As you are probably aware, Chinese President Jiang Zemin was demanding a fulsome apology from the United States for not stopping a Chinese plane from ramming an American plane.
Things were tense. As a China "specialist" who was quoted in The New York Times explained, Jiang had no choice but to take a hard line because he has "very diverse constituencies, and they all have to brought on board, both in the bureaucracy and in the public."
Or he could just shoot them.
By contrast, an American president really does have to respond to constituencies. By and large, Americans take a dim view of eating dogs, shooting students, and subjecting American servicemen to communist show trials until the American president agrees to hop on one foot dressed like a chicken. President Bush is hemmed in by peculiar American attitudes that demand proper treatment of American men and women, rather than execution in Tiananmen Square.
On one hand, it is totally humiliating for an American president to have to apologize to a 3-foot-tall dictator for his plane crashing into our plane. But on the other hand, short of all-out thermonuclear war, there was no other choice if we can't bear the idea of Americans being treated like the Chinese government treats its own people.
So this was my idea: Have President Clinton apologize. He'd get all weepy, bite his lower lip, ramble on and on and on -- the full Jimmy Swaggart routine. But at the same time, everyone would know he didn't mean it.
We could even have two separate tape reels, one short action shot for Jiang's "constituencies" and one with the outtakes for American viewers. Remember the footage of Clinton at Ron Brown's funeral? The full tape showed Clinton happily strolling along, smiling and laughing -- until he catches sight of a camera. Then he quickly hangs his head and pretends to wipe away a tear. It's a beautiful moment.
And now his country needs him. No other human so thoroughly lacks the capacity for embarrassment. (He's probably headed in China's direction right now on that Thai sex tour anyway.) Actually, we don't even need Clinton. That guy from "Saturday Night Live" could do it. Americans can barely tell the difference; the Chinese surely won't.
In lieu of the Jimmy Swaggart solution, I have Backup Auxiliary Offer No. 2, which I call the "win-win solution." But first, this one requires a little background.
In the last election, Bush won: the election, two recounts in Florida permitted by law, a third recount not permitted by law, and a count of all Florida absentee ballots -- before the U.S. Supreme Court finally said enough.
Now it turns out Bush also won every conceivable method of counting the Florida ballots concocted by The Miami Herald (which endorsed Gore) and USA Today (which did not endorse a presidential candidate) -- but one. Pursuant to this one single counting method -- which was not among the 17 methods requested by Al Gore or ordered by the Democratic Florida Supreme Court -- Gore might be three votes ahead of Bush. Literally, five months after the election, they think they've finally found a method of counting ballots that puts Gore three votes ahead.
Commenting on the media recounts that produced the exact same result as all the official tabulations, The New York Times stated: "They provide stark evidence of how imprecise our voting system is."
There is more important background information. In a classic Tax-Cuts-for-the-Rich expose, The New York Times began a story last week: "Carrie Villa of Helena, Mont. has a dream -- a house of her own on a nearby mountain." She thought she might "achieve her dream" when President Bush came through Montana recently, promoting his tax cut.
She'd "heard the president talk about a 'typical family' making $40,000 a year" and that "the Bush plan would return $1,600 to that family." Excitedly, she "took out a calculator and a tax form and did some numbers."
Sadly, her hopes were dashed. After working with the calculator for a while, "Ms. Villa discovered that the president's tax cut would not put a single extra dime in her pocket."
All that was on the front page, above the fold. You had to persevere to Page A-18 to find out that Ms. Villa doesn't pay any federal income tax. What was she doing with that calculator exactly? Hmmm, I pay zero dollars in federal income tax now, so if my entire tax burden were reduced to zero under the Bush plan, I'd be up ... zero dollars! Let's run those numbers again.
Don't we have journalists in China? Next time let's make a trade. Give us the kids back and keep the Times reporters.