You can’t call it terror if you’re not afraid of it.

10/9/2005

The Fox correspondent stands in Penn Station. Just over her shoulder, bomb dogs and men in moon suits riffle through a trash can in front of a bagel stand. “We’re live at Penn Station where authorities have evacuated everyone because of the discovery of an unknown substance…,” she pants.

From the safety of Fox studios, the concerned anchor asks the intrepid correspondent, “how are people reacting?”

“Train riders are on edge. They’re not listening to music on their headphones and they’ve stopped reading. They’ve heard the warnings and they’re watching each other, and that is good…”

That is good?

The calamity described here and broadcast to the nation turned out to be the work of a prankster with a pop can containing what the police later described as “a substance similar to Drano.” And it brought us to our knees.

But that is good because this time it was Drano and next time it might be a nuclear briefcase.

That is good because we are vigilant and we’ve put down our “People” magazines so we can watch people. You never know which one might be an agent of Ali A’wopbop Aloobop, the cave dwelling Al Qaeda don who declared double super secret jihad on America. I know about this. I saw it on Fox 9,415 times.

All the latest commotion was conveniently foreshadowed by the President a day earlier in a “major speech” on terror. It was a real stemwinder. I have the Cliff notes.

Bush said: “9-11…terror…assaulted by enemies…great evil…covered in smoke and ashes…fire across the Potomac…new terror offensive…kill children and the elderly…mortal danger to all humanity…like a parasite…as brutal an enemy as we’ve ever faced.” It’s the same pep talk he gives every time his polls plummet.

Doesn’t it seem odd that a President who conducts foreign policy like he’s trying to get in touch with his inner-cowboy would be so intent on turning his own country into a herd of spooked sheep?

But with Karl Rove curled up into a fetal ball awaiting the word of a certain grand jury, and the rest of the team either fending off the FBI or dusting off their curricula vitae, Bush is kind of on his own. So he’s playing the hole card, the only thing that’s ever worked for him. Be very, very afraid.

Terrorists, hurricanes, bio-agents, wild fires, housing bubbles, social insecurity, gay people getting married, be very, very afraid.

Now Bush is squawking about a military takeover when the Avian flu pandemic hits. How bad is it when we’re afraid of chickens?

We’re told the next terrorist strike is inevitable. We already knew Mother Nature will whack us when and where she pleases. With these depressing thoughts as a backdrop, is it too much to ask of our leader to provide a message of courage? A call to unite and face our demons as one. A shout-down of the hysterical media and a reminder to Americans that what makes us great is what will get us through this as well.

But no, “be very afraid and leave it to me,” says Bush.

What is truly frightening is our sudden devaluation of the things we held dear. The nation of Audi Murphy, Emilia Earhart, Neil Armstrong and Mean Joe Green now sits shifty-eyed in its subways, watching one another.

Bush boasts endlessly that “freedom is on the march.” But it looks as if the only place democracy in America is marching is toward oblivion. Bush plays origami with the constitution and we stand back and let him because we are very afraid. People died for these liberties and we hand them over to a rank amateur who couldn’t find WMD or Osama or a rat in his own inner circle. That scares the bejabbers out of me.

FDR led us out of a depression, conquered the hideous evil of Nazism and inspired our “greatest generation,” even as he receded into a wheelchair. I would like to suggest that Bush channel FDR’s “nothing to fear but fear” message, but the sad reality is that he couldn’t shine Roosevelt’s shoes. Bush’s cache is cooked. He can’t even channel the 9-11 Bush anymore.

So what are we to do as we mark the days until someone with a mind more nuanced than a bumper sticker occupies the Oval Office? I humbly suggest that we turn our fear into something productive.

When we wet ourselves because somebody put green goop in Penn Station the terrorists have won. Their grasp has exceeded their reach. It is high time that we realize that terrorism is a Godawful reality and face it with the same bravado we use when we say “supersize that” or “a pack of Marlboros please.”

We’ll either defeat, outlast or learn to accept the terrorists like we accept the principle that death is the ultimate consequence of life. But by God we shall declare that we won’t live in fear of them.

Because you can’t call it terror if you’re not afraid of it.

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