The Breakfast Table

Damn Those Yankees

Dear Cathy,

There’s a lot to talk about today, but before I get to more serious matters I just wanted to get one small thing off my chest. As a resident of the “tri-state” area, you may share this concern with me. I’m really worried about the Yankees. It’s not OK to keep losing to the Red Sox. It makes life difficult for a New Yorker living in exile in Boston. I know its early in the season, but still.

On a more global level, I’ve been thinking a bit about the question you raised in response to my support of our efforts in Kosovo. Why Kosovo and not Rwanda? Its a genuinely troubling question, raising a whole vexing set of issues about America’s post-Cold War foreign policy. Are we slipping toward playing the so-called “global policeman?” I don’t think anyone really believes that vital national interests are at stake in Kosovo. The only convincing rationale is humanitarian. But if our aims are humanitarian, how do we justify policing some neighborhoods and not others?

I don’t pretend to have a fully satisfactory answer to these questions, but I wonder if it is helpful to think about them along the following lines. In a book called The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington recently argued that the significant conflicts of the 21st century are likely to arise along the boundaries (symbolic and geographical) between five world civilizations: Western-Judeo-Christian, Slavic, Islamic, Chinese/Asian, and Indian. Critics have raised some questions about this list, but it serves nonetheless to help me make my basic point. Huntington is concerned about conflicts between these civilizations, but I wonder if we might invoke his cultural-historical boundaries as guidelines for where it is appropriate for America to intervene and where it is not. Assuming that our national security interests are not in question, perhaps it is reasonable to say that we will act aggressively to protect basic Western-Judeo-Christian-liberal-democratic values in those parts of the world that historically and culturally share them but not in others.

I realize this is rather rough and sketchy, and that it probably raises as many questions as it answers, but perhaps there is some clarity somewhere along these lines.

On the Supreme Court ruling about sexual harassment in schools, the front page of the New York Times really helped me this morning. I was genuinely uncertain about my position, but Sandra Day O’ Connor’s vote has pushed me to the majority. In general, I think she is sensitive to the concerns you raised (and I share) about excessive government intrusiveness and the possibility that the cure could be worse than the disease, but she nonetheless sees the threat to young women’s freedom to learn as serious enough to warrant liability. I guess one just has to hope that administrators, parents, and teachers will exercise common sense in recognizing what is normal flirtation and what is harassment.

I don’t feel very adamant about either of the positions I have sketched this morning. Maybe I need more coffee. Maybe the faltering Yankees have unnerved me. What are you thinking about this morning?