June 22, 2004

Kim Sun-il

The punks of Al Qaeda have beheaded another innocent. Kim Sun-il, previously seen begging in English for his life, yesterday had to strip off his civilian clothes, put on the orange jumpsuit (apparently the official garb of Al Qaeda beheading victims) and await his fate as the killers jeered and the video-camera churned. American forces found his severed parts alongside a Baghdad roadway.

The carnage has not benumbed us; it has exposed the murderers’ juvenile cowardice and created more intractable enemies than converts for Al Qaeda. The slaughter also made fools of a Korean diplomatic delegation, which had hoped to reason with the captors. One can think of this only with a sense of prayerful awe — of life’s blessings, evil’s persistence and the importance of embracing the good. God bless Mr. Kim and his family.

Bill Clinton on Oprah

I am watching Bill Clinton on Oprah, blaming his priapism on Republicans and “parallel lives” that he concealed from friends and family for years and years and years. The ladies in attendance have filled the role so many others have performed for our 42nd president: They are nodding, crying, applauding — enabling.

In his world, responsibility is a word to be uttered with conviction, not something to practice consistently. For every confession, the ex-president singles out an appropriate ogre — Newt Gingrich, Ken Starr, the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy — anybody but Bill Clinton.

The performance is absolutely riveting. Clinton obviously feels in his bones — in the marrow of his marrow — that while he behaved badly, his accusers behaved unforgivably. He sells the point not with argument, but emotion.

Bill Clinton has an uncanny and extraordinary talent for capturing the normal stirrings of the human heart. To take one example: He describes his daughter’s reaction to L’Affaire Lewinsky as an epiphany: the moment a child realizes that her parents aren’t perfect, and that they struggle with temptations and lures that youngsters cannot even imagine. Every parent recalls such moments wistfully, with a wince of recollection that blots out everything else. Suddenly, one recalls one’s own children looking up with a sense of sad betrayal, and surrendering forever their childhood worshipfulness of mom and dad. By the time one has chewed over that thought, one has forgotten entirely that Bill Clinton was discussing something entirely different — an intimate dalliance with a girl barely older than his only child.

Ironically, the effect of this performance is to transform Bill Clinton not into a whole man, of flesh and blood and vexing complexity, but into a sort of cartoon figure — a guy who does everything prodigiously. His life makes sense only to those who have the luxury of replaying each and every moment in slow motion — over and over and over — and studying them with minute care. Such study enables one to examine his complex and convoluted behavior and preachments. I know for a fact that I will have to listen to this interview a dozen times to make complete sense of it. Ironically, he has just said, “I want people to understand that people are not cartoons.” The guy knows his flaws better than his critics do.

Welcome, Stranger

John F. Kerry paid a visit to Washington today, stopping to vote on a bill that would increase federal funding for veterans’ benefits. This enabled him to vote for the 15th time this year — he has missed 116 other votes. This means he has showed up for 13 percent of the Senate’s votes this year. To put the performance in perspective, Bob Dole voted 92 percent of the time (up to this date) while running for president in 1996, and Joe Lieberman voted 79 percent of the time.

Kerry will return to the road tomorrow.