Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2002 / 26 Teves, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- NINE-11, a transforming date that will never need an identifying year, persuades me to adapt the New Year's tradition of this column. The party game is to create or adapt phrases that might define people who have occupied center stage, but this year I am persuaded to flesh out some of them from personal encounters, notably, a recent meeting with the president.
We have been confronted by the abyss that separates the good and decent from the obscene and evil. It is to George W. Bush's historic credit that he sees and expresses an instinctive revulsion. The language of the lyrics is one thingremember, "We will bring them to justice or we will bring justice to them." But there's a conviction here that is more steel than syllables. In our conversation, I was struck as much by President Bush's manner and body language as by his words. He was forceful, decisive, powerful, passionatebraced with conviction. There is a moral clarity in this trinity of words, style, and will. He speaks for the country when he articulates the traditional verities: devotion to country, to family, to Godand in so doing, unites the country. There can be no equivocation about the nature of the murderous evil that attacked us, and there is none in the president's commitment to do what is necessary to remove it; he will provide the leadership we needed and will need. His commitment, plain and simple, is to see to it that the 21st century will not be defined by global terrorism, as the 20th century was defined by the mass suffering of two world wars and the Cold War.
So, too, for Bush's national-security team: In Vice President Dick Cheney we have a man possessed of the wisdom, self-discipline, and maturity to focus on the tasks ahead, uncomplicated by ego or political ambition. For Cheney, I offer: "To err is human; but to forgive is not our policy."
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice offers a historical and intellectual context derived from a lifetime of scholarship and experience. The words she might address to the states who harbor terrorists? "Those who live in the marshes cannot expect to stay dry."
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has assembled a brilliant team at the Pentagon with the high purpose of reforming military preparedness. But September 11 overtook that goal, and Rumsfeld has proved to be a great secretary of war. In a complicated military effort, dealing with a cowardly enemy hiding behind civilians, he has been discriminating and decisive. My medal for Rumsfeld reads: "Those who live by the sword will get shot by those who don't."
Another key player is the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, a trusted leader of the effort to gather intelligence in a cooperative mission against global terrorism. Tenet is the kind of man who might say, "Sometimes I think this is God's way of teaching us geography."
Finally, there is Secretary of State Colin Powell. He has brought his coolness, good nature, and good judgment to the essential assembly of a coalition that is not anti-Arab or anti-Muslim but antimurder. He is not helped by the failures of Yasser Arafat, who would say, "I would kill for a Nobel Peace Prize" and about whom I imagine Powell would say, "He works well under constant supervision and when he is cornered like a rat in a trap."
Now, the traditional encapsulations:
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, on the Democratic Senate leadership: "Everyone has the right to be wrong, but they abuse the privilege."
Attorney General John Ashcroft, on his comments to the press, responding to media criticism: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted and used against you."
Democratic House leader Richard Gephardt, on the House Republicans: "They are libertarian on social matters, conservative on economic matters, and homicidal psychopaths on political matters."
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, on the upswing in the bull marketbefore it collapsed: "It is a random market movement causing an investor to mistake himself for a financial genius."
Cardinal Edward Egan of New York on TV's evangelical ministries: "But when God, who created the entire universe with all its glories, decides to deliver a message to humanity, he will not use as his messenger a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle."
The Federal Aviation Administration, on airline safety: "U.S. airlines now lead the world in the number of people around whom you shouldn't make sudden moves."
The Internal Revenue Service on its skills: "We've got what it takes to take what you've got."
TV talk-show panjandrum John McLaughlin, on going to Las Vegas: "The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket."
Bill Clinton's latest addition to the dictionary: "It isn't premarital sex if you have no intention of getting married."
Al Gore's description of his reserve in dealing with the public: "Never do card tricks for the people you play poker with."
And Osama bin Laden: "My version of progress is to return my followers to living in caves."