the Homeland Security Department.

I feel safer already.

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com