Years ago this editor laid out the blueprint for a zine that was going to be entitled "Untimely Death." Then the Internet destroyed the zine scene. It took this editor almost a decade to adjust to the technological changes. In that time, a lot of people he had selected for ficticious death had died in real life. Times had changed. "Untimely Death" closed after one night. But it is still fun to reminisce.
Eulogies for William Bennett
"In 1980 Ronald Reagan ran a presidential campaign against the very essence of William Bennett," gurgled Apparatchik Union Chief Donna Shalala, gallantly choking back the tears. "By 1990 America had become William Bennett."
A moist-eyed National Association of Bureaucrats President Bob Bunyon followed Shalala to the makeshift podium hastily constructed in the churchyard of the standing room only Our Lady of Duplicate Forms Church. "William Bennett served as director of The National Endowment for the Humanities, a position he later admitted to be superfluous and called for its elimination. William Bennett served as director of the Department of Education; a position he later admitted was superfluous and called for its elimination. William Bennett served as this country's first drug czar, a position the intellectual wing of his own party admitted to be superfluous and called for its elimination. More than anyone else…" he paused to compose himself. "More than anyone else, William Bennett made obsolescence respectable."
With that praise Bob Bunyon lead his fellow bureaucrats in the highest honor they can bestow upon their peers, the 21-minute snooze. Throughout the Beltway, a sonorous droning filled the air. And long after the 21 minutes had expired, the collective snooze continued for the beloved comrade and it would continue for the duration of the workday. "We really loved this man," Barry McCaffrey explained. "And we had to show our love the only way we know how."
Such was this city's fondness for William Bennett. The endless parroting of a "bureaucrat's bureaucrat", an "opportunist's opportunist", an "apparatchik's apparatchik", understated Washington and America's unbridled affection for the self-titled King of All Virtue.
"He should be the patron saint of sinecures," a damp-eyed Joseph Califano pronounced.
"The patron saint of blather!" Bob Dornan chimed in.
"The patron saint of apparatchiks" Shalala screamed.
"The patron saint of opportunists" C. Everett Koop declared as he cranked away on his butter churn, offering fresh butter to the mourners. Koop is often compared to Bennett for his similar style of grandstanding that transformed him from public servant to celebrity.
Nearby, Doctor Laura Schlessinger having failed to gain access to the church due to the colossal herds of Virtue Keepers desperately crowding the already packed church composed her own mournful praise. "If there hadn't been a drug-addicted drug czar," she said between sniffles, "There could never have been a leg-spreading prude."
Figurehead Guild spokesman Gloria Steinem, who had earlier been trampled by the disorderly mob of Virtue Keepers, composed herself to deliver her own mournful praise. "No one, in the glorious history of our guild, has done more to advance the lot of figureheads than William Bennett…Using his Virtue persona he successfully muscled into boardrooms and onto lecterns. He has permanently elevated the wages and perquisites of figureheads the world over."
Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh was more effusive in his praise. "More than making obsolescence respectable, he made failure respectful. His term at NEH failed to produce a memorable piece of art. At the Department of Education he oversaw some of the lowest test scores in this nation's history. The position of Drug Czar has become a living monument to futility. He was part of an administration that ushered in the second worst depression of the twentieth century. As a Republican insider he engineered the strategy that allowed a war-winning incumbent president to go down to defeat at the hands of a political nobody. And throughout it all, Benny always collected bigger and bigger checks. No one has failed his way to success like Benny has."
From around the globe the public relations industry sent representatives to observe firsthand the final act of a well-observed career. "We had Benny under the microscope. Yessiree." Stated an anonymous public relations bigwig. "What interested us was not his nicotine patch or his 11AM gin or his dubious virtue or the absence of any discernible work performed while holding a myriad of positions. What interested us was how he was able to use the mainstream media to perform his public relations work for him."
This notion was confirmed by the bevy of (nearby) network executives and producers. Don Hewitt summarized the unanimity. "Yeah it took Doonesbury to expose his nicotine patches and "High Times" to expose his morning gin. We backed off because Benny was our baby.
NBC stalwart Susan Farkas echoed the familiar chords of Bennettmania. "There were three media pets: Ralph Nader, Mario Cuomo and William Bennett. Nader was the yappy poodle, Cuomo the highly trained circus animal and Benny the drooling Saint Bernard. Benny would slobber all over you and make you love it."
But the love-in would not continue forever as factions of Bennett admirers soon clashed over his legacy and the solemn event turned ugly.
The Bennett Legacy
The solemn mood in the churchyard soon grew contentious. Would William Bennett be remembered as an empty vessel? An opportunist par excellence? One of the biggest hypocrites of his era? The mourners soon assembled themselves into three camps: the vapidists, the opportunists and the hypocricists.
The hypocritists were a house divided. Pat Robertson headed up the largest contingent, a group who wanted Bennett to be remembered for the blatant mockery of Christian ethics that was the Bennett-supported drug policies. A group devoted to the Bennett contribution to fiscally conservative hypocrisy championed by Fred Barnes and Emmett Tyrell mingled nearby. A seminal piece in the April 1990 "American Spectator" celebrating tax and spend conservatism as exemplified by William Bennett would serve as an enduring apology for Republican policy for years to come.
While Barnes and Tyrell tried to unite with the small government hypocrites-a diminutive but no less vocal group devoted to the memory of William Bennett as a preacher of small government but a lifelong beneficiary of pork barrel Republicanism-they were flanked by the constitutionalists, a tight knit group of legal scholars spearheaded by Robert Bork They were given to quoting Scripture and legal decisions and were especially enamored with Bennett's contributions to eliminate the 4th, 5th and 8th Amendments.
While the hypocricists mingled with their own kind, the opportunists and vapidists actively lobbied the undecided. "We weren't entirely opposed to his legacy of vapidity" former Reagan staffer and Attorney General Edwin Meese gently explained. "Whereas we acknowledge that William Bennett renounced the very premise of most of his government posts, and that this does indeed show evidence of hypocrisy, the bigger story is that he used each position to leapfrog to a higher paying position."
Annoyed by the suggestion that Bennett was all about paychecks, the hypocricists prodded the opportunists. "How about the DC grandmother who lost her house because her grandson made a drug deal with her phone?" Robert Bork intoned.
"How about the innocent family members summarily indicted on drug conspiracy charges to flush gang members out of hiding?" Emmett Tyrell weaseled.
"How about the five-fold rate at which blacks are arrested on drug charges?" George Will intoned. "Are we going to call Goebbels an opportunist too?"
A ruffled Donna Shalala shouted back at her opposition "What about NEH?"
"What about the Department of Education?" a flustered Joseph Califano shouted.
"What about the Drug Czar gig?" an angry Barry McCaffrey roared.
"The Empower America plum!" Oliver North bellowed.
"The Partnership for a Drug Free America plum!" Mario Cuomo intoned ever so precisely as the less familiar members of the crowd reminded the hypocricists of Bennett's Virtue seminars and imbecilic books.
As the opportunists defended their hero the procession somberly filed out of the church. Soon the bureaucratic snoring overwhelmed the speakers' voices and an infectious slumber filled the churchyard. Not even journalists were spared the epidemic of slumber, this reporter included.
It is unclear how much time passed but this reporter was snapped from his own snoozing by a rowdy mob chanting "Vapid! Vapid! Vapid!" at the tops of their lungs. Nearby a vapidist implored a network executive to never assign any substance to William Bennett. The executive assured the vapidists that he could not do so even if he wanted to.
The unruly mob waved placards of cumulus clouds-the vapidists have proposed that the William Bennett Memorial take the shape of a white, puffy, cloud-at Pat Robertson who had somehow spearheaded the hypocricist coalition. Robertson bravely held his ground until push turned to shove and he was gently lifted back to his feet by his sycophants.
Those who know Pat Robertson know of his habit of wearing lead-lined neckties. Robertson removed his tie in a jiffy and it was transformed into a silk-covered blackjack. Robertson's flailing bludgeon served as his jawbone of an ass, with the vapidists falling like so many Philistines. He carved a path through a wall of humanity, parting vapidists not unlike Moses parting the Red Sea. Delivering his followers into a promised land that served as the Our Lady of Duplicate Forms parking lot, the chosen people sped away in a dust-spraying, rubber-burning motorcade hindered only by a few Vapidists who had thrown themselves under the wheels.
Order was restored to the churchyard as Joseph Califano tried to rally his fellow Opportunists. The Vapidists, despite the carnage inflicted upon them were about to seize the day. "Vapid. Vapid. Vapid." The chant surged in momentum. The Opportunists struggled to unify.
"We aren't entirely opposed to a legacy of vapidity," Tom Hayden pronounced with the aid of a bullhorn. "William Bennett was a truly vapid man." This comment was met with an approving cheer.
"But the Beltway is full of vapid, soulless, beings. What made Benny different was the manner in which he capitalized on his vapidity." Hoots and jeers and chants of "Vapid" started anew.
"Far from being a handicap, he utilized it to his own advantage" Hayden droned on. At this point the bullhorn-projected voice was drowned out by overwhelming chants of "Vapid! Vapid! Vapid!"
As the Vapidists unified in chant and fist-waving the Opportunists pleaded for unity. "Ich bin auch ein Vapidist" Joseph Califano shouted above the din. Other Opportunists were less harmonious and tried to organize counter-chants to compete with the Vapidists. But they were sadly lacking in slogan. Out of nowhere Yoko Ono blasted from speakers and they recognized one of their own. Soon the likes of William Sessions and Kenneth Starr and Donna Shalala and C. Everett Koop were cawing and cooing and purring in unison.
It would be more than the Vapidists could stand. Scuffling ensued. When it seemed a riot was about to erupt the volcanic snoring would reach a deafening pitch and would drown out Yoko's pathetic attempts at singing. Soon the Vapidists would join their comrades in slumber as bodies dropped to the churchyard and the powder keg had been defused. On the surface it would seem the Opportunists had seized the day. But the roaring slumber and the battered, bloodied carcasses lest in the Hypocricists' wake were reminder enough that William Bennett's legacy would be subject to revision.
How would William Bennett ultimately be remembered? A latter day Ponzi? The Babe Ruth of Blather? The Pharaoh of Floaters? The Duke of Drivel? Bennett was laid to rest but we can be assured that his hagiographers will never rest. As one teary-eyed mourner summarized, "More than anyone else, William Bennett embodied what America has become. We see in Bennett reflections of ourselves. He was the soul of America and America has lost her soul."
"Untimely Death" can be viewed in its entirety at the following link.
http://www.angelfire.com/zine2/untimely.death/index.htmlEulogies for William Bennett