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Jewish World Review June 8, 1999 /24 Sivan 5759

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Suddenly Samuel Berger

(JWR) ---- (
AFTER THE CHINESE NUCLEAR ESPIONAGE affair scandal broke, the President and other members of the administration have begun to refer to National Security Advisor Sandy Berger as "Samuel Berger." I could see this change in Sandy's nomenclature coming for a long time.

My grandmother would have adored him for shedding the Sam in favor of Sandy. Berger's hold on this quintessentially American mid-century name lasted nearly a whole career. Now he has lost it. Anyone could have warned him. Resolutely looking the other way while nuclear secrets flowed into the same Chinese pockets that campaign contributions came out is exactly the kind of behavior that turns Sandys into Sams.

In the early 1950s, as I galloped on my rocking horse "Trigger", my grandmother, ne' Lebensberger, would watch me intently, and intone suggestively "your name is Cowboy….Sandy!" I never bit. She was appalled that my parents named me as Jewish-sounding a name as Sam. And Sam was an unusual name for the time.

When I was 7, I rode in a taxi with my grandfather Sam and the taxi driver's license informed us that he too was called Sam. When told of our names, he turned around, looked at the two of us, and announced "we're the last three Sams in the whole city of Chicago."

But the newfound popularity of the name-now having been purged of its Lower-East-Side flavor and favored for toddlers on the Upper East Side-doesn't erase the sting I felt when Sandy Berger's name was taken away from him.

Sandy Berger was the President's friend; Samuel Berger is someone in whom the president has complete confidence. Sandy Berger is Bill Clinton's favorite; Samuel Berger will be exonerated when all the evidence is in --- of course some of it may never be released. Samuel Berger may be working on a book project before the year is out. He may not hear his old name again until it is uttered by Judith Regan: "Sign here, and I'll give you your check, Sandy!"

Another Sam story will take place soon: this is going to be the summer of "Summer of Sam." And the cases have something in common. When David Berkowitz was arrested, my closest friend, now chairman of a major university English department in the west, actually wailed: "It would be a Berkowitz. Why did it have to be a Jew?" In each case, the villain is not only a villain, but a representative Jew. (Berkowitz, however, was adopted as a child. Despite the last name he is not Jewish.)

Spike Lee, a master of how to epater les juives, is releasing his film this summer, and no doubt it will be filled, as "Mo' Better Blues" was, with images of Semites, lovingly and vividly depicted as conniving, brutal, coarse, money-loving, and, interestingly against type, murderous as well (though in a cowardly unmanly way). But nothing Lee does in his teasing, puncturing films will be as effectively puncturing as Berger's action. Sandy Berger -- heimish, hard-working, team player -- has been replaced by Samuel Berger --- v enal, calculating, dishonorable. Samuel, alas, is a better name for the Berger to come. And it is Mr. Clinton, with his unerring ear, who has begun the desandifying process.

During the journey through Yugoslavia in the 1930s memorialized in her great book "Black Lamb and Gray Falcon," Rebecca West noticed their driver Dragutin engaged in an act of spiteful and petty anti-semtiism against their guide and friend, called Constantine. Her husband responds sympathetically. The driver "knows quite well that Constantine is not a whole man, and that he has in some way been destroyed, and Dragutin fears infection. Now I understand some other cause for anti-Semitism: many primitive peoples must received their first indication of the toxic quality of thought from Jews. They know only the fortifying idea of religion; they see in Jews the effect of the tormenting and disintegrating ideas of skepticism." To ordinary Americans, who expect officials holding the office of National Security Advisor to act in a disinterested and patriotic way, Samuel Berger, with his cynicism and corruscating selfishness, may seem appalling in just this way.

In an administration whose corruption is so diverse and far-reaching as Clinton's, there is great opportunity for villainy. Why can't I help wishing that, of all them, the one who looks most like having allowed his country's security to have been compromised in exchange for money, were truly a Sandy, not a Sam?

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


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04/21/99: The Two Bills
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04/05/99: Col. Blimp is Alive ... and in Washington

©1999, Sam Schulman