The Corner

Rudy Drops His Chopsticks

A Chinese friend wonders if McCain’s little tribute to Rudy is any kind of parallel to a famous incident in the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In Chapter 21, the pre-eminent warlord Cao Cao entertains his cowed rival Liu Bei (identified below by his courtesy name Xuande) to brunch, to see if Liu Bei has really abandoned all ambition, or whether he is secretly plotting against him. Cao Cao leads the conversation round to the qualities of a true hero — a great man, able to conquer and fit to rule the Empire. Liu Bei (who actually is plotting against Cao Cao) is trying to be meek and noncommittal. From Moss Roberts’ translation:

“Now,” Cao Cao went on, “what defines a hero is this: a determination to conquer, a mine of marvelous schemes, an ability to encompass the realm, and the will to make it his.”

“Who merits such a description?” Xuande asked.

Cao pointed first to Xuande, then to himself. “The heroes of the present day,” he said, “number but two — you, my lord, and myself.”

Xuande gulped in panic. Before he realized it, his chopsticks had slipped to the ground.

[Me]  Liu Bei saves his composure by a ruse, but he knows the meaning behind Cao Cao’s words: “I’m not going to underestimate you.”

Is this apt? I don’t actually think so. Probably Rich was closer to the truth: the subtext to McCain’s little encomium was: “Bye-bye, Rudy.”

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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