Retiring Fear

by Robert Stokes & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & nly fools predict politics. Nevertheless, my hopes rise that the tide has finally turned against the American terrorism hysteria. During the recent campaign, Republicans played the terror card to the hilt -- again.

This time they lost. Nationally, that defeat cost them control of Congress. Locally, the Democratic landslide buried Republican Mike McGavick's challenge to Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell. Previously considered invulnerable, Republican Representative Cathy McMorris was forced into a competitive (though successful) defense of her seat against Democratic challenger Peter Goldmark. Numerous other state and local Republicans were felled by the anti-GOP wave.

Thoughtful Republicans and conservatives (Bill Buckley, Colin Powell, John McCain, many others) have been fleeing the "war on terror" ship for months. The election taught the JMJ (Just My Job) Republicans that their bread is now buttered on the other side of the terrorism issue. Expect them to head for the lifeboats.

President Bush may soon yearn for the retirement the Constitution guarantees him in two years -- likewise officials with whom he shares responsibility for the so-called "war on terror." Donald Rumsfeld was only the first to go. Victorious Democrats promise to fill the remaining days of Republican power with Congressional inquiries into the legality and propriety of the Iraq war, government surveillance programs and other anti-terrorism activities.

When Bush leaves office, the ashes of his administration will contain the dreams of this and many other young Goldwater conservatives -- dreams of a government that would foster the virtues of individualism over collectivism. It took two generations of hard work by freedom-loving conservatives to create the electoral majorities George Bush and Republican Congressional leaders inherited. They wasted them. Instead of carrying on the cause of individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government, they bet the Republican Party's future on their ability to manipulate America's post-9/11 hysteria over Islamic terrorism.

Bush promised conservatives a Social Security system that would foster personal ownership and retirement planning. He gave us "tough but fair" interrogation (torture). He promised environmental policies to favor people (over bugs and bunnies) -- particularly rural people. He gave us extraordinary rendition (government-sponsored kidnapping). He promised to rein in petty government intrusion into our lives. He gave us airport footwear inspections. He promised to end Clinton-style nation building. He gave us Iraq.

The Lord expects us to forgive each other's sins. For those of George W. Bush, I hope He understands that may take some time. In the meantime, I focus my attention on how America can move past Bush -- meaning past the post-9/11 muck of media/politician fostered fear and anger.

All the causes of today's anti-Islamic terrorism hysteria will not depart with George Bush. Like waves of bureaucrats before them, recently hired armies of snoops and checkers will lobby to perpetuate their meddlesome functions. They have house payments to make and kids to educate like the rest of us. There are many whose incomes depend on today's high level of military activity and expenditure.

Beyond economics, there is the American public's well known appetite for grief, ghoul, fear and anger, provided, of course, the experiences inciting those emotions remain safely behind TV screens. Hence today's popular TV shows about hospital emergency rooms and coroner investigations -- it's like the popularity of Joe McCarthy's televised search for domestic communists during the '50s.

There will almost certainly be future Islamic terrorist attacks. Anyone with an active imagination can invent "what if" scenarios. What if terrorists get an atom bomb? What if they poison a major water supply? On and on. Play that game if you wish.

I prefer to look at experience. Terrorist events elsewhere in the world (Spain, England, Ireland, India, Indonesia, Japan) suggest that the greatest likelihood is the next attack will cause, at most, a few hundred casualties. To reduce the probability of such attacks, we must build capabilities within local, national and international police and criminal justice agencies. Even the most vigorous criminal justice approach will not prevent all attacks, any more than the current Bush administration "war" approach will. Therefore, we must prepare for consequences. Enter the firemen and medics, also well supported and held accountable for efficient operation.

In the rare instances when military action will be required, let it -- for God's sake -- be genuinely international next time. No more "coalitions of the willing." No more American cowboy presidents in flight suits strutting around on aircraft carriers.

Finally, and most importantly, we must cope with what will, again, be the biggest fly in the ointment -- us, aka the TV watching, poll responding, voting public. Whether the death toll is 10, 100, 1,000 or more, the media/political hounds will perk their ears, raise their heads and start howling, from the network news, the politician's stump and the bookstore's bestseller table. There will be screaming children, sobbing mothers, smudge faced firefighters, fist shaking politicians, the whole show -- all over again.

If we let them stampede us again, we will have only ourselves to blame for the consequences. Five years after 9/11, we know what that means. n

Robert Stokes lives in

Spokane. He can be reached