"It seems that the safety of the American people is not very high on Washington's priority list."
-- former Republican Governor Thomas Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, AP, December 5, 2005
"Every reasonable expert believes the terrorists will strike again. Many believe their goal is to outdo the carnage and death of Sept. 11."
-- former Republican Governor James Thompson, member of the 9/11 Commission, Chicago Tribune, December 16, 2005
During Monicagate virtually every D.C. pundit predicted that the public would turn on Bill Clinton in disgust and drive him from office. That they were wrong had nothing to do with public sophistication about sex, as we saw from the l'affaire Janet Jackson a few years later. It was because of the cognitive dissonance between our internal image of a President we hope will protect us from death - he is the one person who can blow the rest of us up after all - and the reality that he is a mere mortal capable of the most appalling lapses of judgment. Unable to harmonize these two realities, we suppress the one that makes us most uncomfortable. Pundits deal with the conscious. Real history is played out in the unconscious.
Nowhere is our cognitive dissonance vis a vis the President more operative today than on the issue of Homeland Security. As noted above, two ex-Republican Governors, appointed by the President to advise him, say that neither Mr. Bush nor Congress are prioritizing the "safety of the American people", even though "every reasonable expert believes the terrorists will strike again."
Let us be clear what this means: you and your loved ones are more likely to die because of the demonstrable fact that Mr. Bush is unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.
Lest you think this mere rhetoric, consider the following (please also see articles listed at the end of this piece):
-- NUCLEAR ATTACK: The 9/11 Commission gave the Administration and Congress a "D" on "maximum effort by U.S. government to secure WMD", stating that "countering the greatest threat to America's security is still not the top national security priority of the President and Congress."
-- CONTAINER SAFETY: Stephen Flynn, of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of America The Vulnerable, writes that "the president's proposals won't protect Americans from our gravest cross-border threat ... a 40-foot cargo container in which terrorists have hidden a dirty bomb or nuclear weapon. Although the containers deemed high risk are inspected, more than 90 percent land here without any perusal." (NY Times oped, 11/29/05)
-- CHEMICAL PLANTS: The President and Congress have failed to protect chemical plants although, as a NY Times editorial noted on December 27, 2005: "a leading antiterrorism expert has described the nation's chemical plants as `15,000 weapons of mass destruction littered around the United States.'
-- AIRLINE SAFETY: Incredibly, 51 months after 9/11, the 9/11 Commission gave the Administration an "F" on pre-screening passengers - one of the keys to preventing the first 9/11; and it gave it a "D" on checked bag and cargo screening, essential to keeping civilian airliners from being blown out of the sky.
-- PORTS: Rep. Jane Harman, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, has decried "the lack of attention to obvious security holes such as those at major ports like the Long Beach and Los Angeles facilities. She has preached for four years about the threat of a nuclear or biochemical attack." (LA Times, July 13, 2005)
-- COAST GUARD: The Coast Guard, a frontline agency for domestic security since World War II, is falling apart, as reported by USA Today on July 6, 2005: "Key members of Congress, maritime security experts and a former top Homeland Security Department official say that the fleet is failing and that plans to replace the Coast Guard's 88 aging cutters and 186 aircraft over the next 20 years should be accelerated." Incredibly, the Bush Administration is trying to DELAY refurbishing it: "The Bush administration wants to increase the amount of time it will take to replace a fleet that's among the oldest on the globe."
If we were not in denial we would see all of this for what it is. If Mr. Bush's war in Iraq demonstrates irrational incompetence, his conduct of homeland security verges on criminal negligence.
If your landlord failed to repair your doors and windows, leaving your family vulnerable and exposed to attack, you would be outraged. Yet, although the President has acted even more irresponsibly, and millions should be in the streets demanding that he act to secure the homeland or be impeached, he has not only escaped blame but still dares claim that he is protecting the American people.
It also means that he is inexplicably failing to properly use the Executive Power he already has to provide homeland security, even as he improperly seeks to amass more Executive power to torture, spy and kill in ways the endanger us. He and Congress are even so clueless that they are particularly endangering themselves and their loved ones, since Washington is one of cities most at risk from a major terrorist attack.
But our psyches simply cannot process and act upon the fact that the Commander-in-Chief we look to for protection is unfit for office, that he spends far more time exercising and clearing brush than ensuring that his own Executive Agencies protect us from new attacks.
Our psyches cannot deal with the reality that noone is in charge, that we are leaderless in facing threats that could kill tens of thousands of us.
Homeland security is a very different issue from Iraq, where political disagreements are inevitable, particularly as to how best to get out of the mess Mr. Bush has created there. But there can be no reasonable political debate about Homeland Security. Conservatives and liberals alike will die if there is another event that will "outdo the carnage and death of Sept. 11." It is one of those supra-political issues around which the whole nation can and should unite, as when we rallied in response to Pearl Harbor.
Unfortunately, however, neither the media, Congress nor American people are willing to face the fact that our President has failed us. Only if Democrats unite around and relentlessly promote a "Contract To Protect America," prioritizing homeland security, can we begin trying to prevent a disaster waiting to happen that will dwarf 9/11 and, if Mr. Bush is still in office, see him respond by trying to seize even more power.
-- "Audit Faults U.S. for Its Spending on Port Defense", 22005, NYT
-- "U.S. Rail Network Still Vulnerable To Terror", 3/03/05, MSNBC
-- "Our Terrorist-Friendly Borders", 3/21/05, NYT Editorial
-- "U.S. Called Unprepared For Nuclear Terrorism", 5/03/05, WP
-- "Loopholes Seen in U.S. Efforts to Secure Overseas Ports," 5/25/05, NYT
-- "Airline Inspections Called Inadequate", 6/09/05, WP
-- "Coast Guard Plagued By Breakdowns", 7/06/05, USA Today
-- "9/11 Panel- Government Has Failed to Enact Reforms to Protect Country" 12/05/05, WP
-- "Time for Chemical Plant Security", 12/27/05, NYT editorial