Thursday, March 22, 2007

Party of God

The Attorney General, we've heard at least four hundred times, serves at the pleasure of the President. If Alberto Gonzales is still pleasuring Bush, why are White House courtiers floating the idea of Theodore Olson as AG? Of course, if a certain blood clot turns out to be the world's tiniest patriot, Olson could end up as Vice President. No, that wouldn't work. Bush needs another Number Two so loathsome, no one will even think of impeachment. Ann Coulter? Maybe not that loathsome. Antonin Scalia? Too valuable where he is. Rush Limbaugh? One rehab too many. Rudolph Giuliani? One wife too many. Ah! I know.

Fred Phelps.

The Reverend Fred is the leader of the guerrilla comedy troupe known as Phelps (they all take the name, it's like the Ramones), or more formally, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Phelps burst on the scene in the 1980s by turning up at the funerals of men who had died of AIDS with placards that said GOD HATES FAGS. Without much money or even a radio show, they thus established themselves as pets of the Christian right. It was just loopy enough to be plausible during the Morning in America years, and mainstream America took them seriously.

A few years ago Phelps kicked it up a notch by starting to attend the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. This time, the message was that GOD HATES PEOPLE WHO DIE FOR A COUNTRY WHICH TOLERATES, HOWEVER RELUCTANTLY, FAGS. It didn't quite fit on a bumper sticker, but it succeeded in enraging mourners, who chased the troupe across cemeteries. It also moved several states to pass hasty and ill-conceived laws barring the comedians from approaching the grave sites, carrying placards or praying -- in other words, abridging at least three of their First Amendment rights. This brought the ACLU on board, just for shits and giggles. (Phelps is prepared to undermine any group which lacks a sense of humor -- it's why I love them.) The dimensions of the Phelps project began to be clear, as we watched Support Our Troops slam head-on into That Old-Time Homo Hatin', like a couple of eighteen-wheelers festooned with yellow ribbons and Confederate flags. We were in the presence of genius.

Put simply, Fred Phelps is the greatest outlaw comic since Bill Hicks of blessed memory, with the added advantage that millions of people believe he really is the character he portrays: an inbred, pellagra-raddled hate-preacher from the state that considers evolution "jest a theory" and Sam Brownback an impressive politician. I can barely contain myself as I think about the mischief he could work from deep inside the Vice Presidential bunker.

If that blood clot would only cooperate.


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