Cynics love to speculate about who’s in charge at the White House. Does the President really call the shots? Dick Cheney? Karl Rove? Or is Washington’s most powerful voice that of Barney, Bush’s Scottish terrier?
The idea is outrageous, but so is Mo Rocca—Bethesda native and former correspondent for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. He’s also hilarious, which makes this hybrid spoof of All the President’s Men, Charlotte’s Web, and The Da Vinci Code a delight.
The fictional tale stars Rocca as a reporter covering the Barney beat for MSNBC (“the Michelle Kwan of twenty-four-hour cable news channels: No matter how hard it tried, it always seemed to land on its ass”). With the help of veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, Rocca unleashes one of the biggest secrets in the White House: Presidential pets can talk.
And they’ve often been instrumental in shaping policy. Thomas Jefferson’s mockingbird, Dick, convinced the third President to write the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Rutherford B. Hayes heeded the dying wish of Miss Pussy, his Siamese cat, and vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t end in disaster thanks to a romance between JFK’s terrier, Charlie, and Pushinka, the husky given to Mrs. Kennedy by Khrushchev.
But in Rocca’s version of the current Oval Office, Barney is getting the Powell treatment, muzzled by the President’s henchmen. In probing the First Scot’s situation, Rocca examines past presidents and their pets. The book is studded with pet-and-president trivia, but while Rocca’s research is thorough and entertaining, it’s occasionally hard to tell fact from fiction. For example, it’s safe to assume Helen Thomas is not a turkey buzzard disguised as a woman, as is the case in this tale. It’s harder to believe that John Quincy Adams housed an alligator in the East Room for several months. (It’s true.)
In addition to talking animals, the book features a litter of talking heads whom Rocca relentlessly satirizes. Fox News’s Laurie Dhue, “the buxom blonde who appealed to all Fox News watchers, a wide-ranging group of conservative white men over fifty,” turns out to be a cyborg. CNN’s Candy Crowley, deceptively sober on camera, loves “outlaw country and Southern rock,” sports a pearl-handled revolver, and has a thirst for crème de menthe. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell habitually grazes derrieres, earning her the monikers “Handrea” and “Grabbyhands Mitchell.”
Rocca also nips at political figures, including former Ohio congressman turned jailbird James Traficant, pollster Dick Morris, and of course George W. Bush, who, when he hears that Barney can speak, expresses genuine surprise: “All those times I heard that voice, I thought it was Jesus talkin’ to me.”
Yes, satire is funny.