That Tom Clancy sure has a way with words

This Just In...

June 18, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

MAYBE IT'S the hazard of the moolah. Maybe when you've made a huge amount of money from hugely popular books made into movies, you think you can say anything, even something as offensive as "Hebes" and "Chinks," and still be adored. Or maybe you don't care what people think, or whether people of Jewish or Chinese heritage ever ask you to sign a book again.

Maybe you're into some macho, good-ole-boy thing.

A kinder, gentler explanation for Tom Clancy's use of the terms "Hebes" and "Chinks" appeared sunday in an article about the author's love of guns in the New York Times Magazine.

"To give him the benefit of the doubt," wrote Jeffrey Goldberg, "sometimes Clancy says things merely to prove his anti-P.C. bona fides, like when he uses the terms 'Hebes' and 'Chinks.'"

I guess Clancy, author of big-selling military spy novels and part-owner of the Orioles, was just trying to be a curmudgeon when he used those terms, right? His guard was down. He was just showing his conservative colors with a display of politically incorrect terms. What's an easy way to exhibit a free-thinking, in-your-face style? How to prove you're one of the boys?

Lock and load, and throw out a couple ethnic slurs.

Goldberg's piece, a fawning encounter with Clancy in the basement shooting range of the author's waterfront home in Maryland, is laced with Clancy's views on guns, liberals -- "If you're a homosexual, you're a hero to them. But if you like guns, you're a nut" -- and his support for the National Rifle Association in the face of the Columbine tragedy.

Here's Clancy's contribution on the latter: "Obviously those kids' parents messed up somehow or other. Maybe they were genetically flawed. Maybe the best thing to do would be for the parents to join the N.R.A. and take a good gun-safety class."

Just when Clancy gets loopy like that, Goldberg steps in: He's just being anti-PC, "like when he uses the terms 'Hebes' and 'Chinks.' "

Clancy will soon (June 26) marry Alexandra Llewellyn, a 32-year-old second cousin to Colin Powell and the daughter of one of the leading African-American businessmen in America. ("Because I like guns I'm supposed to be in the [expletive] K.K.K.?" Clancy asks Goldberg.)

Such a complex man can't possibly be a bigot, can he? Even if he does use "Hebes" and "Chinks" in the presence of a New York Times writer.

And the Times writer wouldn't have given Clancy "the benefit of the doubt" if he really thought the man had a problem with Jewish and Chinese people. Right?

Right, says Goldberg. His "sense" was that Clancy was trying to be ironic or funny. "My sense was that he was trying to push some politically correct buttons," Goldberg says. "I felt that he was not a particularly prejudiced person."

I hadn't seen the Clancy story until a friend, a conservative Jewish Republican, brought it to my attention. He was outraged that the terms were used, and then excused.

That happens today. A lot of ignorant prejudice seems to pass for "anti-PC."

But there are practitioners of the anti-PC art -- Rush Limbaugh probably foremost among them -- who make their conservative arguments without resorting to ethnic slurs, even in a joking or ironic way.

I tried to get some comment on this from Clancy yesterday and left a message with his secretary. When I called a second time, Clancy answered the phone and said he didn't have time to talk because he had an appointment in Washington. "Goodbye, pal."

He had his publicist phone in an apology from New York.

"For those people who know Tom Clancy, he is one of the most decent, respectful human beings we know," said Marilyn Ducksworth, senior vice president and executive director of publicity for Penguin Putnam Inc. "He made some comments for which he is deeply apologetic."

I hope this doesn't endanger his anti-PC bona fides.

Round and round

Cindy Foss, a TJI reader who calls herself Crabtown Girl, writes to complain about the new traffic roundabout at North Charles Street and Bellona Avenue in Lutherville. "I swear people actually don't know how to drive a traffic circle," she says. "Who is the nut that decided Bellona and Charles needed one? It was better when we all were making that mad dash. At least there wasn't a mile backup on Bellona."

I got news for you, Cindy. That roundabout has made life much better for the thousands of of us who drive up Charles Street looking to go west to the Beltway. If things have slowed down on Bellona, girlfriend, that's a good thing. Having taken my life into my hands dozens of times trying to make a left onto Bellona -- to get to The Sun's former Baltimore County bureau, affectionately known as "Ramp's End" -- I'm very happy things have come full circle.

God bless the nut who designed it.

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