The likeness of George W. Bush is attempting to cross a tightrope labeled “Vice Presidential Candidate Selection Process.” Bush, who’s labeled “Bush” down his right arm and “W” down his left, with “George” neatly stitched to his back, is dressed as a circus performer, in one-piece, Wallenda-ish tights. The air above Bush’s head is labeled “Circus-like Atmosphere.”
On the ground, several busy assistants, identified as “GOP,” “Party Faithful,” and “College Republicans” by words intaglioed in the sawdust, train spotlights labeled “Public Attention,” “Free Air Time,” and “Tonight’s Top Story” on Bush as he executes his walk. Inches behind Bush, perched on a spindly wooden stand, are men in identical suits, ties, and shirts. They are his advisers, labeled as such on lapels, sleeves, or cuffs of pairs of pants. Two of them aim megaphones at Bush’s nearest ear. One megaphone is labeled “Latest Overnight Poll Results as Expressed in a Percentage.” The other is labeled “What We’ve Been Hearing, Constituency-wise.” Various musical notes together form a song titled “Now a Few Words of Advice, Wisdom, and Caution,” that pours forth in the candidate’s direction.
Uncle Sam acts as the ringleader. This emcee gig is a side project for him, one of a small handful of personal appearances he accepts. Wearing Uncle Sam’s costume is Dick Cheney, who sports a sticker on his topcoat, explaining: “Hello, My Name Is… Dick Cheney.”
In front of Bush, on another spindly wooden stand, is a representation of the city of Philadelphia, with its orderly squares, South Street, and that wide set of marble steps leading to the Museum of Art. A tiny banner above the city proclaims, “Republican Convention in Philadelphia.” The two sticks holding the flapping banner aloft are carved with the words, “Super Delegates” and “Volunteers are Super Also.”
Beyond Philadelphia, another, steeper tightrope begins and recedes into the haze of that circus-like atmosphere. This second tightrope, labeled along its length “Big Election 2000 in Putatively Energized Post-Convention Mode,” approaches a tiny white house labeled “The White House.”
Bush meanwhile has a real balancing act on his hands. Out in front of him he holds a long pole (a manufacturer’s sticker warns, “Widely Acknowledged Criteria for the Selection of One’s VP”). Tied to the nearest end of the pole is an anvil labeled “Gravitas.” Tied to the other end is a two-pan scale labeled “Loyalty, with a Soupçon of Justice and Fairness for Good Measure.” Tied to the third end is a skull, whose teeth are covered with gold caps, each engraved with a letter detailing this message: “Most important, bear in mind that the ideal vice presidential candidate should do you no harm. Good night. God bless.” The pole describes a tremendous frown in the air.
The presidential candidate’s vice-presidential candidates are seated in chairs (collectively labeled “Places on the Purported Short List”) balanced on poles (“Being Raised to National Prominence”) and held steady by more “Party Faithful.” Bush lifts a prospective, carries that individual on his back, as a test-drive, to see how the likeness of Bush and the likeness of the prospective work together, all while remaining balanced, and then gently eases that person back into the chair.
A machine of many components, bristling with dials, buttons, and LED read-outs, does its inscrutable machine thing. This is “The Political Machine,” as can be plainly read on the stainless steel plaque riveted to its body. People carrying pieces of wood under their arms have surrounded The Political Machine. The pieces of wood look to be twelve inches wide by one inch thick by ten feet long. Stapled to the ends of the lumber are tags: “For Use in Constructing Political Platform.” The people carrying the wood represent "Special Interest Groups, as the 288-point white lettering on their black briefcases clearly read.
Lady Liberty and the bald eagle are on a date. Lady Liberty acts like she wants to be anywhere else. The bald eagle has issues.
A wooden sign hammered into the ground marks a puddle of mud: “For Campaign Purposes.” A barrel the size of a Winnebago spills something called “National resources” into the arena. Uncle Sam/Dick Cheney hot-foots it to higher ground, maintaining his patter. Members of the media, denoted the old-fashioned way by cards stuck into hatbands reading “Press,” huddle in the grandstand under a wide umbrella stenciled with a floral design: “At least we have plausible objectivity, right?” Some journalists brandish magnifying glasses (“Media Scrutiny”) and binoculars (“No Privacy for Public Figures”).
Workers in jumpsuits identified by “Texas Prison Commission” patches remove bodies from a lethal-injection gurney and load skeletons into coffins. Previously filled coffins are lowered into the ground. Their graves, marked by plain stones, are endangered by that flood of national resources, symbolizing both the wide-ranging systematic cover-up abetted by the misallocation of resources and the importance of respecting the dead.
Protesters against the death penalty aim arrows, labeled with ingenious rhymes incorporating the words “Bush” and “Death,” along with expletives indicated by keyboard symbols—"#*%$(&!"—and assail the candidate. At certain moments the protesters’ arrows fill the air, as if there’s less air than arrow, and Bush looks sure to be toppled, or distracted, a possibility represented by beads of sweat flying off his brow. The sweat is concisely labeled “Anxiety About Getting ‘Off-Message.’”
In the foreground, at the bottom of the cartoon, the grandstand is shown to shelter two tiny indeterminate bugs, both cute and resplendent in Homburgs and white gloves. “Look at him go!” the more gullible bug says of the likeness of Bush. The second bug looks askance at his gullible friend, who by now is clapping or staring wide-eyed or doing something to indicate even more clearly its stupidity. “Everybody loves the circus,” notes the second bug—deeply ironically, as is evidenced by the way it squints its bug eyes and raises one bug eyebrow.
Up above, in the sky, suspended over the crickets, the crowd, and the political machine, above Uncle Sam/Dick Cheney and the advisers, above the hailstorm of arrows and Bush, who teeters then totters but regains his balance, above the top of the tent even: a five-fingered fist of ham threatens to squash them all where they stand.