I had understood at once, of course, that the State of the Union address was a coded text. With my extensive knowledge of cryptology — gleaned from tireless study of "The Da Vinci Code" — I knew it had to be in code, hiding some deeper meaning beneath the gibberish on the surface!
It contained virtually no concrete proposals, except for something on the taxation of healthcare benefits. But this plan was so arcane, so trivial, so convoluted that I knew it could only be a ruse.
We cryptography experts have a range of tools we use to crack codes, so I turned at once to some of the common techniques. Following in the footsteps of Tom Hanks, I deduced that the first letter of each line might reveal some mystical truth. I began at the beginning. "Thank you ." "And tonight ." "In his day ." "Congratulations ." "Two members ." I continued through the first three paragraphs.
It seemed a poor start. But perhaps it was an anagram! I rearranged the letters. "T-A-C-T-T" and "I-I-W-W? Phonetically, could this be "Tact Ew"? Maybe so. After the White House's promise that the State of the Union wouldn't be the surge speech redux, the State of the Union's aggressive defense of President Bush's Iraq plan could well be seen as a decisive rejection of bipartisan tact.
There had to be more. Rearranging the letters yet again, I got "TACIT WWI." There was a T left over, but I discarded this as a red herring. A tacit admission that the Iraq war has become as pointlessly destructive as the devastating trench warfare of World War I? But would the White House acknowledge this, even in code?
Maybe the text was not a code at all but was instead hiding some sort of invisible ink. I held the transcript up to a match, hoping something would emerge. Almost instantly, the transcript burst into flames, and soon nothing was left but smoke and ashes. A metaphor? Something about Iraq? The possibility could not be readily discounted.
I knew I needed help, so I turned to a friend at a prominent and shadowy agency in New York. (Its initials are NYT, and its leader goes by the moniker of "Wild Bill" Keller). My contact agreed to let me use one of the NYT's advanced cryptographic technologies, a computer algorithm for determining word frequency in State of the Union addresses.
Perhaps, I thought, the key lay in comparing word frequency in Tuesday's speech with word frequencies from prior State of the Union speeches! "Iraq" went unmentioned in 2001, was mentioned twice in 2002 and 34 times in 2007. A pattern? Mentions of "Afghanistan" went from eight in the 2002 State of the Union address to only four last year. "Liberty" and "democracy" got a combined 28 references in 2005 and 21 in 2006, but in 2007, only five. "Wood chips" got one mention in 2006 and another in 2007. "Human rights," on the other hand, received no mentions, ever.
This did seem revealing. Even so, I sensed that there was still something I was missing. I replayed the speech once more, allowing the sounds and images to wash over me. There was Dick Cheney, behind the president, his clawed hands periodically twitching as if he held the strings to a marionette was that a guttural whisper of "hogwash" on his lips?
But it was only when I got to the introduction of Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Co., that the pieces all fell into place. How anomalous, in the midst of honoring soldiers and heroes, for the president to suddenly recognize a woman whose primary professional accomplishment has been to turn the nation's infants into brainwashed video addicts! Yet this anomaly, I saw at once, was the key to understanding the cipher!
For I understood its significance. I had seen a "Baby Einstein" video. I even once spent a dreary December weekend watching "Baby Einstein — World Animals," frozen in silent horror as my normally active 2-year-old stared, glassy-eyed and entranced, at those hateful monkey puppets! It took three full weeks to deprogram her.
Comprehension dawning, I raced downstairs to the television and rifled through the DVDs. Yes, there it was, the despised "Baby Einstein" DVD. Filled with dread, I pressed "play" and at last, I entered the secret world of the Bush White House.
It was a cartoonish world of puppetry and sleight of hand, simplistic language, frequently repeated words, soothing imagery. And it meant nothing, nothing at all.