This is, I must begrudgingly admit, not a great town for hydrocodone. At least, not from where I’m sitting. Which is currently in the back of a taxicab (driven by a resentful Turk, silent as the Teskilat-i Mahsusa) wheeling at reckless speeds through the taxpayer-funded parks of Washington Northwest. The dangerous urban velocity, the jogging lobbyists, the metropolitan greenery – so tempting as a dumping ground for talkative interns – it’s all conducive to a heightened sense of paranoia. Which is my natural state; the last time I was in the capitol, just a month after 9/11, I was walking on glass, set off by every bad look, assuming that everywhere I tread there was the red dot of a laser sight accompanying the back of my head. That’s the way I like it, baby; I don’t want to live forever. But the artificial narcotic calm that comes from my new white chalky pals in the plastic bottle is upsetting: here I am in the lights of Leviathan, his terrible teeth all ‘round about, attempting to open the doors of his face, and all I can think is “I wonder if it’s too late to get room service?”
Indeed, I’m beginning to understand the appeal of prescription drugs for the denizens of this town. Government largesse is strewn everywhere, on the very skyline (paid for, as the license plates remind me, by taxation without representation), but no one comes here to crusade, no one stands up and thanks their bloody luck that they live in a country rich without precedent and capable of shaping such a city. Misbegotten Mark Antonys without number flock here to claim that they come not to praise Government, but to bury it: but they’re really just here to game the system, to play a big session of Nomic that will result not in the drying up of Washington’s revenue stream, but only the redirecting of it into the right pockets. It’s not really a question of starving the beast; it’s a question of starving the people who might just happen to need the beast. The right drugs can help you pretend that it’s all just larks, with no consequences to the people driving your cab or bringing you your dry cleaning.
Lesson learned: when I arrive at the hotel, two Young Americans for Freedom are trying to check in using a credit card not belonging to them. Rules, of course, are for poor people, and they seem to think that if they berate the poor West African guy working the front desk, they’ll get what they want eventually. They may be wrong, but God damn it, no late-shift immigrant is going to tell them that. Modern Washington, the Washington of Bush and CPAC, was built to keep people like him from telling people like them what to do. I breeze in past them, a solid citizen with my own plastic, and take my place on the fifth floor just in time to replenish the opioids in my system: the flight in took me right over the Pentagon, and every time I fly that route, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s the last thing a bunch of people ever saw. It rattles me, rattles me like I was a Cameroonian hotel management student getting berated by some short-con trust fund kids. Things are already going badly and I haven’t even set foot in a CPAC event: it’s far too early to be wondering “what in God’s name am I doing here?”. Steady on, man: think of your colleagues at the American Milk Solids Council, who are counting on you to rub the right elbows and ensure that we can sell baby formula to Botswana without some meddlesome paper-peddler going on and on about necrotizing enterocolitis.
What I am doing here is to separate bad from worse. The convention will be attended, largely, by two groups of people: the mainline Republican rump who think George W. Bush was, and is, doing a Brownian heck of a job, and the radical right who think that the problem with Jolly George is that he’s not heartlessly conservative enough (whether socially or economically is a matter for a whole ‘nother fistfight). To put it another way, here we have the people who look at the wreckage of the American 2000s and pronounce it a wonderful thing, and the people who look at it and say “Yeah, it’s pretty awful, but if we tried, we could make it a whole lot worse”.
Meanwhile, China quietly rounds up dissidents in preparation for the spectacle of the Olympics. Someday they may show up and collect for all those wonderful, worthless weapons that allowed us to humble their Russian neighbors, but like every other bill the Republicans rack up, that’s for someone else to worry about. In the elevator up to my floor, two men in golf hats (golf hats? At 8PM?) talk about how high taxes will make people leave the country and stop producing if Hillary gets into office. (They’re apparently laboring under the misapprehension that Americans still produce things.) This is a real threat in the world of CPAC, while things like massive health care shortages, an increasingly ill-educated population, dependence on dwindling natural resources, and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor are the stuff of fairy tales.
I’ve arrived too late for the pre-CPAC Diamond Reception and too early for the expensive hookers to start roaming the halls. The soda machine costs a buck and a quarter for a can, so I decide to just wait for the boy to bring my bottle of gin. Then, before the pills kick in, a moment of imperialist panic: What if there is no boy? What if there is no gin?