American political theater is so intriguing, so entertaining and so unpredictable that those who observe it daily know that, while there will be curtains after each scene, we shall never see the final act.
And when it comes to characters, perhaps only William Shakespeare himself could have created more complex/simple, conniving/noble, desperate/confident, sympathetic/pitiful and lovable/despicable players.
Consider some of the things we've witnessed in just the past couple of weeks. And please don't think I'm suggesting that any particular individual is symbolic of a Shakespearean character, although I'm sure the very suggestion will force some of you English lit, theater and political science majors to go there.
In the last few days, we've seen the U.S. Senate outsmarted by a disgraced Illinois governor and outmaneuvered by an aging appointee who proved that he knew the law and understood the Constitution better than they.
We watched the current president, in his final news conference, appear contrite, admit mistakes, show some self-deprecation, offer thanks to the agitating reporters and exhibit a special graciousness toward the incoming commander in chief.
Wow! Where has that person been the past eight years?
On Sunday, we saw the president-elect waver on his campaign commitment to close the "detention center" on Guantanamo Bay, an embarrassment to this democratic republic. But by Monday afternoon, after major criticism from some of his Democratic supporters, news reports said he would issue an executive order on Day One of his administration to begin procedures to shut down the facility.
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, in remarks for a television documentary, once again was standing up for family values — her family's values — while criticizing the news media for the scrutiny she received as a candidate. She dared us to compare her media examination to that given Caroline Kennedy, the slain president's daughter who is being considered by New York's governor to replace Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Then there's Joe the Plumber, the guy who became the darling of the conservative media because he questioned then-candidate Barack Obama about wanting to tax people like him who made (or perhaps someday would make) more than $250,000 annually. Joe apparently has put down his plunger and picked up a microphone and camera to cover the conflict in the Middle East. No playwright could have created this character.
Watch them as they enter, and exit, the stage: Obama and Joe Biden; Bush and Dick Cheney; John McCain and Palin; Hillary and Caroline; Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his Senate appointee, Roland Burris; Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; the plumber, of course; and a supporting cast of thousands.
Then there is Bill Clinton, a player who simply refuses to leave the stage.
What screenwriter could turn out scripts for such players?
President Bush, as he prepared to bow out, talked about his disappointments (such as the Abu Ghraib fiasco and his response to Hurricane Katrina); his mistakes (including the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the aircraft carrier); and his belief that history will judge fairly the legacy of his presidency.
He was able to laugh at himself and told reporters that "sometimes you misunderestimated me."
As far as what he would do once he left office, Bush said, "I just can't envision, you know, the big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach — particularly since I quit drinking."
Who would have thought that Caroline Kennedy would want to succeed Hillary Clinton in the Senate? Or that Blagojevich would have the nerve to appoint a replacement for Obama once the Justice Department accused him of trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder, or that anyone would accept that appointment?
After a fierce and sometimes bitter campaign fight, who could have imagined that Hillary would sit before a Senate committee this week for confirmation hearings as Obama's choice for secretary of state?
And consider this scene: On the eve of his inauguration, the president-elect will host a dinner to honor three people who have demonstrated a great degree of bipartisanship.
The honorees include his Republican opponent for the presidency, John McCain; Republican Colin Powell, who supported Obama in the general election; and his vice presidential pick, Joe Biden.
Then on Tuesday Obama, who has not been waiting in the wings very long, steps onto a different stage in a role that perhaps has not been this anticipated in U.S. history.
Bush, during that news conference, said he was "fortunate to have a front-row seat on what is going to be an historic moment."
While I won't have a front-row seat, I'm just glad I have tickets for the show.