Louder than bombs

On Wednesday, March 19, CNN reported that Vice Admiral Timothy J. Keating had given a war-preparedness speech to crewmen and -women aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Constellation. "When the president says go -- look out, it's hammer time," Keating was quoted as saying.

What CNN didn't know was that Keating had spent several days in conference with a federally hired image consultant, searching for the ideal catchphrase to employ in the event of hostilities. What follows is a transcript of their final meeting:

Keating: So what we want here is a rallying cry that's really going to energize the troops. One that'll get them totally pumped for the job ahead.

Consultant: Right.

K: Any ideas?

C: How about this: You announce that Saddam has frittered away his last chance for a peaceful resolution. You let everyone in the room know in no uncertain terms that war is imminent. Then you raise your voice a few notches and grandly intone, "Frankie say, Ã?Relax!'"

K: Seems a little passive, don't you think?

C: Could be.

K: I mean, this is war we're talking about.

C: OK, try this one on for size. You make the point about Saddam we just mentioned. You tell your people to get ready for conflict, yadda yadda yadda. Then, with all eyes fixed expectantly on your statesmanlike face, you coat your tonsils with steely resolve and wail, "Everybody dance, now!"

K: (silence)

C: How about it?

K: Well, it sure sounds jubilant, I'll give you that. But it just seems a little ... I don't know ... frivolous under the circumstances. You see what I'm saying?

C: Right, right. Frivolity bad. Gravity good. Gotta be taken seriously. So tell me how this grabs you. You go through the whole ramadoola about Iraq. Then, before anybody can figure out what you're doing, you rip off your shirt and announce, "I'm too sexy for this war!"

K: I'm pretty sure that's a violation of about eight military protocols. Maybe nine; I'd have to look it up. And this initiative isn't about me, anyway. We're trying to spread fighting fervor through the entire U.S. armed forces. It's only through team spirit that a unilateral assault has any hope of success.

C: You know, you're right. We've been going about this entirely the wrong way. Maybe group effort is the answer. Let's try to work in some interactivity. Just picture it. The Navy and the media are all straining to hear what you have to say. And when the moment comes, you make history by leading the room in a rousing chant of "I get knocked down! But I get up again!"

K: That works in theory. But if you pay close attention, it sounds like we'd be perfectly happy fighting to a tie. Plus, the verses are all about whiskey and vodka, and that'd never pass muster with Ashcroft.

C: Oops! Forgot about him. (Retrieves gin bottle from desk and begins to pour)

K: Why do I feel like we're not getting anywhere?

C: (Sips drink) Let me bounce a few more off you, and you just say the first thing that pops into your mind. "Pump up the jam! Pump it up!"

K: Too urban.

C: "Backstreet's back!"

K: Too gay.

C: "Ze plane! Ze plane!"

K: You're talking to a Navy man here, son, not some damn Air Force cockpit monkey. I'm going to do you a favor and forget you said that.

C: Ouch! Me and my civilian mouth!

K: Why do we have to lift somebody else's idea, anyway? Can't we just come up with something of our own?

C: Well, that's where it gets complicated. Washington wants a slogan that's familiar enough to denote emotional safety to a large portion of the public, but sits far enough back in their memories that they won't consciously perceive the appropriation.

K: Kind of like an amnesiac comfort zone?

C: Well, the memo I got called it "plagiarism with dignity," but I guess the basic concept is the same. For it to work, we've got to swipe from a source that's completely outmoded. Somebody totally irrelevant. Somebody hopelessly out of step with the natural rhythms of modern life.

K: How about "He can run, but he can't hide?"

C: We already tried that one, and it died in the marketplace. No, if we can't come up with anything good by 1800 hours, I have orders to scuttle this whole operation and just go with the slogan the Pentagon originally suggested.

K: Which is?

C: "It's hammer time."

K: Come again?

C: "It's hammer time."

K: You know, I swear I know that one, but I can't for the life of me ...

C: There! Then it's perfect. For the record, it was the signature saying of bubblegum rapper MC Hammer.

K: Right, right! Big pants, Saturday-morning cartoon, Chapter 11.

C: Uh huh.

K: But wait a minute. Wasn't the exact quote, "Stop! Hammer time?"

C: Yes, indeedy. But Cheney thought "Stop!" reeked of pacifism.

K: Just one more question. Isn't this a dangerous deviation from U.S. policy?

C: What do you mean?

K: Well, don't get me wrong. I support the war, just as I honor every order handed down to me from my commander-in-chief. But where in the Constitution does it say that the president has the power to declare Hammer time? As far as I'm aware, only MC Hammer can declare Hammer time. He's always enjoyed the controlling authority.

C: It's a new world, admiral. A dangerous new world. And some of the old rules no longer apply.

K: Well, isn't that special?

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