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A Defense of Missile Defense . . .

As I was driving down Rodeo Drive the other morning, rolling past the fetching shop windows of Ermenegildo Zegna, Hugo Boss and Salvatore Ferragamo, that little tax-rebate check sent to me by George W. Bush was beginning to generate quite a consumerist itch in my back pocket. But it wasn’t until I bunkered in for breakfast at the comfy Peninsula Hotel, taking a table next to Charlton Heston’s, that I began to realize just to what degree I had been on the verge of indulging in not only a completely selfish act, but perhaps a wantonly unpatriotic one at that. The luminous crystal chandeliers above me, the velvety brocade on the walls, the gleaming gilded picture frames, even the light, flaky pastries on my plate, were only the most insidious sort of false reassurances: All this peace, prosperity and tranquillity could come to a bloody, crashing terminus at any moment. Just one rogue North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile — streaking over the Pacific, crossing the PCH, turning up Montana Avenue and touching down somewhere just north of Wilshire — could instantaneously obliterate my little midsummer idyll.

That at least was the unequivocal warning from Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, an able representative of the GOP’s most Taliban wing, who had come into town to sell Dubya’s proposed National Missile Defense. As Charlton and I and about 75 others poured another cup of Kona and slathered the fresh-whipped butter onto what might be our last bite ever of blueberry muffins, the senator spelled out his unflinching scenario of doom: “I can tell you that today, we are in the most threatened position as a country that we have ever been in our history, ever since the days of the Revolutionary War.”

Not only are our conventional ground-fighting forces half what they used to be, according to the senator, not only are our F15s and F16s being overtaken by new Russian fighter jets, but, he said, “Right now, there’s a minimum of 13 American cities targeted by Chinese missiles.” With that info, I cast a anxious glance toward Heston, wondering if he had brought his prized flintlock musket along with him, the one I saw him hold over his head earlier this year at the NRA convention, and if he knew how to say “From My Cold, Dead Hands!” in proper Mandarin.

This breakfast crowd didn’t so much as flinch at all the bad news. This was a routine gathering of the Wednesday Morning Club, the meet-and-eat outfit run by leftist-turned-rightist David Horowitz, and they generally come to praise, not braise, their speakers. So no embarrassing questions were asked about the senator’s proposed Missile Defense program violating the ABM treaty, or bleeding the Treasury for another $100 billion or more, or encouraging a new nuclear-arms race, or simply not working. (Two weeks after the much-ballyhooed July 14 test of the Missile Defense prototype, the Pentagon glibly admitted that the rocket fired from nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base, which was shot down in midair by a second rocket launched from the South Pacific, was equipped with a satellite beacon making it near impossible to miss. Doubtful the Chinese would be so accommodating.)

No matter. These are real True Believers. One nice lady told me before the speech that she had “lost” two of her sons at Harvard: “They became Democrats!” Another table-mate lamented that Dick Riordan was a not-so-covert “liberal Democrat.” Horowitz himself warmed up the crowd by saying the Democrats “are opposed to the defense of the U.S. They might call themselves liberals, but in reality, they are leftists.”

Don’t misunderstand me. I like David. And consider him a friend. Indeed, I found most of the Wednesday Morning folks agreeable and friendly. On the whole, they were more amusing than frightening.

Mostly I was struck by the similarities between their right-wing political reflexes and many of those I have observed for years on the left. I am not saying that all ideologies are equal. Not by a long stretch. But ideologues have a lot in common — whether they claim to be on the Right or Left. Their willingness to cling to empty, unproven but self-affirming ideological constructs in the face of contradictory facts, and their ability to self-righteously cast themselves as the persecuted, unrecognized and often heroic repositories of Revealed Truth, are truly universal — and often astounding.

The unquestioning acceptance of Missile Defense by the Wednesday Morning Club is a response perfectly mirrored in, say, a National Lawyers Guild meeting premised in unconditional solidarity with Cuba.

At the breakfast club, Inhofe was aping the standard moan of the left — that it is always outgunned and overwhelmed by its more clever enemy. When he complained to his fellow breakfasters that “The Democrats on the Hill are more disciplined.” When he said, “They do what they are told or they are dead. It’s us, the Republicans, who can’t get it together, can’t stay organized.”

Even Inhofe’s attack on the media sounded like he came fresh out of a huddle with the lefty media-critique group FAIR. “The media?” asked the conservative senator. “They hate us,” he said, answering his own question. “They hate everyone in this room.”

Then Heston spoke up, asking Inhofe, “Why do the Dem-ocrats seem so insistent on dismantling the military?” (This is a paranoid fantasy on par with the leftist charge that Republicans carried out a “coup” last year in November.)

“A simple yes or no,” one lady demanded of the senator. “Is Bill Clinton a traitor?” Rather pointed language regarding the president of the United States. Stunningly similar to the “fascist” label that so many on the left are willing to apply against their own heretics.

Fortunately, the world is a more complicated place than suggested by these rhetorical broad-brushes. George Bush and the Republicans now push Missile Defense, but it was Bill Clinton who followed in the steps of Ronald Reagan and signed the Missile Defense Act into existence, and it was Clinton who refused to kill off the whole boondoggle when he had a singular historic chance to do so. The GOP-dominated House rubber-stamped Arctic oil drilling last week. But 36 Democrats also voted for it — after being lobbied hard by organized labor. So much for Teamsters and Turtles Together.

Leaving the Peninsula breakfast room (after Heston correctly observed that the original Planet of the Apes was better than Tim Burton’s botched remake), I was reassured to see the sun still shining over Beverly Hills, to see Asians disembarking from tourist buses and not armed troop carriers, to hear no air-raid sirens blazing, and to see no evidence of any uninvited projectiles winging my way. Confronted with this transitory serenity, I am only left to wonder how far you can stretch a $300 tax rebate at Emporio Armani.