"Bill Clinton: Master of the Universe?" appeared in a topic box on MSNBC below a babbling Chris Matthews on Wednesday. This is what passes for a substantive issue in a nothing political culture.
Clinton's "rescue" was about as real and moving as a Steven Bing movie -- or a Kim Jong-il movie for that matter. Did you know that the dictator is an aspiring filmmaker? Indeed, he played an important role in the production of the movie Diary of a Girl Student, according to Wikipedia and the Korean Central News Agency. The latter outlet declared that he "improved its script and guided its production."
Kim Jong-il's other contributions to the film industry include: authoring the book On the Art of Cinema and kidnapping director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife in order to "build a North Korean film industry," according to Wikipedia.
Movie mogul Steven Bing, heretofore known more for mistreating women like actress Elizabeth Hurley than protecting them, helped choreograph Bill Clinton's rote retrieval of Al Gore's Internet journalists and paid for a chunk of his traveling expenses, say press accounts. The Hollywood phoniness of it all evidently appealed to Jong-il's moviemaker sensibilities. Perhaps the self-described film buff is a fan of Bing's Shangri-La Productions and sees in it a potential home for his future projects.
Clinton's trip was financed appropriately enough not just by Hollywood but by the plastics industry. According to the Washington Post, Dow Chemical "provided the plane that ferried the former president from his home in Westchester County, N.Y., to Burbank, Calif." Then Bing took care of the rest.
And not to be forgotten is that behind this successful man is a good wife who happens to be Secretary of State. Kim Jong-il had insulted Hillary the other day, having one of his flaks dismiss her as someone who looks like a "primary schoolgirl," apparently a topic still on his mind, and someone who at other times looks like a "pensioner going shopping."
The now-gallant Bill Clinton could have threatened, as he did with columnist Bill Safire after he called Hillary a "congenital liar" in the 1990s, to slug the dictator for that insult. But he didn't. He duly conformed to the script, though his friends in the media applauded him for his great restraint in not smiling during his meeting and photo-ops with Kim Jong-il and for glumly greeting a hack nuclear industry official who shook his hand repeatedly at the airport.
Al Gore was not sufficiently glamorous for the role, Kim Jong-Il felt, according to the Washington Post: "The administration had wanted to send former vice president Al Gore to North Korea instead of Clinton; Gore is a co-founder of Current TV, which employs the journalists who were detained. But North Korea officials hinted that they wanted an envoy of Clinton's stature, sources said."
It tells you a lot about the vapidity and irrationality of American politics that the highest honor bestowed on a politician by journalists is to call him a "rock star," a phrase they used incessantly over the last few days about Clinton.
The episode is one more reminder of the oppressive emptiness of world politics; it revolves around a democracy of, by, and for the elite. If you are planning to fool around abroad in some troubled hot spot, be sure to know someone famous. Meanwhile, back at home, the less glamorous and well-connected, whether in the womb or in some teetering hospice, receive no such rescue. They die alone.