Friday, March 20, 2009

Zoroastrian new year

John McCain at the Alfred E. Smith charity dinner in New York on October 16, 2008:

"Finally, when Larry King asked President Clinton a couple weeks ago what was the delay and why wasn't he out there on the trail for Barack, Bill said his hands were tied until the end of the Jewish high holidays.

"Now, you've got to admire that ecumenical spirit. I just know Bill would like to be out there now, stumping for Barack until the last hour of the last day. Unfortunately, he is constrained by his respect for any voters who might be observing the Zoroastrian new year."

As the punchline of a joke, "Zoroastrian new year" brought some of the biggest laughs in McCain's whole comedy routine that night, in an audience of rich and powerful people including Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I don't know of any pundits who noticed the gaffe, aside from one anonymous commenter on Free Republic. Even the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America didn't bother to issue a press release. But now President Obama has chosen to observe the actual Zoroastrian new year by giving a video message to the Iranian people. The interesting thing about the White House web page about the speech is that it actually highlights what is by far the least conciliatory portion:

"You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create."

Switching the names of the countries, President Ahmadinejad could easily use those exact same words in a message to the people of the United States, but how would such a message be received by Americans? This must have been intended as boilerplate for domestic consumption. After all, there are probably more Americans who are concerned that Obama might be too conciliatory with Iran, rather than not conciliatory enough.

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres of Israel, widely acknowledged as the father of his country's nuclear weapons program, has also chosen this day to address the Iranian people, telling them that their leaders should "stop spending their days dealing with bombs and uranium — is this in the name of God?"

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