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Presidential Poetry

Liberal Art

By Peter P.M. Buttigieg

“If more politicians knew poetry and more poets knew politics,” said John F. Kennedy ’40, “I am convinced that the world would be a better place in which to live.” In fact, poetry and politics have had a longstanding relationship. Recently, the relationship is tense, as in last winter’s flap over a White House poetry symposium cancelled because Laura Bush, upset by antiwar poets, decided she “did not believe poetry should be used for political purposes.” Indeed, the Bushes put an end to the budding tradition of having a poet read at inauguration and seem temperamentally to be at odds with many in the creative world.

So you can imagine my surprise at learning that President Bush had penned his own poem, addressed to his wife on the occasion of her trip to France. Beginning “Roses are red/ Violets are blue/ Oh my lump in the bed/ How I’ve missed you,” it lacks some of the subtlety of other presidents’ playful poems—one is reminded of John Quincy Adams’ (Class of 1787) translations of Horace (“What though he plough the billowy deep/ By lunar light, or solar./ Meet the resistless Simoon’s sweep,/ Or iceberg circumpolar.”)—still, it is good to know that our president has some poetry in him. Making the assumption that, like most of his output, the president’s poetry is overseen by a “team” of dedicated staff, I have applied to work on his poetry team. I’m submitting a sample poem called “Straight Talk.” It’s a little bold, but I think it captures the president’s greatest strengths, like straightforwardness, self-assurance, and the capacity to enrage frustrated and impotent Democrats. The White House hasn’t gotten back to me, but The Crimson, being obliged to publish what I write every two weeks, has agreed to print these lines:

Straight Talk:

You thought I was a Texan; now

I cannot tell a lie,

My tax cuts plainly show that I’m

No ordinary guy;

The Blue Blood’s in me through and through

And not just ’cause of Yale;

It’s Kennebunkport, Harvard—

Andover, now there’s my tale.

You thought I was a centrist, well,

That’s your fault, not my own:

You should have realized it when

I turned up at Bob Jones.

You thought I was a moderate

You took it line and sinker

You never figured me for this

Reactionary thinker.

“Reformer with results” I said,

and you all took the bait;

“Compassionate Conservative”

I cried at each debate.

Well, think again, since now you know

The shade of my true colors;

You know that I ignore the Tenets,

Powells and even Muellers.

Instead I heed the dicta of

The most extremist Right.

I kept them quiet in the race

But now I fight their fight.

Like Grover Norquist who declared

Bipartisanship “rape,”

Or Cheney’s buds from petrol firms

(What meeting? There’s no tape!)

Oh I’m no mod’rate, no sirree,

I’m nowhere near my Dad;

I’m not repeating forty-one

Baghdad or no Baghdad.

If anything it’s Reagan whom

I really hope to be;

I like his style, that’s why I went

Play-acting on the sea.

I say all this to let you in

To my terrific secret:

You’re wrong about the White House

If you think I’ve got to keep it.

The thing is…you can have the place

The House and Senate too;

My work is not the sort of thing

You simply could undo.

It’s nearly done! The bulk of it’s

Already been achieved;

The deficits are here to stay,

I don’t want them relieved.

The beauty of the deficit’s

It forces you to choose;

And makes you give up programs, when

You’d otherwise refuse.

Some years from now the president,

Whoever he may be,

Will say we can afford no more

(It’s all because of me!)

As Grover put it, “starve the beast”

And government will drown.

The people hate a tax hike, so they’ll

Just bring welfare down.

Soon public education, too,

Will be upon the block.

Soon ev’ry sacred public trust

We’ll simply have to dock.

It wasn’t easy, wasn’t quick

To do what I have done;

It really was a splendid trick

To win what I have won.

If not for nine-eleven, or

Fox News and all our friends,

I don’t know how we could’ve found

The means to meet our ends.

The going was quite tough, you know,

We almost didn’t make it.

The credit goes to Karl’s election

Method: lose, then take it!

But please don’t think that I’ve no heart

Because I fled the middle;

Just ’cause we slash and Baghdad burns

And I’m content to fiddle.

I beg you, please don’t think me cold,

Vindictive, mean, or vile;

In fact my heart of blue blood bleeds

For those across the aisle.

In fact I’m not so power-crazed

As you and yours might think;

I’m not intoxicated with

The power that I drink.

Of course I’d like to stick around

To finish up the job;

There’s ground to gain, and money too

For Halliburton’s mob.

But please, make no mistake here, no


Reversing four years of my rule

Would take a generation.

Though Karl ensures I’ll keep my job

With landing, leak, or lie;

Poor Democrats; you realize

You need it more than I.

Peter P.M. Buttigieg ’04 is a history and literature concentrator in Leverett House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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