Whenever there is an increase in the alert "color," what
does that REALLY mean for the average person, even in New
York? Become more vigilant? Look for anything that is suspicious?
I am at a loss as to what to look for. What is "more suspicious?"
How come in the past, security was able to operate without
all these "advertisements?" Who are the real terrorists?
If anything, it seems that homeland security would terrify
people more than anything else; that is, except me, or most
people I know. Most people I know are paying much less attention
to these alerts because we simply want to move on with our
lives and we refuse to be scared. It's like an automobile
in the city or mall parking lot, sounding its ignored alarm.
People get immune to it, eventually. I see a purpose for security,
but hasn't security operated effectively without advertisement
in the past? During 9/11 security simply wasn't operating.
If they were, they would need no advertisement.
If I may take the liberty of condensing your many questions
down to one central query (I may be wrong in this interpretation,
of course, but bear with me), you want to know how (and whether)
the government's public communications about security relate
to the actual level of safety experienced by every American.
And that's a good, important question to discuss right now.
On the one hand, Auntie can understand the rationale behind
the silly "color system," and the TIPS lines, and the signs
exhorting people to report "suspicious" activity (whatever
that is.) It springs partly from the normal human impulse
of butt-covering (an impulse especially pronounced in politicians
of any ideological bent,) and partly from a sincere desire
to give the nervous and timid a comfortable sense that 'someone
is doing something' about the problem.
To put the most benign possible face on it, let me ask you
the question, Jim. If you were in charge, and another horrible
terrorist attack occurred domestically, involving terrible
destruction and loss of life, would you rather have people
believe that you were trying hard but just couldn't prevent
this one? Or would you rather have people thinking, 'well,
what the heck was he doing?' Auntie Pinko sincerely
doubts that if Mr. Gore were in the White House, his administration
would restrain itself from implementing some highly visible,
largely cosmetic "preparedness" campaign. (And probably Mr.
Limbaugh's followers would be heaping scorn upon it.)
From that standpoint, I can't find it in my heart to criticize
Mr. Ridge's rainbow alerts too vigorously. Whatever acute
alarm they may have provoked initially will wear off rapidly,
and settle into a grinding background anxiety. We have been
through this before. You may not be old enough to remember,
Jim, but Auntie still recalls the location of the fallout
shelters nearest to my home and other highly-frequented places
back in the early 1960s. The "duck and cover" drills, with
the perky little film that promoted them and the catchy, upbeat
"Duck! And cover!" theme song were just as ridiculous as the
The generations that grew up between the mid-1970s and September
11, 2001, were uniquely blessed in not having to feel that
grinding background anxiety about something. Before
the Cold War, it was the Depression and the World Wars. Now,
it is terrorism. But we are a resilient species, and we will
manage just fine. Silly public relations-geared campaigns
to convince us that the government is "doing something" don't
necessarily do any harm.
Unless. (Ah, yes, there's always a catch, isn't there?)
Unless the PR campaign wastes resources that could be applied
to real safety measures. Unless it's a distraction to prevent
people from noticing that the government isn't getting around
to doing the expensive things that really will make
us safer, but we can't afford to do because we've been blowing
our resources on tax cuts for the rich and frivolous revenge
wars. Unless it's simply a cynical attempt to increase anxiety
that can be exploited for shallow, partisan political victories.
So let's ask the real questions, Jim. How many of
the thousands of containers that enter US ports every day
are inspected for hazardous contraband? How many of our vulnerable
critical infrastructure installations have been made substantially
less vulnerable? How effectively have we been able to slow
or cut off the streams of money that fund terrorist activities?
How much international cooperation have we been able to build
to help us isolate terrorists from their support networks
and generate reliable, useful intelligence that leads to terrorists'
apprehension, prosecution, and imprisonment?
Those are the questions Americans need to be asking
our government during this election year, Jim. The more we
allow ourselves to be distracted into criticizing the color
scheme, the less incentive Mr. Ridge has to make real progress
reports about real security improvements. And we must never
become "immune" to those status reports. We must keep Mr.
Bush's administration, and that of his successor, accountable
for the real progress that will generate real security.
Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko, Jim!
Do you have a question for Auntie Pinko?
Do political discusions discombobulate you? Are you a liberal
at a loss for words when those darned dittoheads babble their
talking points at you? Or a conservative, who just can't understand
those pesky liberals and their silliness? Auntie Pinko has
an answer for everything.
Just send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org,
and make sure it says "A question for Auntie Pinko"
in the subject line. Please include your name and hometown.