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Karen Hughes Invents The Blame Game

Karen Hughes Crafts “The Blame Game:” A Story of the Bleeding Phone

Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, "Who sees us? Who will know?" Isaiah 29:15 (NIV)

President Coolidge come down, in a railroad train With his little fat man with a note pad in his hand President say little fat man, oh isn't it a shame, What the river has done to this poor cracker’s land

Randy Newman “Louisiana 1927”

She punched in my call on the very first ring. “This is Karen”

“Karen, let me guess. You’re on the way to pick up little Condi at her ballet lesson or you’re in the drive thru at Wendy’s grabbing dinner for you and the kids. Right?”

It was how we said hello. We only talked on cell phones, and she was always moving, so I liked to guess.

I was also usually wrong.

“Roger it’s 1:30 in the morning. The kids have been asleep for hours. So has their father.

“What are you doing driving around Dallas in the dark?”

“It’s never dark in Dallas Roger. Besides, I’m headed towards Houston. Taken the back roads. Needed to just keep moving. To get away from all the lights. ”

“Houston? Why Houston? That’s 240 miles from Dallas! Karen what are you doing? Is there a call going on? That’s why I’m checking in. It looks bad Karen. Real bad.”

“Yeah the call has been going on all night. I’ve got it coming up on my second line on the speakerphone right now. Rummy just said something about how we couldn’t put this on the folks left behind in the storm and that just sent Karl over the edge. He’s been yelling for the last five minutes—so I just muted the thing and kept driving. Kept moving. Something about all this is different. I just couldn’t stand still. Had to move.”

That was Karen. How many times had I seen her prepare for a TV shot? Who would believe that seconds before the TV lights came up; she had been in a room with all the lights off, her eyes closed, pacing back and forth? Then as if she was somebody who could just snap her fingers and take the shape of everybody’s pleasant next door neighbor holding out a steaming apple pie fresh from the oven. That neighbor who always had whatever it was you wanted to borrow.

The Karen I knew liked the dark. And she liked to keep moving.

“I’m up next,” she told me. The lines were so clear I could even here her take a puff of a cigarette. “Right after Karl gets done with Rummy. So I might have to put you on hold.”

Karen’s giant black Lexus SUV had a communication system fit for a billion dollar nuclear submarine. I don’t think she even knew how many wireless voice and data lines she had. A sophisticated code scrambling system. Seven levels of security. The same plastic they put on the space shuttle to protect the thing. Some kind of plastic amour wrapped the whole mighty fortress up like an invisible cocoon. Three times the weight of the SUV’s driven by all the other soccer Moms. I told her once that she’d be in trouble if she had to actually pay for gas.

“No problem,” I told her. “I’ll wait.”

Just then I heard Karl’s “snarl voice” screech through the speakerphone of her second line. That was the voice Karl used with us whenever the Chief was off bike riding or something and things were getting dicey. Rummy came up with the name. Said it reminded him of what the cats sounded like back when he was a kid in Winnetka and him and his young chums liked to play some game they called “Veterinarian”

“Karen!” Karl hissed. “Front and Center!”

“Seeya” she said and clicked me over to hold.

Immediately I got the hold music. Some great tracks Karen had programmed down from either her IPOD or some new toy from the top secret Halliburton research labs. Cheney loved toys. Sometimes we all got a little scared when he would bring in something like an exploding yoga mat---grin that crooked grin of his, tilt his head and say, “So we can git um when they least expect it! Just when they get all relaxed and everything!” One of my favorite tracks, an old Grateful Dead tune kept me company:

I lit out from Reno I was trailed by 20 hounds Didn’t get to sleep last night Till the morning came around. . .

Something about that song I always liked. Not sure what it was. But before I could think about it, the song faded and just like I thought might happen: I could hear everything going on in the conference call.

I suppose I should have told Karen that her phone bled. That sometimes I could hear every single word said on the other lines. Not always. But enough.That even with all that double secret security, the engineers hadn’t quite got all the kinks out of the system. And maybe someday I would tell her.

But everybody had to have their secrets. Right?

As Karen drove through the dark, empty and sad Texas night; I could hear Karl in full bore “Snarl Voice.”

“Do I have to do EVERYTHING for you people? Am I alone here? When it comes right down to it: will it be just the Chief and I? Because you know that could happen. You know it can. You know it will if I don’t get some action and some results here. I tell you people. Heads will roll!”

I could almost picture everybody on the call, Rummy, Cheney, Karen, Wolfowitz, Andy Card, probably one or two of our Saudi friends---all of them with hang dog looks on their faces. Scuffing their feet and looking at the ground in shame. Karl went on.

“Am I the only one here who knew that we had to move quick to find the bad guys? How many times have I told you? At the very first sign of a problem: find the divide! And if there isn’t one: make one---you useless morons!

Whoever that was from my office who tried to make the Governor of Louisiana the problem---well, good instinct but very very, very, bad research! Maybe 5 minutes of research and you would have seen that she did ask us for help in writing before we blew her off. In writing people. In writing! Even I can’t work with that!

Cheney piped up, “Karl, I . . . . .”

“Stop it Dick. We didn’t even know where you were, . . . .Dick. “

“But I. . . .”

“Enough Dick. You’d be useless to me going after the Mayor of New Orleans anyway. Oh make no mistake. We haven’t forgotten about him. He’ll get his turn. But it will be later. When it’s quiet. No, you all know how it works: when we can’t find the bad guy on the outside---we give them one of ours.”

“Brownie?,” said I voice I couldn’t place.

“Of course Brownie. We pull him out. Put him in charge of hurricanes that haven’t happened yet. Then we turn his head into a football. And we watch the games begin.”

“But Karl, piped up another voice that might have been Wolfowitz.. . . .”What if. . . .”

“What if NOTHING Paul! Perhaps thee is a lesson here you might want to pay attention to. Better hope all those terrorists don’t go away Paul. Because that would leave only YOU!”

“Yes Karl” came the nods of assent throughout the virtual room.”

“Now. Hughes. It’s your turn. Don’t think I’ve forgotten that I must have your genius here. We can’t do this without you, Hughes. Now here’s what I need. In the months, oh in the years that follow: this just might prove to be our last and most noble stand. The enemy, and you have seen the enemy in the faces of all those people left behind, all those poor people. Poor people I tell you. The enemy will cite facts, social theories, a religion different than the one we’ve made for them. Lord help us, maybe even more than one religion. And we must have our very first opening shot back at this enemy, our opening salvo if you will. And it must be so simple, so bloody simple, that you can say it all in---oh I don’t know—two words.

You know that he’s at his best when we give him two words to say. Now Karen, dear sweet and innocent looking soccer Mom Karen: do you have those two words for us? Hmmm?

“Karl, I’ve been trying. Really I have. You know I. . . .oh, just a minute Karl, I have a Code Red call coming in on one of my other lines, something about something Barbara Bush said about people in the Astrodome. One second. . . .”

Karen clicked back to me and said, “Roger, I got NOTHING! And he wants me to name our first shot. And he said I could only have two words to do it! Two words Roger! Even I. . . .just a second. . .Roger. I’ve got to take this other call. I’m gonna put you on hold. Think Roger. Think. We only have a few seconds and Karl is waiting!”

Karen clicked into the other call and the song that came on the hold music was one I hadn’t heard in years. An obscure novelty song from 1965. Sung by a black woman named Shirley Ellis.

The name game! Shirley! Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!

No way anybody would get the connection. I knew it would work. In an hour, there’d be Power Point “Talking Points” spinning out to every news outlet in the world. When the Chief came in for his morning briefing, he’d see it too. When Karl liked a phrase, he’d set standards of the phrase having to be used a minimum of once every 20 seconds. And I had the phrase!

Karen would pick up on it immediately.

I listened to the song, waiting to once again come thru for Karen:

Come on everybody! I say now let's play a game I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody's name The first letter of the name, I treat it like it wasn't there But a B or an F or an M will appear And then I say bo add a B then I say the name and Bonana fanna and a fo And then I say the name again with an F very plain and a fee fy and a mo And then I say the name again with an M this time and there isn't any name that I can't rhyme

I tried my own name:

Roger, Roger bo bodger Bo nana nana fo foger Fe fi fo foger Roger

I was about to do “Chuck” when she came back on the line.

“Roger, I got about 5 seconds or I’m sunk. What do I do? What do I call our first shot? How can I possible do this with two words?”

“Karen, do you remember a song called “The Name Game?”

“Of COURSE not! And what does THAT have to do with . . . and can’t you see? Don’t you understand? I. . . .wait a minute. The “Name Game”


“The Name Game, Name Game. . . .the BLAME GAME!!!!!!! THAT”S IT!!!! I got it!!!! We call it THE BLAME GAME!!!!! They’ll love it! Roger, you are a GENIUS! How can I ever thank you!”

“Don’t worry Karen. That’s what friends are for,” I told her. And as I did---she clicked off and drove deeper into the dark and empty Texas night.

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