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Jewish World Review Jan. 11, 2000 /4 Shevat, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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The man behind it all

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IT WASN'T EASY tracking down Pierre Cliche, the secretive ghostwriter responsible for so many of the speeches, slogans, headlines, toasts, editorials, reviews and previews that gave this New Year's a familiar sound by the beginning of December.

The celebrated recluse seeks no credit for his work and, indeed, would deny it if he could. For he is not entirely without taste. As the new year, yes, dawned, the man whose very name is a cliche was to be found in an ordinary bungalow in a nondescript neighborhood of a small suburb of a standard statistical metropolitan area.

Back in a den cluttered with favorite platitudes of years, yes, gone by, M. Cliche was to be found plying -- what else? -- his trade. He was just finishing up some dialogue for television anchorpersons, but he tends to stay busy -- especially holidays, weekends and during political campaigns. No national nominating convention is complete without his work. A transcript of our conversation reveals this artist's extraordinary mastery of the ordinary:

"Monsieur Cliche, it was good of you to grant us this interview, for your work has to be among the most widely disseminated in our social, political and economic culture.''

"Don't mention it.''

"Can you tell us your considered opinion of these times?''

"That's the bottom line, isn't it? It's the best of times, it's the worst of times.''

"Where does the future lie?''

"The future lies ahead.''

"And what is the new millennium about to do?''

"A new millennium is about to dawn.''

"But what can we take from the past?''

"We can take lessons from the past.''

"What kind of lessons?''

"Lessons that are not hard to discern.''

"What do we do with the changes of the past hundred years?''

"We marvel at them.''

"And then what?''

"Dream of the changes the next hundred and thousand will bring.''

"What should this new millennium not be an excuse for?''

"A bonfire of the past.''

"What should we do with the past instead?''

"Rediscover the wisdom of those who made the journey before us.''

"What kind of wisdom?''

"Profound wisdom.''

`And what kind of journey did they make?''

"A difficult journey.''

"Is that all?''

"Oh, no. We should let freedom. ...''

"Ring?''

"Exactly.''

"Anything else?''

"Oh, yes. We must embrace.''

"Must we?''

"Yes, we must embrace our common humanity.''

"And anything else?''

"And our shared destiny.''

"What have we done in the past 100 years?''

"We've gone from the horse and buggy.''

"To where?''

"To the moon and back.''

"And what should we find?''

"Strength and wisdom.''

"Where?''

"In our hearts.''

"Why?''

"To keep growing together.''

"How?''

"First as Americans.''

"And then?''

"And then as one world.''

"Where?''

"On this ever-smaller planet.''

"What's it called?''

"On this ever-smaller planet that we call home.''

"How would you describe the Lincoln Memorial at midnight?`

"Moving.''

"What kind of ground is it situated on?''

"Sacred.''

"And how do we each stand there?''

"Taller''

"And how do we reach there?''

"Higher.''

"What is revealed by dawn's early light?''

"An old yet new culture.''

"How describe it?''

"At peace with itself, yet roiling with ferment. Always changing yet ever the same.''

"I see. Do you have the time?''

"It is a time to ponder.''

"And what will the new year bring?''

"Only time will tell.''

At that, M. Cliche rose, our signal to leave. The old phrasemaker explained that he had much work to do, having already been engaged to start work on the first of the multi-volume memoirs of President Clinton.

This being a presidential election year, M. Cliche was also busy preparing the collected campaign speeches of George W. Bush.

"What about Al Gore? Will you be writing his campaign addresses?''

"No,'' said M. Cliche. "He's a natural.''

"It was good of you to grant us this interview.''

"My pleasure. Have a good day. Catch you later,'' said M. Cliche, before disappearing behind a tall stack of similar phrases.

This is not an original column. The writer is particularly indebted to Prince Charles, President and Mrs. Clinton, the editors of the New Republic, Charles Dickens, Sid Caesar, Wendell Willkie and the elusive but omnipresent M. Cliche.

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