I do believe that's the first shorter I've ever done ("shorter" concept, D-squared). It felt like I was walking down a runway in a miniskirt.
In 1960 the premier of the Soviet Union came and spoke in the United States. Nikita Khrushchev was our sworn enemy, and a vulgarian--sweaty faced, ill educated, dressed in a suit just off the racks from the Gulag Kresge's. I was a child, but I remember the impression he made. He took off his shoe and banged it, literally, on the soft beige wood of a desk at the U.N., as he fulminated. His nation had nuclear weapons. They were aimed at us.
The new Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, was there too. He was young and bearded and dressed in camouflage; he too, soon, would have missiles pointed at us. He not only went to the U.N. and spoke to the world, he refused to stay at the Waldorf and sweetly chose instead a hotel in Harlem to show his solidarity with America's oppressed. The Americans there seemed to get the joke, and welcomed him with laughter. They knew he was playing them. But then they'd been played before.
Okay, okay. So olive drab is not camouflage. So if Khrushchev banged his shoe on that desk Peg never saw it. So whatever laughter we squeezed out of Castro rooming in Harlem certainly rings a little hollow in hindsight.
But the whole "We were nice to Krushchev and he had nukes" routine misses the point, in addition to being a facile (see MoDo, who is nothing if not facile) bit of self-aggrandizement. The Ahmadinejad thing has nothing to do with civility; we are not a polite society anymore, assuming we ever were. We can despair all we like over our lack of taste, which, unlike our manners, is clearly not much worse than it was in the Fifties, unless you'd like to try to make the case that women having sex or eating bugs is qualitatively more tasteless than sauntering models and lab-coated actors selling cigarettes that're good for the throat. Respect for the First Amendment? Please. Peggy may remember the ill-draped comic-opera Commienazis of her girleen days, but she seems to have forgotten, conveniently, the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950, or the uproar over the school prayer decision in Engle in 1962, or what the FBI was up to in, well, you pick it.
Lee Bollinger drawing a Hitler mustache on Hitler isn't so much rude, or unseemly, or anti-American. It's pathetic, and weasely, and sad. Look, Ahmadinejad is a bad actor on the world stage, but that's a buyer's market. We've freely elected one ourselves, along with a sidekick who, if anything, is worse. Plus Ahmadinejad's the leader of a regional demi-power and we're a global, pro-democracy bully. Or a one-time global, pro-democracy bully. I'm suspicious of claims he called for wiping Israel off the map; if the sorts of people who spread that information don't like that they need to dedicate themselves to scrupulous honesty in the future. I dunno if he's a Holocaust denier or just sponsored a festival of Jew-baiting as a stick in the eye. Furthermore, I could give a rat's ass. What does it change? We've been demonizing every regime in the Middle East for sixty years now, rightly, wrongly, or in between, unless they pal up with us. What has it solved? Do we imagine that the Saudis are objectively pro-Zionist now? How long did Saddam Hussein walk around with that "Kick Me" sign on? That disaster in the former Iraq is precisely the sum total of our own dedication to a peaceable solution in the region, which we imagine will occur spontaneously just as soon as everybody starts thinking like us.
If we didn't slip a Whoopie! cushion onto Khrushchev's chair at the UN in 1960, it's also true that the sort of people who might have wanted to didn't feel the need: witness Noonan's catty replay half a century later and her urban-legend "remembrances". Khrushchev really had nukes, and the more-than-a-decade-long frame of the Soviets as the command center for the International Commie Plot to take over the globe had not yet been revealed as lukewarm flummery, one which had only yet begun to keep the US military in creature comforts and expensive Big Boy toys. A thousand times that effort cannot paint Iran as the same sort of threat. In fact the opposite is clear: no level of insanity in an Iranian president, not even Ahmadinejad bred with Dick Cheney, can result in an Iran which can assure anything but its own destruction.
People are free to call him whatever they wish on the street, just like they can dance in celebration of Castro's reports-of-my-death-were-slightly-exaggerateds. That's the US of A. The unfortunate thing isn't that we've become rude, or that we fail to live up to our ideals. The unfortunate thing is we've become simple and scared, a hissing kitten in the corner. Which is, oddly, what you get when you scratch a pretend cowboy.