"Who is Karl Rove?" the puzzled fellow from Dubai inquired, on hearing he had a phone call waiting from the White House.
He found out. Karl was sorry to inform the sheiks that the 68-2 vote against the port deal in the House appropriations committee meant they would not be managing our East Coast terminals, and it would probably be wise to cut their losses and get out.
Thus the embarrassing episode ends in the best possible way for Dubai and Bush. But the firestorm was instructive for what it revealed.
Middle America did indeed react viscerally to news that -- after having been endlessly harangued by Washington that they will spend their lives in the shadow of Islamic terrorism -- Arabs from some place they've never heard of would be running our ports.
Their reaction was perfectly normal: "How dumb can these guys be?"
Bush's explanation never caught up with that first reaction. And when Hillary began pounding the ports deal as proof the Bush-Cheney team was clueless in a post-9/11 world, Republicans, seeing their No. 1 issue, national security, slipping away, dumped Bush. Bush, seeing his numbers plunging toward Cheneyville, told Rove: Tell Dubai goodbye.
But it is the media's contemptuous hostility toward people in whose name they presume to speak, suddenly on display, that was so instructive.
Here, again, is PBS-New York Times conservative David Brooks: "This Dubai port deal has unleashed a kind of collective mania we haven't seen in decades ... a xenophobia tsunami ... a nativist, isolationist mass hysteria. ... God must love Hamas and Muqtada al-Sadr. He has given them the America First brigades of Capitol Hill."
Is there not some compassionate conservative who will send Brooks a grief counselor?
Here is his Times colleague Thomas Friedman on learning that folks thought the Dubai Ports deal was kind of a dumb thing to do.
This is "borderline racist. ... There's a poison loose. ... If we go Dark Ages, if we go down the road of pitchfork-wielding xenophobes, then the whole world will go Dark Ages."
Dark Ages? Are we really headed back to the fifth century A.D. if Halliburton aces out DPW for the New York terminal?
Fox News' Tony Snow, in a column titled, "Fearful Fringe Nativism is the Essence of Surrender," calls opponents of the deal "paranoid," caught up in a "Dubai hysteria."
"Fear has become the defining characteristic of a new strain of American nativism. ... Bin Laden ... has managed to plant the seeds of blank, unreasoning, hide-under-the-bed fear in many Americans."
To assure us he remains fearless, Snow ends: "Eternal vigilance remains a cost of liberty -- and Fearful Fringe nativism is what it has always been: the essence of surrender."
But as Snow's successor as editorial-page editor of The Washington Times, Tony Blankley, led the "Fearful Fringe" into battle against the Dubai deal, perhaps Snow should direct the cowardice charge there.
A disconsolate Weekly Standard has now weighed in. The collapse of the ports deal means "itís a paleo moment in America," wails Fred Barnes -- as in paleo-conservative. America is headed for a politics that is "gloomy, negative, defeatist, isolationist, nativist and protectionist."
In racing through the litany, Barnes only missed "xenophobic."
What are we to make of all this keening?
The media establishment was jolted as it realized that Middle America's belief in the Global Economy is wafer-thin. Its panic is proof of its lack of understanding of the country and of its fear that America may no longer be behind it, if ever it was.
For whatever the supporting role of the "paleos" in the ports battle, it cannot explain the instant opposition of almost 70 percent of the nation and 58 percent of Republicans and conservatives.
What happened to the ports deal is that Davos World collided with America First and got its clock cleaned. Economic patriotism, which engages the heart, thumped globalism, an intellectual construct of economists and corporatists.
Not to understand this is not to understand America. Though Bush may be an open-borders, free-trade Wilsonian who believes he has a providential mission to democratize the world, America, even when it was 90 percent with him, never bought in. To Middle America, Afghanistan and Iraq were always about punishing the people who did 9/11, not about converting them to Jeffersonian democracy.
What Barnes calls paleo-conservatism is the conservatism of the common man, rooted in tradition and wisdom born of experience. It is not the Big Government, open-borders, free-trade, interventionist, globaloney of the neo-cons and their Rebel in Chief.
Conservatives don't trash their countrymen, even if they think they're wrong. It is slander to say opposition to the Dubai deal exposed some deep, dark strain in the American soul.
The cakewalk crowd doesn't understand America because it doesn't live there. It lives in an ideological world of its own creation, which, as it denies aspects of reality, is forever colliding with reality.
And more collisions are coming.