George W. Bush wasn't even two minutes into his State of the Union speech last week before he began beating his favorite dead horse: September 11. He gave it another good whack just a couple of minutes later and then managed to squeeze the words "terror," "terrorism" or "terrorists" into his speech more than 20 times. I think we've gotten so used to hearing 9/11-this and 9/11-that from BushCo (aka the Bush Administration) -- to frame its foreign policy, to attack its critics' patriotism, even to define Bushco itself -- the term has become part of the national background noise. We don't take time to realize how strange this endless hammering on one event really is.
If I remember correctly, September 11, 2001, brought a tragedy that was shared by the entire country, not just Republican strategists. But almost before the dust from the World Trade Center's wreckage had cleared, Bushco brain Karl Rove jumped on 9/11 like it was a fast horse he could ride to victory and, coincidentally, save Dubya's floundering presidency. Since then, Bushco has used the horrors of that awful day as a kind of Pavlovian bell to rally the US public to its side; and, more insidiously, as a catch-all excuse for whatever terrible mistakes it's made -- a tragic, needless war, torture, domestic spying, massive debts, what-have-you.
The strategy still works well with about a third of the voters -- which is amazing, considering the complete mess Bushco has made of America's reaction to 9/11. Osama's still on the loose, our armed forces are in shreds, we're bogged down in a financially and morally ruinous conflict and now we find out that Americans are being spied on 24/7 by our own government. But forget about all that: Remember 9/11! In the meantime, Bushco still refuses to adequately beef up security for US ports, chemical plants and nuclear plants. And while you're taking off your shoes at the airport, your flight is being loaded with cargo that hasn't been inspected.
When anyone dares to point out its mistakes, what's the Bushco crowd's response? They keep strutting about as if anything they've done has been successful, and they start chanting their mantra again: 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, terror, terror, terror, and "we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here," blah blah blah, ad infinitum. In the meantime, our attention is diverted from even bigger problems.
One day, hopefully, Americans will lift our heads out of the "war on terror" ostrich hole we've been in, and realize that the world, and America's interests in it, don't begin and end with Islamist terrorism. As historian Joseph J. Ellis pointed out recently in The New York Times, 9/11 isn't even in the top tier of threats this country has faced during its 230-year history. (Anyone heard of the Civil War? How about the Cuban Missile Crisis?) And I agree with former ambassador Jack Perry, who noted late last year in the Charlotte Observer that more important issues are currently starved for attention due to Bushco's constipated vision (my description, not Perry's).
What problems? For one, global warming -- the gigantic elephant in the world's living room which no one in Bushco will acknowledge. If Dubya were only serious about stopping our "addiction to oil," he could kill two problems with one policy. A reduced dependence on oil would ease global warming while also deflating the appeal of Islamist terrorism since we would ostensibly have a less heavy-handed presence in the Middle East.
Imagine if the US took the lead in research and development of all kinds of alternative energy technologies -- I'm talking about serious research money, at least the equal of the R&D dollars that pour into the Department of Defense every year. This is a potential gold mine of national economic growth, and it would return the US to its previous leading role in the development of innovative technologies. Imagine if the US government gave generous tax breaks for ordinary Americans who buy alternative energy technologies for their homes, and for businesses that build energy-efficient "green buildings" or convert their present buildings. Unfortunately, imagining it is as far as you'll get with Bushco.
Other problems of more immediate importance than the war on terror? How about our health care delivery system, which is draining Americans' wallets and businesses' profits -- never mind the moral issue of why we're the only civilized country where access to health care isn't considered a basic right.
You want more? How about the national debt that's gotten us so deep in the hole, Chinese banks are essentially financing the US government? Or the obscene gap between the richest and poorest Americans, the extent of which hasn't been seen since the late 19th Century? Or maybe the suffering here and abroad brought on by the economic shifts of globalization? There are others I can't get into here for lack of space, but any and all of these issues are more immediate dangers to the well-being of the US than some pissed-off terrorists. Just don't count on Bushco to do anything about them. But then, as incompetent as this administration has proved itself to be even in its chosen realm of 9/11-war-on-terror, that might actually be a blessing in disguise.