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Turning Peter

A blame-America-firster discovers his inner patriot.

Mar 15, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 25 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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It occurred to Johnson that he had lived his whole life in a buttery in-between state .  .  . he never chose to take a stand, never confronted some difficult issue .  .  . never committed himself to a dangerous point of view unless there were some compensating benefit that outweighed the personal jeopardy by several orders of magnitude .  .  . and never really knew what a bad place that was to be, except for now. 

Newly serene, he returns to New York to be told the point of all this was to send him to Iran in the guise of a regime-friendly journalist, get into the Iranian nuclear program, gain access to Iran’s leading nuclear scientist—and, um .  .  . take him out.

Alas, the plan fails (although not through his doing), but Johnson discovers his soul in resistance, and on his return (Wallets smuggles him over the Iran/Iraq border) helps foil a plot to irradiate New York City by seeding chemical weapons in Union Square, near the Cloisters, and in the Christopher Street station of the IRT. Along the way, there are you-are-there renderings of Iraq, Iran, and the New York subway system (in its entirety) that bring them to life with more than a vengeance: “The whole Middle East smelled like that—never enough water,” Lowry/Korman write at one point. “The odor of too many people living over too few drains.”

But the real fun is in the evocations of the cultural zeitgeist and the current political scene: Larry King blathering, battles with the hated boss DEADKEY at Langley, Jo von H at a party squeezing the bottom of a current admirer, Jo with Chris Matthews, feeding the beast: “Chris .  .  . still chewed the bit in his teeth over government spying and lying, and Josephine rode him like a gelding,” as Lowry/Korman inform us. “Do you think—we’ve got reports out there,” as Chris says to the siren, “do you think they know what they’re saying, those so-called neocons​—although they don’t seem very neo to me, con maybe, hah-hah —do you think​—you know what I’m getting at .  .  . do you think the Iranians were involved?”

Well, the so-called neocons will certainly love this, as the right people get tortured, including the swine who seduced Johnson’s daughter. They will pray Banquo and Duncan have real-life equivalents. And they will surely love this description of a Soho art gallery where The Crusader contingent holds one of its flings:

The artist .  .  . specialized in American flags. The stars and stripes plastered on every available wall and in every imaginable condition: some torn, some burned, some upside down, one on the floor that everyone walked on .  .  . another over a casket, another choking a toilet as a constant flushing sound emanated from the tank.

Banquo’s Ghosts understands, as many conservatives do not, that humor plays better than bluster among the vast uncommitted, and raillery is far more effective than rage. The people at the New York Times and the Nation may find this less amusing, but this is still a free country. They can always write books of their own.

Noemie Emery, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is a columnist at the Washington Examiner.

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