I‘ll never forget New Year’s Eve 2003 in New York. U.S. Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) said he wouldn’t go near Times Square for anything. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned of “near-term attacks that could either rival or exceed what we experienced on September 11.” The security state was out in force: snipers on the rooftops, Black Hawk helicopters, thousands of police. But in defiance of those “orange terror alert” warnings, some forgotten promoters had distributed bright orange hats that thousands of revelers wore as they raised their glasses and shouted at the cameras. This magnificently American combination of capitalist moxie, New York attitude and brotherly love cut through the fear that gripped the nation and made me feel genuinely proud to be an American.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 were the best thing that ever happened to the Bush Administration. Before them, President Bush was a lame duck; after them he was a hero. Policies that would have been impossible in calmer times, from the Iraq war to the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program, survived thanks to countless emotional appeals to the terrible losses of Sept. 11 coupled with threats of attacks to come. In the last five years, Republicans have flogged that day’s national tragedy so shamelessly looking for a quick fix of fear-driven support that it’s kind of surprising that they haven’t literally exhumed the bodies of the victims and staked them in the front yards of America with signs reading “This is what will happen to you if you don’t vote for us” affixed to their chests.
As the November elections approach, that same old song is reaching a hysterical pitch. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likened opposition to Bush’s Iraq policy to appeasement of the Nazis, Bush compared Osama to Hitler and Lenin, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice skirted incoherence by saying that opposing the Iraq war is like opposing the abolition of slavery. Last week, Sept. 11 terror suspects were moved from secret CIA torture camps to Guantanamo Bay so that opposition to Bush’s dictatorial policy of holding alleged terrorists outside the basic standards of civilized law could be painted as sympathy for Sept. 11’s masterminds. A writer and producer connected to far-right agitator David Horowitz even convinced Disney-owned ABC to air its sensationalist anti-Democrat Sept. 11 “docudrama” on the fifth anniversary of the attacks.
This latest wave of propaganda isn’t surprising. Facing a graver threat to our nation, a great leader once reminded us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Today, the only thing the Republicans have is fear. Osama bin Laden is still missing. Our military is stuck in Iraq while Iran and North Korea flaunt their WMD programs. Afghanistan is being retaken by the Taliban. And Bush successfully made Iraq part of his War on Terror by allowing its abortive democracy to become a greater haven for terrorism than Hussein’s dictatorship ever was. From the stream of corruption scandals circling the GOP to the stream of floodwater that washed away the corpses of New Orleans, this government has been a spectacular failure.
Even this administration’s sane initiatives have failed. The bigotry of the Republican base killed Bush’s immigrant guest worker program. The Road Map to Peace was replaced by a policy of midwifing the “birth pangs of a new Middle East,” as Rice put it – if you want to make an omelet, you have to kill several thousand innocent people. The message for this election seems to be “no matter how inept we are, the other guys will be worse.” At least now Republicans know what it’s like for Democrats to vote.
The administration is right about a few things. We do face a new form of fascism. We do face an enemy within our own ranks who manipulates the media to divide the American people. We do face individuals willing to exploit attacks on American soil to advance a radical agenda of imperial expansion. And we do have a responsibility to stand up to the enemies of freedom – foreign or domestic. Even before the November elections, I’ll be wearing my orange hat in support of those New York partygoers who remembered what it means to live free, when they proclaimed to both the murderers responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and the government who exploited them that we are America and we will not be afraid.
Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.