- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

The best response yet in this much too early presidential campaign came from John McCain in New Hampshire. Some kid at Concord (N.H.) High who thought he was smart asked the senator from Arizona if he didn’t think he was too old to be president — and if he was worried he might come down with Alzheimer’s in office.

To which Mr. McCain replied that his son believes he’s old enough to hide his own Easter eggs. Then he added: “Thanks for the question, you little jerk.” The other students ate it up. And my respect for the senator, never small, continued to grow.

Ah, the willing suspension of disbelief. You seldom hear that phrase outside an English literature course in the Romantic poets. It has something to do with Coleridge, Wordsworth and the basis of poetic faith.

But the other day Sen. Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat, used the literary phrase in connection with the congressional testimony of four-star Gen. David Petraeus, who wrote the book on counterinsurgency warfare, and seasoned diplomat Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad. Both are doing outstanding if thankless jobs for their country. That figures. No public service ever goes unpunished.

In this instance, Mrs. Clinton saluted their service by telling them: “The reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief.” Nice.

It was enough to make one grateful that Mrs. Clinton is in the U.S. Senate representing New York — not Arkansas. People might get the wrong idea about us.

Both gentlemen responded politely enough, but neglected to thank the senator for her comment, the jerk.

Whenever I grow soft on the new Hillary Clinton — the temperate, moderate, responsible senator who does her homework, ably represents her constituents and respects those who may disagree with her — it occurs to me that maybe I’m just engaging in the willing suspension of disbelief. I used to fall for every new Nixon, too.

Who does Hillary Clinton think she is, dismissing the cautious, balanced reports of the country’s most knowledgeable generals and diplomats as unworthy of belief — Donald Rumsfeld?

As for Mr. Rumsfeld, the more one hears from him, the less one wants to hear from him. The other day, the now happily former defense secretary said he slept just fine, thank you — despite all the terrible miscalculations that have marked this country’s course in Iraq.

When one thinks of all the American leaders who have walked the floors at night agonizing over their wartime decisions. … But what, Don Rumsfeld worry? Some folks can sleep through anything.

More and more, Donald H. Rumsfeld brings to mind Robert Strange McNamara, the unrepentant architect of American defeat in Vietnam and its inevitable aftermath — the “re-education” camps in which hundreds of thousands suffered and died, the anguish of the Boat People, the killing fields of Cambodia.

Even worse awaits in Iraq and beyond if America falters there, abandoning allies and confirming Osama bin Laden’s confident assertion that this country cannot last in a protracted struggle.

Bloody history is set to repeat itself in the wake of an American defeat in Iraq. What ever happened to Never Again? Or is that slogan reserved for Darfur?

Some advice: Courtesy of an advice column, here’s (a) some sage counsel about how to behave during a job interview, and (b) another sign of the devious times: “Always be honest; don’t lie — especially about something that will come back to haunt you when they check your references. Focus on personal and professional goals such as wanting more growth, professional opportunities, etc. Never let your answer be ‘more money.’ No matter how true it is, it sounds shallow.” In short, don’t lie — especially if you’ll be caught at it — but do shave the truth. Talk about sounding shallow.

What mystifies about this piece of advice is why wanting more money should be something to hide. It’s part of the American Dream, isn’t it? As mama used to say, there’s no shame in being poor, but it’s nothing to be proud of, either.

Yet nothing seems to inspire euphemisms like simply wanting to make more money. (“He always wanted to better himself.”)

Americans in particular seem ashamed of any interest in moolah, dough, mazuma, scratch. … Maybe it’s the result of our twin Puritan and Cavalier inheritances, which always seem at war with each other. The earnest pilgrim is supposed have higher things on his mind, like his spiritual state; his prosperity is but an incidental sign of grace. And the well-bred lady or gentleman isn’t supposed to work at all, just inherit. How convenient.

For whatever reasons, talking money is taboo. Some of us may not mind telling some anonymous pollster our political party, medical problems, sexual proclivities, drinking habits or almost anything else — but when it comes to our annual income, we draw the line. (“Hey, that’s private.“) There’s just something forbidden about discussing, yes, filthy lucre. It may be the last taboo.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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