Paul Greenberg

Various justices of the Supreme Court of the United States have been known to make as much sense when they discuss nativity scenes, and have to decide when celebrating the birth of Christ (a religious rite) becomes only celebrating Christmas (now a cultural festival, as with the Japanese) and therefore is constitutional.

There is actually something to be said for confusing an issue so thoroughly that nobody could possibly fight over it. It's a way of preserving the peace. Dwight Eisenhower was a master of that tactic; he could do it at every press conference. When it came to statesmanlike incoherence, the man was a natural.

During one of those recurrent crises with the Chinese back in the '50s over the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu, his press secretary, James Hagerty, worried that his boss would say something so conciliatory the Communists on the mainland would take it as an invitation to seize the islands - or, conversely, something so provocative we'd find ourselves in World War III.

No problem. Ike took his press secretary aside and assured him, "Don't worry, Jim, I'll go out there and confuse 'em." Which he did. At length. Like the master he was. The man was inarticulate like a fox.

As for the lady's comment about the blessings of separating morality from politics, it sticks in the mind - like a marble going 'round and 'round in a clothes dryer. It's definitely a quote worth keeping in my collection of the unconsciously metaphysical.

Still, that comment may not rank up there with my favorite conundrum - an observation that appeared in a letter from a mental patient to the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial some years ago: "It gets boring not having peace of mind all the time."

I'm still thinking about that one.

Rolling it over in my mind has much the same disorienting effect as being immersed in the news 24/7/365. Everything begins to spin. I know.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.