WASHINGTON, DC—President Bush announced in a hastily arranged press conference Monday that he wanted to make the entire country "as presentable as possible" for visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was scheduled to arrive for a five-day state visit in a matter of hours.
"I knew he was coming, but I didn't realize he was coming today—just look at this place," said a visibly flustered Bush, as he and his Secret Service detail hurriedly picked up trash along Interstate 66 near Arlington, VA. "We got the area around the [National] Mall spotless, but now it just makes the rest of the city look worse. There are homeless people cluttering up our streets—and not just here, but in Denver and San Francisco, too."
"It's humiliating how much we let this place go," Bush added.
Bush said he blocked out all of Saturday afternoon "to get our great nation looking halfway decent" before Hu's visit, but he soon became overwhelmed as he realized how much more needed to be done.
"The more I try to straighten up, the more problems I find," Bush said. "Look at all this sprawl around Chicago and Atlanta. What a disaster! Well, they have approximately four hours to pick it up. Hu's landing at Andrews Air Force Base at six."
By midday, Bush was able to quickly swab agricultural runoff along the Ohio River and deploy various Air Force fix-winged transport aircraft to Gary, IN to spray the blighted industrial city with Glade-brand air freshener. Yet he could only stuff Detroit's problems in abandoned buildings in the city's center, and lay conspicuous blue tarps over Baltimore and East St. Louis.
"Goodness," Bush added, wiping his brow. "I can't believe people actually live in this filthy country."
Reports that Bush promised residents of rural Appalachia nearly $750,000 of his own money to go to the movies during the four nights of Hu's stay could not be confirmed.
"Oh, and we should really put out that $60 billion China gave us last year," Bush said.
White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said the president was still concerned about the "unsightly traffic" around the nation's major urban centers, and was trying to do a "quick patch-up job" on low public-school test scores. He also called upon Americans to give him a hand in cleanup efforts.
"The president would really, really appreciate it if Americans dropped what they were doing and helped him get things in order—especially in Idaho, which is still a complete mess," Bolten said.
Bolten also said the president wanted Americans to be on their best behavior for "the nice people from China," adding that arguments over welfare reform, immigration, and foreign policy would have to wait until Hu leaves. "We can always go back to our 300 years of racial tension later," Bolten said.
Bush expressed worry that the U.S. "wouldn't be able to withstand" any harsh judgment Hu and his high-level entourage might hold against some of the more unsightly parts of the country, particularly the Gulf Coast region, which "hasn't been touched for months." Bush authorized his staff to "just stall" the Chinese president if he requested a New Orleans tour.
Administration critics, however, blame the frantic cleanup effort not on citizens' indifference, but on Bush himself, whom they claim has spent too much energy tinkering with Iraq. The volatile Middle Eastern nation's expensive, time-consuming upkeep has kept Bush from focusing on more mundane but arguably more vital home-front issues, critics argue.
Many ordinary citizens believe that Bush is overreacting.
"If China is such a good friend, they won't care how the place looks," said Brookings, SD resident Ben Holdness, 33, who was ordered to hose off Mt. Rushmore. "Besides, I don't see the Chinese picking up after their own ugly steel mills and polluted rivers and human-rights abuses. I hear people are always tripping over their stupid plastic toys, too."
"If everything gets cleaned up, how are we going to know where everything is?" said Tucson, AZ resident Cindy Eckelman.
In spite of these arguments, Bush said he was determined that the country not resemble "a pigsty."
"If China can keep a wall up for a few thousand years, surely we can clean the old hornet nests out of the greater Raleigh area," Bush said. "If we don't do anything, Hu is going to take one look at this place and wonder how we got to be the world's No. 1 superpower. Seriously, the place looks disgusting."