Ginned Rummy

In the days and weeks following the 9/11 attacks, Americans affected alarm when confronted by the ease with which the terrorists were able to inflict massive casualties and damage.  To anyone who spent any amount of time thinking about such things, our society’s vulnerabilities were fairly obvious and had been for many years.  There’s only so much you can do to protect the public from the suicidally insane.  Due to a variety of factors—not the least of which a fitful veneration of notions of liberty—Americans have come to tolerate certain levels of risk, such as fast cars, plentiful handguns, and securities trading.  Any attempt to eliminate such risks through legislation would offend our sense of personal autonomy and (almost as important) almost certainly fail.  After 9/11, many Americans (notoriously bad at quantifying risk) re-examined this tacit contract—the freedom of an open society along with the occasional abuse of freedom resulting in tragedy—and wondered if it wasn’t time to renegotiate.

A government that had decided to treat its citizens as adults would have, in due course, explained that while the clear and present threat of Al Qaeda would be met by appropriate responses including military, intelligence, and law-enforcement measures, terrorism itself is a permanent feature of modern civilization that can only be minimized at best.  A government that regarded its citizens as children would proclaim a state of war, both promising eventual victory and demanding exigent loyalty, while instituting restrictions on civil liberties that would last as long as a single terrorist remained at large.  Before the first tower fell, I had no doubt which course the Bush Administration would take.

As much as anyone, Donald Rumsfeld was the public face and voice of the U.S. government’s paternalism, assuring Americans that swift and just retribution was being dealt to evil-doers while reminding them that war isn’t an ice cream social.  If John Ashcroft has been our guilt-invoking mother, claiming that only terrorists and traffickers in drugs and pornography need fear increased surveillance, then Rumsfeld has been our hickory-switch-bearing father, intoning that that the War on Terror hurts him more than it hurts us.

Critics and supporters all agree that the single most important (if not only) argument for voting for George W. Bush this November is that national security is "Job One" and that Bush has demonstrated his superior proficiency at this task.  Today, Rumsfeld testified in his Plain-Spoken™ manner that, given the limitations of intelligence-gathering and the resourcefulness of terrorists, there wasn’t much that could have been done to prevent 9/11, and we will likely be attacked again.

But never mind that.  Just remember that, as Lileks said, if John Kerry is elected, then the terrorists will have won.

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