Vonnegut envies Twain's wit and Lincoln's tongue

Included in a Clemens Lecture presented in April for the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, by Kurt Vonnegut:

What other American landmark is as sacred to me as the Mark Twain House? The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln were country boys from Middle America, and both of them made the American people laugh at themselves and appreciate really important, really moral jokes.

I note that construction has stopped of a Mark Twain Museum here in Hartford —behind the carriage house of the Mark Twain House at 351 Farmington Avenue. Work persons have been sent home from that site because American "conservatives," as they call themselves, on Wall Street and at the head of so many of our corporations, have stolen a major fraction of our private savings, have ruined investors and employees by means of fraud and outright piracy.

Shock and awe.

And now, having installed themselves as our federal government, or taken control of it from outside, they have squandered our public treasury and then some. They have created a public debt of such appalling magnitude that our descendants, for whom we had such high hopes, will come into this world as poor as church mice.

Shock and awe.

What are the conservatives doing with all the money and power that used to belong to all of us? They are telling us to be absolutely terrified, and to run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off. But they will save us. They are making us take off our shoes at airports. Can anybody here think of a more hilarious practical joke than that one?

Smile, America. You’re on Candid Camera.

And they have turned loose a myriad of our high-tech weapons, each one costing more than a hundred high schools, on a Third World country, in order to shock and awe human beings like us, like Adam and Eve, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

. . . .

What has happened to us? We have suffered a technological calamity. Television is now our form of government [my italics].

Further mocking our current regime in Washington, Vonnegut recalls the man who became the first president of a Republican Party which would reject him today. The words of Congressman Abraham Lincoln, describing President Polk's 1848 War on Mexico:
"Trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood —that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy, he plunged into war."
Vonnegut jumps up:
Holy smokes! I almost said, "Holy shit!" And I thought I was a writer!

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Published on May 15, 2003 1:55 AM.

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