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No Joke: Bush And Company Right Out Of Oz

By James Donahue

Since he took office in 2001 cartoonists and satirists have enjoyed making fun of President George W. Bush and his scatterbrained cabinet by comparing them to the characters in the classic 1939 film Wizard of Oz.

What is strangely not-funny about the caricatures as they are depicted by the cartoonists, is that the resemblance is so strikingly similar one might wonder if there wasn't some kind of prophetic warning hidden within that old film.

Think of it. We have President George W. Bush as the brainless scarecrow, Vice President Dick Cheney as the heartless tin man, former Secretary of State Colin Powell as the cowardly lion (who couldn't stand up to Bush and stop the Iraq invasion), the current Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice as clueless Dorothy traveling along the world's yellow brick road, and Bush's brain, Karl Rove, as the wizard behind the curtain.

Of course we have Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who might be portrayed as the wicked witch of the east with all her "little Minchkin people," or the incapable band of congressmen under her watch. And we suggest that Barbara Bush might play the role of the Queen of the North who finds everything bright and fanciful when they really are not.

Then there is Dorothy's faithful dog, Toto, who might be played by the UK's Tony Blair. Or better yet, by Blair's own personal dog which looks remarkably like the dog Toto in the old film. Like Toto, Blair has remained Bush's faithful companion through thick and thin.

When you think about it, the whole band of players in and around Washington these days, is imitating the Wizard of Oz story to such a degree that we have to wonder if we aren't all living in some pre-arranged script, and that the universe isn't playing some kind of terrible joke on us all.

The film was based on a book by Lyman Frank Baum, published in 1900. That book was so popular it became the basis for a musical comedy, three movies and several plays.

The 1939 film, a musical in both black and white and technicolor, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr and Jack Haley as the three sidekicks on the yellow brick road, has remained the best of the productions.

In an excellent literary review of the story, Henry M. Littlefield notes that the Baum story, while directed to the amusement of children, portrayed the Populist movement of that era, which was laced with delusions, myths and foibles.

Littlefield noted that the story offers a "friendly Midwestern critique of the Populist rationale . . . Led by naive innocence and protected by good will, the farmer, the laborer and the politician approach the mystic holder of national power (the wizard) to ask for personal fulfillment. Their desires, as well as the wizard's cleverness in answering them, are all self-delusional. Each of these characters carries within him the solution to his own problem, were he only to view himself objectively."

He notes that the "fearsome wizard turns out to be nothing more than a common man, capable of shrewd but mundane answers to these self-induced needs. Like any good politician he gives the people what they want. Throughout the story Baum poses a central thought, the American desire for symbols of fulfillment is illusory. Real needs lie elsewhere."