Democratic Underground

They Exploited Our Fear—Not Our Freedom
October 27, 2001
by Ted Westervelt

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Have Republicans been so busy protecting us from our own government that our own government can't protect us?

In ten years of frenzied partisan activity, Republicans vying for federal office have taken the strategy of rubbing salt into one of the oldest wounds we bear. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by those interested in their candidacies to stir up the basic fear of intrusive and unaccountable government that our forefathers revolted against to form this nation. The effect of hundreds of thousands of radio and television ads comparing federal government agents to evil characters like "jack booted thugs", consistent bitter attacks on the credibility of government employees, and the impeachment of a President for being untruthful about a sexual affair has made a real difference. To get their desired effect of using this fear and distrust to get elected, the millions of hours of speech smearing every government agency from the ATF to the Department of Education would have to corrode the way Americans look at their federal government institutions. This purely partisan effort to revive the feelings that our founding fathers arduously (and most would say effectively) dealt with in the U.S. Constitution has torn at our very ability to protect ourselves.

When four commercial airliners were hijacked simultaneously on September 11, It wasn't our freedom that they exploited, it was the innate fear of our own government that Republicans carefully nurtured and exacerbated in their cynical, long term race for political gain. They have eroded our basic ability to protect ourselves by watering and fertilizing fear and distrust in the very institutions on which we depend to protect us.

The current debate on airline security (or lack thereof) is one great example of the bizarro reality they continue to propagate at the expense of a basic level of national security that a nation as great as ours should be able to provide.

The United States of America is the only advanced nation in the world that does not take responsibility for national security at commercial airports. We do not employ government agents under the command and control of our national intelligence and security forces in a comprehensive effort to secure commercial airports. It's difficult to imagine a greater example of the national security implications of this failure than September 11.

Finally, there is the blatant hypocracy on which so much of Republican anti-government rhetoric is based.

In a recent edition of CNN's "Crossfire" Republican Congressman John Shadegg reflexively plodded down that tired old anti-government path. When questioned on why the Republican leadership in the United States House of Representatives refuses to bring the airline security bill to the floor for a vote (despite passing the Senate 100 - 0) he quipped that federal employees were so unreliable that snowstorms might shut down entire airports, since they would not have to work.

Please.

Last time I checked, the Congressman was protected at work by a large force of federal employees 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - even in inclement weather. I'm also quite certain that the President has his own federal security detail that has performed their duty under the most adverse conditions.

Still, we should give supporters of the current private system of airport security a chance to redeem themselves:

Should the President and the Republican House Leadership embrace a plan that would force airlines to hire security forces composed primarily of minimum wage foreign nationals to protect them, I think it would be fair to continue with the same policy in all of our airports.

Should that policy be signed into law, I would venture to guess that there would be a similar number of empty seats in the U.S. Capitol as there are on commercial flights today.