The simple existence of a connection to an event may be a personally tragic and heartrending thing, but it does not bestow carte blanche moral authority upon one’s beliefs. My grandfather, for example, was shot several times during the course of the Korean War, but that does not suddenly make any opinion I have about that war sacrosanct. Likewise, if my father were to die in a hot air balloon accident, I might criticize the company that made the basket or the sandbags or whatever failed, but I would not instantly become a qualified expert on how to reform the hot air balloon industry.
No one with a conscience would ever attempt to downgrade the pain and horror the families and friends of those murdered on September 11 have gone through. They have been caught up personally in a terrible moment of history. For the rest of us, the terrorist attacks are a national tragedy. For them, it is personal, with the world events since inevitably colored by their own shattered lives.
Nevertheless, just as one can mourn Christopher Reeve without being morally willing to accept his call for embryonic stem cell research, there is no reason why those who see the obvious flaws in the current intelligence bill should feel as if they are somehow breaking faith en masse with the 9/11 families. Callous as it may sound, the vocal support of some 9/11 family members has no bearing whatsoever on whether the reforms in it are useful or not.
It is never a good sign when support for a measure is based on emotion rather than reasoned debate, and the intelligence bill is a textbook scenario. The bill’s supporters have been shamelessly exploiting select victims to intimidate anyone who dares to question the counter-intuitive wisdom of solving a bureaucratic problem by adding another layer of bureaucracy and politicizing defense intelligence funding. They want to equate dissent with attacking the victim, and it has been a successful ploy.
“It was the persistence of the 9/11 families that created this commission, over the objection of the Bush Administration, and that demanded these reforms go forward,” Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said in a typical example of this rhetoric. “It is these families who remind us that we will not stop fighting to keep America’s towns and cities safe.”
The subtext? We dare you to question. We dare you to stand in the way. The set-up all sounds so heroic, doesn’t it? Victims speaking truth to power as the power structure shakes before them. The television spots almost film themselves!
As usual, the truth was a little messier. While there were many 9/11 family members holding vigils across the country and at Ground Zero demanding the passage of the bill, another group representing some 300 family members who lost loved ones in the same tragedy were lobbying against it. This group, Families for a Stronger America, wanted tougher immigration and driver’s licenses standards included in the bill or no bill at all. Apparently that took some of the romance out of the whole cause, so the vast majority of the media establishment quietly left those sound bites on the cutting room floor.
And it goes beyond the crass exploitation of 9/11 victims. Republican Congressman Joe Wilson appeared on MSNBC this week to somehow try and latch intelligence legislation to Pearl Harbor Day, making the asinine suggestion that the Japanese sneak attack could have somehow been prevented by the bill. Who will stand up and argue against statements like, “No more Pearl Harbors”? Not to be outdone, Democrats played the same card shortly thereafter.
“While we as a nation are united in this fight, there are clearly deep divisions within the Republican Party, divisions that are impeding our fight against terrorism,” McAuliffe said. “Moving forward, it is my sincere hope that the Republicans running Washington will stop playing their political games and start fighting for the American people, just as our honored veterans did 63 years ago.”
First of all, someone send these guys a memo: The Japanese are our friends now and there isn’t going to be another Pearl Harbor, whether they pass their grandstanding little bill or not. A little more care and focus on Islamic extremists plotting the next attack — not 9/11, which has already come and gone — would be nice. Aside from a few vague possibilities that may or may not come to fruition, I’m still waiting for someone to show me the practical utility of the bill, aside from create a great PR opportunity for folks like McAuliffe and Wilson. But, then, there’s plenty of regression and obstructionism in the bill, so it’s not as if it won’t accomplish anything. But beyond that, do today’s political powerbrokers really believe they are so touched with brilliance that they could have prevented all past wrongs, including Pearl Harbor? Do they really believe they alone can guarantee all future safety? One would think failure on so many fronts — political, economic, social — these last four years would eliminate some of the hubris. Instead, it only grows.
So now they tell us — the 9/11 families, the Pearl Harbor families, and all the rest of the common-folk — that this is the most important bill that has ever lain before our nation. They invoke every fear and insist that they are the only ones who have any idea how to keep us safe.
And why again are we supposed to believe them? Were these or were these not the same lawmakers who sat on their hands throughout the ’90s in a rare example of bipartisanship as terrorists planned, plotted, threatened and attacked at will? Yet now because some enterprising politicians cherry-picked victims to score political points, we’re supposed to all shut up and accept Nancy Pelosi’s wild promises of total salvation because of a single piece of legislation? This is a game of political brinksmanship, and nothing more. Our leaders today believe only audacious claims will ever capture our attention, so they forego truth and reason in search of a promise unlike any other we’ve heard before. Then they issue a press release and forget the whole thing ever happened, because it’s off to the next race. These people’s words and deeds should deliver them shame, not trust; ridicule, not fawning respect. And we will never be safe so long as our leaders are so pathetically craven and weak.
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