LOOKING FOR LA DOLCE VITA Rome did not burn as it did when Nero fiddled, however, as George, The Warrior King visited, hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of the Eternal City protested. Things got ugly when tear gas was used by police to control the angry crowds. Vatican reporters revealed His Holiness gave Dubya a tongue lashing concerning the war in Iraq. As Bush cynically courted the American Catholic vote by placing wreaths on tombs of soldiers and presenting Freedom medals, the Pontiff gave him a piece of his mind. Italians do not understand Bush or why he has turned everything upside down, but they are great at understanding cinema and when it comes to political theater, they know the U.S. is certainly not giving the world a Cinema Paradiso. Metaphorically, there is always a national political movie being shown and produced by America. The country was subjected to a veritable Peyton Place during the Clinton years. It was directed by Ken Starr and others in Washington who specialized in finding big, blowsy stories featuring their favorite subject, extramarital sex. Henry Hyde and Newt Gingrich were especially adept in their production skills due to personal experiences with the subject matter. The television media did its part by becoming the official cinematographers. Revelations of affairs, stained clothes, tearful confessions, and reruns of ÒThe HugÓ created huge audiences. The family rooms of America were filled nightly with pious rants by Republican House and Senate members. The bloated sermons by the self righteous were captivating. Americans were told that lying to cover up an adulterous affair was so sinful, so horrifying, so immoral, and so unlawful, it would be the end of the world if the President was not impeached and immediately removed from office. Talk about high melodrama. The world was amused. Like all soap opera, it was a harmless, gauzy, guilty pleasure for spectators. But life went on. Jobs were so plentiful, businesses were crying for help. Gas prices were so cheap, people were filling up and driving anywhere and everywhere. The word ÒwarÓ was never mentioned. America was at peace . America was prosperous. Those were the days of the young, the restless and the past. The nation is now engaged in producing, as well as watching, a surreal horror flick that is a political version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Stories of car bombings, friendly fire, and humvee crashes fill daily news accounts. Weeping parents and children of the men and women killed in Iraq have become the national cinema. We no longer hear about secret sexual affairs of the extramarital kind. Instead, we have celluloid accounts of naked Iraqi prisoners being hooded, leashed, and put into human pyramids by laughing American soldiers. Life has become a living hell for most of Iraq and much of the Middle East. Grizzly special effects keep on appearing while Bush and his cast of characters repeatedly tell us that things are getting better. As with all horror movies, the world is watching with one eye open while wishing for it to be over, yet wanting to know how it will end. These are the days of the dark, the scary, and the present. And life goes on. Layoffs, downsizing, and offshoring have brought a malaise to the new unemployed. Gas prices are so high, many families will cancel vacation plans this year. War seems to be a new national obsession. No doubt, summer will bring us some mindless cinematic political fun in the form of the Democratic and Republican conventions, however, by November, voters may decide the bete noir of war, with all its costs, and with all its blood, death, and destruction, should replaced by something happier and more inspiring. Perhaps the country will be ready for peace, prosperity and a return of La Dolce Vita.

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