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Jewish World Review Dec. 7, 1999 /28 Kislev, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Eyeless in Seatle --

LEAVE IT TO BILL CLINTON'S crew of masterminds at Seattle to make Pat Buchanan sound like a statesman. That television entertainer and sporadic presidential candidate is suddenly transformed into a prophet when he denounces this administration for trading with the enemy of freedom -- and on the enemy's terms.

Even a blind hog will find an acorn now and then, and this time Mr. Buchanan's vitriolic rhetoric sounds like a simple recitation of the facts when he says this bunch in the White House is selling out freedom.

And lots of Americans agree. Some have gone to this international conference in Seattle to protest in the best American tradition, and others in the worst.

The whole world was watching as what was supposed to be a showcase of international harmony and grand presidential photo-op exploded. Is this a meeting of the World Trade Organization, or a replay of the Democratic National Convention of 1968, back in Hizzoner Richard J. Daley's riot-torn Chicago?

Why the anger? Here's one explanation: "By bringing China into the WTO,'' Pat Buchanan has noted, "and by seeking to grant China an unrestricted, open access to the greatest market on earth without asking anything in return, Bill Clinton in my judgment is dealing away the human rights of the Chinese people, selling out the workers of the United States'' ...and generally caving in to the last great totalitarian dictatorship on the face of the earth.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton visited Seattle inside his presidential bubble and went through his ceremonial speech as if everything was just hunky-dory outside the hall. But on the littered streets of downtown Seattle, under acrid clouds of tear gas, the only thing clear was chaos.

The president remained cool, calm and out of it. He could have been Richard Nixon trying to get through downtown Caracas in '58. By now Bill Clinton must be developing some fellow feeling for Poor Richard, another president who wound up insulated from reality, roaming around in his own fantasy world, and dodging mobs.

Clio, muse of history, can choose from an elaborate menu when she serves up her daily offering, but her specialty at Seattle has been irony. Make that a whole smorgasbord of ironies. It cannot escape even Bill Clinton, who once organized protests against his country's policies, that he now finds himself the target of such protests.

Let this much be said for the rioters: For all their economic illiteracy and malevolent intensity, they're not just staying behind the scenes. They're not distancing themselves from their actions in order to preserve their, yes, political viability. That's what Bill Clinton did in his youth. And it worked. He got to be president of the United States, so now he gets to ignore the realities he has set in motion, and travel like a fugitive through a riotous city. Congratulations.

Richard Nixon would know all about that. As for Clio, she's smiling that tight little smile again, as if she never grew tired of these games, as if there were always another generation of political climbers to teach the same lesson to.

Talk about being eyeless in Seattle: Note the comments of Marion Berry, the ever-observant representative from the First Congressional District of Arkansas. He's part of the American delegation at this party that's turned into a nightmare, and he might as well be in Peoria. Rioting, what rioting? Mob, what mob? "It's just a very large crowd with a few rapscallions,'' he assured a reporter, "but it has been generally quite orderly.`

Uh huh. Congressman Berry might tell that to the police and protesters -- or to Seattle's mayor, who has declared an emergency, decreed a curfew and requested the National Guard. Just a few rapscallions? At last report, 246 protesters were under arrest, and the outnumbered cops were using tear gas, pepper gas and rubber bullets to clear the streets.

The congressman might try telling his story to Andrew Whisenhunt, the president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. He was in Seattle as chairman of the American Farm Bureau's committee on international trade, and was trapped by the mob. He and a couple of colleagues were trying to get back to their hotel when they were surrounded, cussed, pushed and spat on before they got away. It figures. They were wearing the uniform of the enemy: a business suit and tie.

Do you think Congressman Berry was reporting from the same Seattle? Could he have mistakenly taken the wrong plane and wound up in Vancouver, British Columbia? Or somewhere else at a safe remove from international conferences and the Clinton administration's magic touch?

Or is this congressman the sort who could have attended the riotous Democratic National Convention in Chicago back in '68 and heard nothing but the committee reports?

Meanwhile, the work of this gabfest-under-fire wound down as well as it could at Seattle. The dignitaries came and went when and if they could, while the Clinton administration pursued its now standard policy: See no evil, hear no evil, trade with evil.

Paul Greenberg Archives


©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate