It's not the job of political satirists, I've believed, to pal around with politicians. Only Mort Sahl, in my ken, has been able to do that kind of socializing without trading his teeth for a comfy set of gums. I have met two American presidents, and dozens of legislators, without feeling my emotions tugged at by anything resembling great warmth. Two leaders from elsewhere, however, did trigger something disturbingly close to admiration. One was Jose Ramos Horta, the Nobel Peace Prize winner from East Timor. The other was Benazir Bhutto.
Arianna Huffington invited me to a dinner with Ms. Bhutto in 1998, early in the latter's period of exile. It was at Arianna's home in Brentwood. I can't remember who else was there, because all I do remember was Benazir Bhutto: her intelligence, her wit, and her indisputable charisma. A BBC correspondent today was talking about the long-standing loyalty of those who worked for Ms. Bhutto, and I thought of the person I met that night over dinner at Arianna's, easily capable, it seemed, of inspiring that kind of dedication. Smart enough, at least, to avoid the tell-tale signs of self-importance--no speaking of herself in the third person or in "historic" terms, but speaking with a passion, an urgency for her country. And asking questions, the mark of a savvy politician, wanting to know more about the people she was dining with as we wanted to know more about her tumultuous career.
Yes, she was campaigning, in the sense of a long campaign for her reputation and her country.; every bit as much as Ramos Horta was, when I met him on a television show in Australia, campaigning for the final completion of his tortured country's independence. No political figure in a social situation is ever fully at ease, fully off message.
Were the corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto true? They were never proved, and, as conveniently as they appeared, they were dropped when she began her minuet of negotiations with General-President Musharraf for her return home.
All I know is that the words pouring out in too-late encomia today are the words that occurred to me on the drive home from Brentwood, and that I found myself, in subsequent years, measuring the downward slide of Pakistan into military dictatorship and extremism against the Pakistan that Ms. Bhutto still, through her last moments today, so urgently imagined.
UPDATE: And, in response to those commenters who've recycled the corruption allegations against Ms. Bhutto, try this:
Have we traded a democrat with a corruption problem in her family for a military dictator with a corruption problem in his office?
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