The Biggest Dog Must Set the Example

The Biggest Dog Must Set the Example

The Biggest Dog Must Set the Example
An email conversation about the news of the day.
July 15 2002 5:05 PM


Hi, Peter:


I can't imagine doing what you did—reporting on the Rwanda trials of the second greatest genocide (after Pol Pot's reign) in the last 50 years—while at the same time writing a screenplay for Tom Cruise. The disconnect would seem unbearable. On the other hand, I'll bet your screenplay's richer for it. The problem with most Hollywood screenwriters, which is amply reflected in the screenplays they produce, is that they live in a completely artificial environment that derives its sense of reality from, you guessed it, the movies. It's not really their fault—everything in Hollywood is artificial—right down to the lush vegetation (those towering eucalyptus trees come from Australia; the palm trees from Mexico). Let's face it, if it weren't for the Colorado River, L.A. would be a desert. It doesn't help that people "in the business" don't really read anything other than the trades, either. I remember going to L.A. years ago when I first started out in journalism. People would ask me what I did, I'd tell them I worked at the New Republic. Five out of 10 times their response would be, "The new republic of what?"

I do disagree with you about the rest of the world not really hating us. The Taliban may well have secretly thrilled at a Die Hard tape when no one was looking, but that only made them hate us more. Our imperialism is not only economic but also—arguably even more so—cultural. I remember going to the farthest backwaters in Africa—villages without electricity or any other modern amenities—to find posters of Michael Jackson. The problem is our cultural output (and I mean the stuff that comes out of Hollywood) is like crack. One taste and you're addicted. Die Hard inevitably leads to Die Hard 2 and the next thing you know, you're scrounging around on all fours for Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Should we be ashamed of ourselves for being strong and producing stuff everyone wants? Only if you have a president who is so completely insensitive to that fact that, in fact, he takes pride in his insensitivity. "I'm not interested in nuance," Bush once boasted—this, at a time when the job he holds would seem to require a greater understanding of nuance than ever before. To say Bush's comment is imbecilic is an insult to imbeciles everywhere. Dumb and proud of it—now that's scary.

Which is why the ICC brouhaha was so appalling. You absolutely do have a point; the biggest dog on the block may well invite trouble just for being the biggest dog. On the other hand, if we—as the biggest dog—don't set an example, we can't very well expect others to toe the line in the cooperation department. Though the U.N. has tried to portray the solution they cobbled together—putting the question off for a year—as a compromise that saw the Bush team give a little, it seems to me to be just the opposite. We won, got our way, and I'm not proud of it, either. But after the Bush team's abrogation of the ABM treaty, refusal to consider treaties on the global small arms trade, land mines, global warming (the list goes on) a nuanced nod to the U.N. would have been completely out of character.

The question I leave you with is this: How long can Colin Powell swallow it all? I know he made $27 million the year before he joined the Bush team—bona fide Republican credentials, to be sure. But still, this is a guy who claims to be pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, and in favor of a (yipes!) nuanced foreign policy. Yet from the start—from smart sanctions against Iraq to creating a semblance of balance in our policy toward Israel and the Palestinians—he's been thwarted and, in my mind, humiliated. As Nigel Tuffnell was famous for noting in Spinal Tap, "It's a fine line between cleverness and stupidity."