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Of all the reactions to the hollow president's "triumphant" journey to China, one of the most appropriate--which was not in the mainstream media--was that of legendary defense attorney and civil libertarian Leonard Weinglass:
"It's kind of ironic that the man who signed a law speeding up death penalty cases and undermining habeas corpus goes lecturing anyone on human rights. This former professor of constitutional law has signed into law more violations of human rights than any recent president. . . . [He also pushed] for warrantless searches for welfare recipients and roving government wiretaps."
For the most part, however, Clinton's trip has been greeted with hosannas--like the one from his lackey, Governor Roy Romer of Colorado, general chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which is omnivorous when it comes to campaign contributions:
"I think the Republicans have lost China as an issue. [Because of Clinton] people understand that one-quarter of the world's population is sitting in the middle of that Asian economy. We've got to know them better, and they've got to be partners of ours."
Maybe we can advise our partners on how better to run their maximum-security gulags and discipline their political prisoners.
Republican leaders were also taken in by all the photo ops. Said statesman Newt Gingrich: "I think the president did a pretty good job talking on Chinese radio and TV." Gingrich did not mention the gag order that Clinton accepted from the Chinese government, which told him he could do the TV session with Chinese college students provided he did not mention the massacre at Tiananmen Square.
And a previously inveterate critic of Clinton, TheWall Street Journal, added to the tributes: "So we may break convention among the president's critics by saying we think Mr. Clinton has been doing well in China."
Presumably, TheWall Street Journaldid not seek the opinions of any of those Chinese packed into labor camps.
As usual, the political cartoonists got it right. One precisely angry cartoon stays much longer in the mind than many inches of print. In The Washington Post, as you can see on this page, Herblock reminded us that even while the mutual toasts were going on, imprisoned dissidents were being treated as viciously as ever.
And Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News--who is syndicated around the country--showed President Jiang and the Don Giovanni of the White House opening fortune cookies. Jiang reports: "Mine says good health and good fortune. What does yours say?"
The president of the United States opens his fortune cookie and reads the note: "Help me, I'm in the cell below."
But in real artificial life, Clinton spoke, during his final press conference, of the Chinese government's increasing of personal liberties, and emphasized that such progress is "morally right."
And Clinton verbally genuflected before the supreme dictator of China, Jiang Zemin, lauding him as a man of "imagination--and vision."
Years ago, people I knew in the Communist Party, U.S.A., tried to convince me that Stalin was a man of "vision."
It is unwise ever to underestimate Clinton's capacity for deception, including self-deception. A person who knows he's lying is far less dangerous than someone who believes his own lies.
For example, in Hong Kong, at the end of his journey, he said: "The decisions I made on this trip . . . were based on my best judgment about what would be most effective in expanding human rights."
One of the relatively few journalists who were not conned by Clinton's Chinese adventure was Washington Postcolumnist E. J. Dionne Jr. He quoted Clinton as saying at Beijing University that the kind of "open, direct exchange" he had with Jiang on television would "allow people to understand and debate and discuss" controversial issues.
"But who in China," Dionne asked, "is being allowed to 'debate and discuss' these things? Absolutely no one. To exercise free speech in China, to get on television expressing such a dissenting view, you have to be--well, the president of the United States."
Clinton speaks of narrowing our "differences" with China, but Dionne says that what separates us is much more profound than mere differences. "Americans," he notes, "believe that people should be free to express their views. President Jiang believes he can kill or jail those who say something he doesn't like."
Dionne talked to Representative Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California. She is an unwavering opponent of Clinton'smindless conciliation with the Chinese dictatorship. A woman of principle, she should be an example to others in Congress, but most lack her knowledge, passion, and integrity.
What Pelosi fears, she told Dionne, is that Clinton (whose China policy is not much different from George Bush's) is trying to create "a post-Tiananmen era" that aims to push the Tiananmen massacre into the mists of the past.
Clinton is a man without durable principles of any kind. In contrast, Pelosi says: "As long as people are being held in prison for the peaceful expression of their religious and political beliefs, and dissidents are not free to speak freely in China, the Tiananmen Square era continues."
But for her vision to prevail requires continuing inquiry on the part of the press, which has been lulled by those "free exchanges" between Clinton and Jiang. And when the press stops paying consistent attention to the crimes of a brutal government, people here become indifferent.
For example, what's happening in Somalia? Or Rwanda? Or Haiti? Or Guatemala? We now have some coverage of the dictatorship in Nigeria. But how long will that last in American newspapers or on television?