A Heckuva Job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme

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Overview

Somehow, despite everything Calvin Trillin wrote about the Bush Administration in Obliviously On He Sails, his 2004 bestseller in verse, George W. Bush is still in the White House. Taking a philosophical view, Trillin has said, “We weren’t going to know whether you could bring down a presidency with iambic pentameter until somebody tried it.”

Now Trillin is trying again, back at his pithy and hilarious best to comment on the President’s decision to go to war in Iraq (“Then ...

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Heckuva Job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme

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Overview

Somehow, despite everything Calvin Trillin wrote about the Bush Administration in Obliviously On He Sails, his 2004 bestseller in verse, George W. Bush is still in the White House. Taking a philosophical view, Trillin has said, “We weren’t going to know whether you could bring down a presidency with iambic pentameter until somebody tried it.”

Now Trillin is trying again, back at his pithy and hilarious best to comment on the President’s decision to go to war in Iraq (“Then terrorists could count on what we’d do: / Attack us, we’ll strike back, though not at you”), his religiosity (“He treats his critics in the press / As if they’re yapping Pekineses. / Reporters deal in mundane facts; / This man has got the word from Jesus”), and whether he was wearing a transmitting device in the first presidential debate (“Could this explain his odd expressions? Is there proof he / Was being told, ‘If you can hear me now, look goofy’?”)

Trillin deals with the people around Bush, such as Nanny Dick Cheney and Mushroom Cloud Rice and Orange John Ashcroft and Orange John’s successor, Alberto Gonzales (“The A.G.’s to be one Alberto Gonzales– / Dependable, actually loyal über alles”). He tries to predict the behavior of the famously intemperate John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations in poems with titles like “Bolton Chases French Ambassador Up Tree” and “White House Says Bolton Can Do Job Even While in Straitjacket.”

Finally, in dealing with whether the entire Bush Administration, like the unfortunate Brownie, has done a heckuva job, he composes a small-government sea chantey for the Republicans:

’Cause government’s the problem, lads,
Americans would all do well to shun it.
Yes, government’s the problem, lads.
At least it is when we’re the ones who run it.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400065561
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/30/2006
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 1,043,742
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 7.25 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Calvin Trillin, who became The Nation’s “deadline poet” in 1990, has also written verse on the events of the day for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and National Public Radio. He says he believes in an inclusive political system that prohibits from public office only those whose names have awkward meter or are difficult to rhyme.

Biography

As a religion reporter, Calvin Trillin showed himself as something of a Doubting Thomas.

He was working for Time in the 1960s, and he didn't much like his assigned beat. So, he turned to one of the standard tricks of a good reporter: He hedged. "I finally got out of that by prefacing everything with 'alleged,' " he told Publishers Weekly. "I'd write about 'the alleged parting of the Red Sea,' even 'the alleged Crucifixion,' and eventually they let me go."

Fans of Trillin's writing -- his snapshots of ordinary U.S. life for The New Yorker, his political poetry in the Nation, his search for the ideal meal with his wife good-naturedly in tow -- will recognize his style in this early exercise in subversion. He is warm, gentle, and human, but there can be a dash of mischievousness for taste. Even the unwelcome sight of a brussels sprout at a buffet provoked his ire. Turning to his wife, he said, "The English have a lot to answer for."

Humorist Mark Russell took note in the pages of The New York Times in 1987: "Mark Twain, Robert Benchley and [S. J.] Perelman are dead, but Calvin Trillin is right there with the post-funeral cocktail to assure us that life goes on."

Born in Kansas City but transplanted to the West Village of New York City, Trillin has kept in touch with his midwestern roots for much of his writing. A collection of articles from The New Yorker on so-called ordinary murders from around the country became the book Killings, called by The Wall Street Journal "one of the most low-key, dispassionate, matter-of-fact books on murder ever produced."

In its review, the Los Angeles Times said: "He may be The New Yorker's finest stylist, and his writing is quite different from the careful accretion of detail that characterizes much of the magazine's writing. Trillin omits as much as he possibly can; he leaves spaces for resonating, like a guitar string stopped and kept mute to sound the overtone from the next string down."

In Travels with Alice he writes of looking for hamburgers on the Champs Elysées in Paris. Even in a classic New York story, Tepper Isn't Going Out, he writes not of theater or restaurants or even a rent-controlled apartment equidistant between Zabar's and Central Park. Instead he seeks out deeper pleasures: finding the perfect parking space, and holding onto it.

Humor is a Trillin trademark. He began writing a humor column for The Nation in the late 1970s called Uncivil Liberties that became two book collections. In 1980, The New York Times chuckled gratefully at his first novel, writing that "the antics around the nameless news magazine in...Floater are as funny as The Front Page and as absurd as playground pranks."

In 1990, he began treating Nation readers to a new column, a weekly spot of verse on the political hijinks of the day, pieces with names like "If You Knew What Sununu." This, too, became a book, The Deadline Poet: My Life as a Doggerelist. He even shares insights into the creative process: "A fool is fine. A pompous fool's sublime. / It also helps if they have names that rhyme."

Trillin's résumé has a sense of elasticity: journalist, novelist, humorist, satirist, poet. But there is a commonality to his work: It's approachable. And The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley points out that, for a journalist, this may be the toughest feat of all.

"Calvin Trillin is like an old shoe," he wrote in a 1998 review of Trillin's Family Man. "Whatever he may be writing about, he always makes you want to slip into it and get comfy. This may seem like a modest compliment, but it is a high one indeed. Few tricks are more difficult for the journalist to pull off than being consistently likable and engaging, making oneself and one's little world interesting and appealing to others."

Good To Know

Growing up in Kansas City, Calvin Marshall Trillin was known as Buddy.

The family name was originally Trilinsky.

He staged two one-man shows showcasing his humor in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Calvin Marshall Trillin (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 5, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Kansas City, Missouri
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University, 1957

Read an Excerpt

"Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job!" From the moment President George W. Bush uttered that phrase-- to Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency-- we knew that it would be attached to his presidency forever...

A qualified guy, I wish I had added.
Your resume's super, even if padded.
We wanted the best to lead FEMA's forces,
And who would know more than a man who knows horses?
You saw that the storm was more than some showers,
And sent off a memo in four or five hours.
You found out that life in the Dome was not Super--
And only a day after Anderson Cooper.
A heckuva job! You know how to lead'em.
We hope to award yo uthe Medal of Freedom.

--October 3. 2005

I CAN'T APPEAR WITHOUT MY NANNY DICK

(George W. Bush Explains the Interview Arrangements
He Has Made with the 9/11 Commission)

When called upon to testify,
I said I was a busy guy
So maybe we could do it on the phone.
They really want a face-to-face.
I said, OK, if that's the case,
I'm certainly not doing it alone.

I can't appear without my Nanny Dick.
For Nanny Dick I've got a serious jones.
I can't appear without my Nanny Dick.
I love the way he cocks his head and drones.

Cartoonists show me as a dummy,*
With voice by Cheney (or by Rummy).
I am the butt of every late-night satirist.
But I just can't go solitaire.

I need the help that's due an heir.
I need a dad, and Dad's a multilateralist.
I can't appear without my Nanny Dick.
He brings along a gravitas I lack.

I can't appear without my Nanny Dick--
The one who knows why we attacked Iraq.
Yes, Condi Rice is quite precise
With foreign policy advice

On who's Afghani and who's Pakistani.
I like to have her near in case
I just can't place some foreign face,
But Condoleezza Rice is not my nanny.

I can't appear without my Nanny Dick.
I wouldn't know which facts I should convey.
I can't appear without my Nanny Dick.
It's Nanny Dick who tells me what to say.

--April 26, 2004

The only time george w. bush seemed reluctant to talk about 9/11 was when he was asked to appear before the 9/11 Commission. Otherwise, he mentioned it constantly, usually just before mentioning the importance of taking our fight against terrorism to Iraq. Considering his attempt to make his case by what rhetoricians might call relentless juxtaposition, George W. Bush may someday be referred to by historians as the Great Conflater.

At the 9/11 hearings, the President's team seemed like unnaturally shy actors pulled onstage for a curtain call. Orange John Ashcroft was there, denying that in the pre-9/11 period he'd told the FBI that he didn't want to be bothered with any more reports about terrorism threats. Mushroom Cloud Rice appeared, insisting that there was no "silver bullet" that might have prevented the attack. She seemed reluctant to reveal the title of the daily intelligence briefing delivered to the President at his Crawford ranch one morning in August 2001, before the full day of brush cutting and mountain biking and general summer fun began. The title was, she finally acknowledged, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in the United States."

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