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Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2002 / 26 Teves, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Talking points for 2002 -- 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 thing–remember, "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, passionate–braced 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 God–and 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 market–before 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." Perfect.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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06/01/01: A time to reap --- and sow
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05/04/01: Making the grade
04/26/01: The caribou conundrum
04/19/01: Chinese boomerang
03/27/01: The man of the moment
03/20/01: The Fed must be bold
03/15/01: Japan on the brink
03/01/01: Rethinking the next war
02/09/01: The education paradox
01/08/01: How the bottom fell out
01/03/01: Quipping in the new year
12/20/00: A time for healing
11/13/00: The need for legitimacy
10/30/00: Arafat's bloody cynicism
10/18/00: Arafat torches peace
10/03/00: A great step backward
09/08/00: The Perfect Storm
08/29/00: Don't blow the surplus
08/15/00: Voting for grown-ups
08/01/00: Arafat's lack of nerve
07/17/00: Can there be a new peace between old enemies? Or will new enemies regress to an old state of war?
07/11/00: A time to celebrate
06/19/00: A bit of straight talk
06/08/00: Using hate against Israel
05/26/00: Is the Federal Reserve trigger-happy?
04/18/00: Tensions on the 'Net
04/13/00: A paranoid power
03/10/00: Fuel prices in the red zone
02/25/00: Web wake-up call
02/18/00: Back to the future
01/21/00: Whistling while we work
01/11/00: Loose lips, fast quips
12/23/99: The times of our lives
12/14/99: Hey, big spender
11/18/99: Fountain of Youth
11/04/99: An impossible partner
10/14/99: A nation divided
10/05/99: India at center stage
09/21/99: Along with good cops, we need a better probation system
09/08/99: Though plundered and confused, Russia can solve its problems
08/31/99: The military should spend more on forces and less on facilities
08/05/99: Squandering the surplus
07/06/99: More than ever, America's unique promise is a reality
06/24/99: The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action
06/15/99: America should take pride in honoring its responsibilities
06/02/99: The Middle Kingdom shows its antagonistic side
05/11/99: Technology's transforming power is giving a lift to everything
05/04/99: The big game gets bigger
04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman