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Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 1999 /21 Kislev, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Targets of opportunity --

LET'S START WITH ME. Just as men used to claim they looked at Playboy only for the articles, I say I look at The New Yorker only for the cartoons. They're not just funny, but the best are discomfiting, like the one not long ago that summed up my own management style -- if you could call it a style. It's more like an obsession.

Naturally, the cartoon was by the guy who signs himself BEK. He's been spying on me for years. For he seems to know me better than I do. This drawing shows a bespectacled gent at his clean desk summing up my own concept of delegation: "I like things to be done my own particular way by someone other than me.''

A confession: I do look at the articles in The New Yorker, and often enough for the same reason I do the cartoons: to be amused and, at best, discomfited. For example, I skimmed through Jeffrey Toobin's latest, always slightly-off analysis of L'Affaire Lewinsky, which already has acquired the almost forgotten air of a shard of history, like Dixon-Yates or Teapot Dome.

The conclusion of the piece reminded me of what a back number I am: "Like many of Clinton's enemies, (Kenneth) Starr had held out in the hope that conclusive evidence of real criminality would somehow emerge. But this evidence was never located; it didn't exist.''

Real criminality. The phrase caught my eye like a cinder. As opposed to what, unreal criminality? Irrelevant criminality?

Perjury. Obstruction of justice. Those aren't real crimes any more? Or do they become unreal when a sitting president toys with them?

My conclusion: Richard Nixon was born too soon.


Meanwhile, the female and deadlier of the Clintons has been touring Israel and trying to stay noncommittal, but various Palestinian spokesmen kept spoiling her three-day pilgrimage and photo-op. It seems they were tasteless enough to bring up the words of Hillary Past, when she was for a Palestinian state and before she started running for the U.S. Senate in New York, where Palestinian voters are decidedly outnumbered.

Hillary Present has quite different views where the Middle East is concerned. Now they perfectly match those of the clientele's at Zabar's, or maybe at a Westchester home for the Jewish aged. Our first lady really doesn't have politics; what she's got is protective coloration.

And by the time she was greeted by Yasser Arafat's wife, who proceeded to spout a lot of wild anti-Israeli propaganda, Hillary had changed the slipcovers on her Middle East views.

Her Palestinian hosts didn't understand why the first lady would be embarrassed. But the Hillary they were quoting has been shelved for the duration, and will not be re-issued until after the election. Or maybe they understood all too well, but couldn't resist twisting the knife.

There is something about the Semitic mind that cannot resist the rhetorical flourish, which in those arid climes is more than a rhetorical flourish, for the word is the deed, the concept is the thing. In Hebrew, the same word, (ital)davar(unital), means both. In Genesis, Abraham's servant recounts to Issac the (ital)words(unital) he had done.

Maybe the reason Jews and Arabs have been at such cross-purposes this century is that we are so much alike. Surely, this passing unpleasantness will be seen as only an eyeblink in the rich and collaborative history of these cousin peoples.

If the Palestinians pretended innocence when they quoted the old Hillary, the editors at the New York Times knew just what was going on. They ran the news story about her visit to Israel back on Page C29, in the section headed New York Report, along with other news about the region. Fair enough. For the labyrinthine region that was the object of this tour was not the Middle East, but New York's voting precincts, where politics can be just as byzantine.

Israel is just the first stop on the mandatory Three-I tour for senatorial candidates in New York. We'll know Hillary Clinton is really going to run for the Senate when she touches down in Ireland and Italy, too.

Ethnicity is the great, once-unmentionable undercurrent of American politics. Did you know that a map of isolationist congressmen in the 1930s, and before that the 1910s, would almost duplicate the centers of German population in the United States? Something besides an abstract view of foreign policy was operating there.

Just as something besides an abstract devotion to the constitutional doctrine of States' Rights was operating in the presidential election of 1948, when the States' Rights Party, aka Dixiecrats, carried only states where racial segregation was still in odorous flower.

Back then, Arkansas still had a poll tax, which effectively disenfranchised its Negro citizens. You could place a map of Arkansas counties carried by the Dixiecrats on top of those with the heaviest concentrations of its (non-voting) black population, and the two outlines would coincide almost perfectly. In his classic book on Southern politics, V.O. Key used Arkansas as another example of the South's single-issue politics, which was as crippling as its single-crop economy.

The Dixiecrats' presidential candidate that year, Strom Thurmond, is still in the U.S. Senate, though he's gone through a political incarnation or two since, each attuned to the changes in South Carolina's politics. Who says Ol' Strom and the ever-new Hillary have nothing in common?


Look who's just endorsed Pat Buchanan for the Reform Party's presidential nomination: Lenora Fulami, who has a long record at picking 'em. Demagogues, that is. In the past, she's been all for Lyndon LaRouche and Louis Farrakhan when she wasn't busy demagoguin' herself.

To look at the makeup of the Reform Party, you'd think the end time was at hand. It's not exactly the lion lying down with the lamb, but an alliance of Buchanan and Fulami does conjure up an image of the rhino and porcupine. Maybe all those TV preachers have a point.

Or as Earl Long over in Looziana once described an unlikely alliance he'd put together in that state's Ledge: "You know da Bible says dat before de end of time billy goats, tigers, rabbits and house cats are going to sleep together. My gang looks like da Biblical proposition is here.''

Uncle Earl should have seen the Reform Party. Its composition reminds that the Millennium is upon us.

Paul Greenberg Archives


©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate