Big Words, Old Dreams
Dont use big words for little matters,
Unlike most people, Johnson used big words with care and precision as well as humor. But in this case he wasnt talking about polysyllables; he was reproaching casual exaggeration. It may cause more trouble than outright lying.
In a televised interview this last week, Virginias Republican senator, John Warner, spoke of our vital interests in the Middle East, naming first among these the security of Israel. Talk about using big words for little matters! Does this man listen to himself? You expect loose talk from politicians, but there should be some limits.
A vital interest is one your survival may depend on; it is not the same thing as an emotional preference. No matter how much you love the Zionist state, its absurd to say it represents our vital interests. The opposite is more nearly true. We are embroiled in endless futile wars in the Middle East because our government supports Israel a state based entirely on what in this country would be flagrantly illegal racial and religious discrimination no matter what it does. Its hard to say which is the worst feature of American policy in the Middle East, its shameless venality and hypocrisy or its sheer irrationality. It would make some sense only if huge oil reserves were discovered under Tel Aviv.
Possibly Warner meant by the phrase our vital interests something like the survival of crooked politicians such as myself. Yes, that might explain it!
Put it this way. Just when did creating a Jewish state in the Middle East, antagonizing Arabs, Muslims and Christians alike, become a vital American interest? Did anyone think we needed this before Harry Truman recognized Israel in 1948? Did even Truman himself, who was probably bribed to do it, have the gall to pretend it would actually help us?
Nothing in the writings of our Founding Fathers argues that the United States should be a superpower, or have a global empire, or send armies into Arabian deserts. Nor is there the faintest suggestion that the president of the United States should be the most powerful man in the world, or even in this country. How did we get to this point?
I sometimes joke that the difference between Europe and America is this: European heads of state speak good English. This is more than a swipe at our presidents difficulty with language; I mean that if we cant master the language of Jefferson and Madison, we are fatally cut off from our own past. That is also the point of my frequent observation that the U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our form of government. Neither President Bush nor Senator Warner seems able to measure his words; so both are in the habit of using very big words for very small matters.
Modern government, and maybe most government at most times, is more like dictatorship some men forcing their will on others than like the harmony of a contented family, where the rules are taken for granted and quarreling is the exception. Government, as someone has said, is neither reason nor persuasion, but force. The mystery is why we still expect good to come of it. Yet men who dont believe in God easily believe in a benevolent state, or even in the Iraq war, in blind defiance of history and experience.
The original idea of the state of Israel was that a Jewish state not necessarily in the Middle East would be self-sufficient, not dependent on anyone else, certainly not a burden to the United States. It would give the worlds Jews a normal nationality and refuge from anti-Semitism. That was the dream. At the time it seemed plausible, even inspiring, though a few prescient people had their doubts and predicted ceaseless trouble.
But today we take for granted that Israel is this countrys responsibility (politely called an ally rather than a client) and that its enemies must be ours too. Politicians assume (though politeness also forbids them to say) that American Jews owe their chief allegiance to the Zionist entity. The old nightmare of dual loyalty has come to seem quaint: dual? If only it were!
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