I stare in disbelief at my fellow worshippers at Church on Sunday. Although coming from air-conditioned homes in air-conditioned cars to an air-conditioned church, many of them appear to have had insufficient time to dress, wearing shorts, sleeveless tops, no socks, and — need I say it? — no hats. It’s as though they were washing the car when they suddenly realized they had to leave for church, with no time to change.
By contrast, I recall the days of my youth, when no homes, automobiles, or churches were air-conditioned, and women wore dresses, hats, and gloves to church, and men wore suits and ties, and, of course, hats. There were even little gadgets on the pew-backs to hold the hats during the service. Things seem to have gone backwards: with less oppression by the heat, our clothing has gotten skimpier.
I am similarly bemused by the incessant travels of our rulers. When was the last time (I am joking, of course!) that a TV anchor announced that no one of importance in Washington had gone anywhere? There is scarcely a day when we don’t see George Bush emerging from Air Force One in some locale where he’s going to attend a meeting, or give a speech. Ms. Rice seems to live on airplanes, popping up for a day or two here or there for brief meetings with some nabob or another before jetting off to another get-together. And Don Rumsfeld could show up in the enlisted men’s mess — pick a country, any country — at any time to share lunch with the boys and tell them what a great job they are doing protecting the American way of life and bringing the advantages of democracy to a grateful Iraqi (for example) public. (No doubt he wears a flak jacket under his shirt, just in case some Iraqi prove a little TOO grateful). Wouldn’t a video-taped message have been vastly cheaper, and just as effective? Rumsfeld is history, but no one contends it’s because he overused his frequent flier miles!
In the early days of the country, when the only way to get a message to a foreign government was via a letter that could take many weeks to reach its destination, there weren’t nearly so many wars in which the United States involved itself. Back then, sending old Ben Franklin off to France to negotiate was probably as quick and easy as doing it by correspondence, and not that much more expensive.
But here’s the ironic part: today one can communicate, in full color and surround sound, almost instantly. The technology is available everywhere, and cheap. By contrast, I saw an article about Air Force One claiming it cost almost $57,000 per hour to operate that craft. Additionally, when the president, or some other important official, travels, there are hordes of security people accompanying him. He might even take along his own bulletproof limo, in another airplane. Wouldn’t video-conferencing be as effective, at a tiny fraction of the cost?
Another thing: when was the last time something of substance occurred at one of these meetings? Can you even recall what was discussed? Remember those meetings at Camp David between Israeli and Palestinian leaders? What resulted from that other than the expected platitudes, and pictures of Jew and Arab shaking hands and smiling at each other? There have been more mid-eastern "summits" than I can remember: they’re still killing each other over there. The president flies off to some economic summit, but so what? The economy continues to disintegrate. Do you recall what President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev talked about in Iceland? I didn’t, so I looked it up. Arms control. Did their summit end up controlling arms? I don’t know. In any event, wouldn’t a telephone call have sufficed? Post-cards might have been sufficient: the recipients could have simply checked off the amount of aid they were demanding.
Our rulers are a bunch of windbags, never averse to having their photographs taken — particularly if the Capitol looms in the background, or an American flag waves over their heads. They talk endlessly in Congress, for the record, but don’t you suppose that what gets done gets done over lunch, or in the cloakroom? The rest is eyewash, or whitewash — or hogwash.
Politicians love to be seen and heard. Appearing on the evening news in a foreign locale, shaking hands, and announcing important breakthroughs, is their bread-and-butter. Of course, we are assured that serious problems remain, so an additional junket or two might be needed.
Phooey! Write a letter; send a telegram; have a conference call. And don’t even do THAT unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Personal diplomacy loses its effectiveness when it’s the usual and ordinary diplomacy.